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Fighting Editor Takes on Political Machine and the KKK


The Oregon Encyclopedia calls George Putnam, who purchased the Medford Tribune in 1907, the “epitome of the fighting editor.” He took on Jackson County’s corrupt political machine, and later the Ku Klux Klan’s unsuccessful attempt to control Oregon politics.

Putnam sold the Medford paper in 1919 to purchase the Salem Capital-Journal, and almost immediately warned that the Klan wanted to become the state’s political boss, in his words, “for the avowed purpose of controlling the coming (primary) election and naming the next governor and legislature.”

Putnam’s newspaper supported the reelection of Gov. Ben O. Olcott, who said the Klan was “insidiously gaining a foothold in Oregon” by “stirring up fanaticism, race hatred, religious prejudice and all of those evil influences…” The so-called Emperor of the Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan had flyers distributed door-to-door urging votes for Klan-backed candidates.

Putnam said the Klan had shown more “pernicious activity” in Medford than any other place in the state. He referred to the kidnapping of three men who in separate incidents were threatened with hanging before being released.

Ultimately, only one candidate on the Klan’s ticket won nomination.

Sources: Turnbull, George S. “An Oregon Crusader: His Fight for Freedom of the Press, His Battle with Bigotry: the Ku Klux Klan, and His Struggle With the Labor Goons.”. Portland, Ore.: Binford and Mort, 1955. Print;  McKay, Floyd J. “George Putnam (1872-1961)." The Oregon Encyclopedia. Oregon Historical Society, 2015. Web. 8 June 2015. .

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.