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Soldiers’ “Fake News” Spreads Across Country

Some soldiers at Fort Klamath in the winter of 1867 relieved their boredom by producing a humble, hand-written newspaper they called The Growler.  One of its stories made national news.

The story said an earthquake struck with force at daybreak on Jan. 8, 1867, throwing men to the floor and cracking cabin timbers.  Dogs howled, Indians yelled, and trees swayed violently.  No lives were lost, the newspaper said, even though the sutler’s store was thrown 20 feet.

The Growler said a column of dark smoke rising over the distant Klamath Marsh prompted fears that a new volcano was erupting, and soldiers were dispatched to investigate.

The Oregon Sentinel in Jacksonville reprinted the article, which was picked up by newspapers from coast to coast.

An official Army investigation revealed the story was fiction written by a private.

The editor of The Growler was Orson Avery Stearns, who would eventually become one of the leading pioneer settlers and citizens of Klamath County. Even as late as 1914, Stearns said he was still receiving inquiries from unknowing scientists about the great quake of 1867.

Source: Stone, Buena C. "Old Fort Klamath." Oregonian, 17 Jan. 1867 [Portland, Ore.], p. 33+.

Todd Kepple has been a Klamath Basin resident since 1990. He was a reporter and editor the for the Herald and News from 1990 to 2005, and has been manager of the Klamath County Museum since 2005. He enjoys volunteering at Crater Lake National Park, the OC&E Woods Line State Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also a founding member of the Klamath Tree League.