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As It Was: Tribune Editor Stands Up to Ax-Wielding Railroad Exec

When George Putnam took over as editor of the Medford Mail Tribune in 1907, he vowed to speak out against corruption. This soon led to his being thrown in jail for daring to accuse railroad baron W.S. Barnum of attacking Medford’s Mayor, J.F. Reddy, with an axe. The incident became known as the “Barnum-Reddy” fight.

Putnam published his own eyewitness account of Barnum chasing Mayor Reddy down the street with an ax.  In a rage, Barnum threw the ax at Reddy, barely missing his head.  As a result, Putnam was arrested for libel. Not only was he put in jail and fined, but also was assaulted in the street and indicted by a grand jury packed with six friends of Barnum and only one eye witness, Putnam himself.

Putnam, who was not prone to violence, kept a gun on his newspaper desk until the personal attacks against him stopped.

In 1919, Putnam sold the Tribune to Robert Ruhl, whose editorials against political corruption won a Pulitzer Prize. 

As Putnam wrote after the “Barnum-Reddy” fight, “The paper that has no enemies has no friends.”

Sources: Pyle, Tom. "George Putnam." Oregon Encyclopedia, Oregon Encyclopedia, oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/medford_mail_tribune/. Accessed 17 Apr. 2019.            

Turnbull, George. "History of Oregon Newspapers." Hathi Trust Digital Library, Hathi Trust Digital Library, hathitrust.org/. Accessed 17 Apr. 2019. Path: Hathitrust.org; full text advanced search; George S. Turnbull, History of Oregon Newspapers.

Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management.