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Media Life: Gunned-down editor has poetic Auburn link

Auburn Gold Rush-era newspaper pioneer’s grave rediscovered in Visalia
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Media Life columnist
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Reach Media Life’s Gus Thomson at (530) 852-0232 or gust@goldcountrymedia.com. You can catch Thomson tweeting at A_J_Media_Life or talking at 6 p.m. most Fridays on Dave Rosenthal’s KAHI 950 AM drive-time radio show.

 

 

Visalia Cemetery employee Ron Greenlee’s curiosity has yielded an important historical find in the Tulare County graveyard he works in.

And his discovery has a link to Auburn, a ground-breaking woman poet and her newspaper- pioneering husband.

Greenlee was reading a copy of Visalia history writer Terry Ommen’s recently published book “Wild Tulare County: Outlaws, Rogues and Rebels.” In it is a story about the violent death of one John Shannon. As he read, Greenlee realized that he might be able to solve a mystery using records from the cemetery that he knew had managed to survive.

The story of Shannon is one of those oft-told tales of the Old West that adds a  dash of crimson to those sepia-toned memories. Shannon was a newspaper editor and Southern sympathizer in 1860 as the wheels of war began to roll. He was shot to death in his office by northerner William Morris after a verbal set-to earlier in the day that ended in fisticuffs. Morris edited the competing newspaper in Visalia.

Of interest to Auburn are Shannon’s twin claims to fame. He was editor of the second newspaper published in Placer County – the Placer Herald was the first – and was the husband of Eulalie, California’s first woman poet.

Ommen wrote that Shannon was buried in an unmarked grave. Greenlee put the  book down and shortly afterward started looking into his cemetery’s old records to see if he could find it.

Ommen recalled this week getting a call from Greenlee. He was excited, Ommen said. And he had found the grave site.

For Ommen, who had done research on early burial sites, the find was an amazing one.

“A lot of records are non-existent because they’re so old,” Ommen said.

Greenlee is now working with a Visalia monument maker to produce a granite marker to commemorate Shannon and the drama in his town that took place on the eve of the Civil War . The date of its placing has yet to be set.

 

Pioneer publisher, poetess

During his time in Auburn, Shannon published and edited the Auburn Placer Democrat. The newspaper’s life was brief – barely six months in mid-1854. When Shannon set up his print shop in Auburn, he could still be described as a newlywed, having married Mary Eulalie Fee in Ohio on Jan. 31, 1854.

The new Mrs. Shannon and her husband took up residence in Auburn and in the summer, her book of poems, “Buds, Blossoms and Leaves,” was published in Cincinnati by Moore, Wilstach & Keys. While the poems had little to do with Gold Rush era California, Eulalie – Shannon’s pen-name for the publication – was described in the preface as a resident of California.

Eulalie’s time as a published poet was short. She died in childbirth in December 1854 at age 30. Eulalie’s grave was also lost for many years and it wasn’t until the 1920s that a marker was donated to honor her memory as the state’s pioneering woman poet. The marker site was updated with background information in the 1980s and now rests in the northeast corner of the Auburn Cemetery.

Eulalie’s husband would join her less than six years later but the grave site would be lost – until Greenlee’s surface-world digging. Ommen said he can only guess that, like many others during those days, Shannon’s original marker was made of wood and eventually burned, deteriorated or was removed.

Shannon’s killer was absolved of any criminal wrong-doing and died in his 80s after a full life that saw him serve in the Civil War, work as a U.S. marshal, and travel to Alaska for a posting as a customs official.

Ommen said his book’s major theme is that Tulare County up to 1900 was one tough, hardscrabble place to live. He doubts there will be any great ceremony to commemorate Shannon’s new marker.

“It’s not one of the happiest subjects for the community, I’m sure,” Ommen said. “The Chamber of Commerce rarely invites me to speak. But the county many years ago was one tough place.”

Particularly for one newspaper editor with some strong views who ended up on the wrong side of a gun.

 

Reach Media Life’s Gus Thomson at (530) 852-0232 or gust@goldcountrymedia.com. You can catch Thomson tweeting at A_J_Media_Life or talking at 6 p.m. most Fridays on Dave Rosenthal’s KAHI 950 AM drive-time radio show.