Duncan McPherson was born April 13, 1839, at Riga, N.Y., and his family came to Santa Cruz in 1856. Duncan’s education at the time the family arrived at Santa Cruz was a meager one. Recognizing this shortcoming, the boy enrolled at University of the Pacific at San Jose, where he earned his way for the next two years by waiting on tables and working as a janitor.
The combination of studies and full-time work began to undermine McPherson’s health, and he withdrew from college, taking a job with a trading expedition beginning an adventurous trip to the Frazer River mines.
Upon his return to Santa Cruz, he borrowed $200 from a firm, purchased three teams of oxen and went into business for himself as a teamster. How well he worked is attested by the fact that within four years he had repaid the firm and had accumulated a savings of $3,000.
He invested $100 in a ranch, which he traded in 1864 for a half-interest, then valued at $900, in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The remaining half-interest was owned by B.P. Kooser, an experienced editor and printer. The new firm was known as Kooser and McPherson.
At that time, The Sentinel was a four-page, seven-column weekly. McPherson, having no journalism experience, became business manager of the paper and an editorial writer. Kooser supervised the actual printing and also wrote for the paper.
“The partnership lasted until 1871, when McPherson sold his interest for $2,000. He purchased the San Mateo Gazette in Redwood City, which he operated until 1874. His most notable efforts there were on behalf of the proposed construction of the Dumbarton Bridge.
McPherson returned to Santa Cruz in 1875 and bought two-thirds interest in The Sentinel from J.H. Hoadley who had invested in the paper while McPherson had been in Redwood City. The firm again became Kooser and McPherson and so remained until 1878 when C.W. Waldron, a Sentinel reporter, acquired Kooser’s interest. The name was changed to McPherson and Waldron.
McPherson was editor and publisher of The Sentinel from that time until his death. The boy who had known nothing about newspapers became one of the state’s foremost journalistic innovators and a fearless and competent writer. Because he continued to invest in new mechanical improvements, his paper achieved a reputation for originality and progressiveness.
The Sentinel began daily publication with its April 14, 1884, issue. Previous efforts in that direction had proved disastrous for three of its competitors, but under McPherson’s guidance the new Daily Sentinel thrived.
When Duncan McPherson died in 1921, his Sentinel was a prosperous business operation. It had outlived no fewer than 17 of its competitors.
Duncan was proud of his profession. He played an active part in state journalism. In the 1870s he helped in the organization of a district publishers association of newspaper heads in several nearby counties, which merged into the California Press Association, of which he was a director until his death. He was treasurer of the association for 24 years.
In his later years, he was recognized affectionately as the “dean of California editors.”
Under McPherson’s leadership, The Sentinel followed an editorial policy of independent Republicanism. The paper was an enthusiastic advocate of local concerns, and McPherson championed the causes he felt were in the best interest of his readers.
McPherson was far-sighted and progressive in the purchase of needed improvements. One of McPherson’s most impressive contributions in his long service as a publisher was his fight to have the Big Basin area of Santa Cruz County made a state park.
Logging operations in the vicinity in the late 1890s threatened to destroy the rare Santa Cruz redwood forests. Through his newspaper, McPherson carried the successful fight to save the giant trees.
McPherson, who died Feb. 20, 1921, respected the economic importance of the lumbering operations to Santa Cruz, but he deplored the indiscriminate cutting of the forests without an attempt at reforestation. In this attitude he was clearly years ahead of his time.
*Hall of Fame inductees are selected annually by a committee appointed by the California Press Foundation. They recognize career achievements of weekly and daily publishers in California who were important and influential in their era, as judged by their peers in the association. The write-ups are a historical and journalistic snapshot in time and not official biographies.*