August 7, 1869
For employees at the Tribune it all began 140 years ago today. But the story of the founder begins over four decades earlier and half way around the world.
By any measure he had a remarkable life.
Born on a winter day in London December 9, 1826; he was trained in the law as a young man. One story is told that a club of articled clerks financed emigration for two of their number chosen by a drawing.
Walter Murray departed Suffolk Place traveling steerage on a three masted barque and arrived Boston in 1843. He was 17.
The only light aboard the ship came from two tiny windows in the stern and a hatchway. A false step would dump the steerage passenger into the cargo deck below.
He outlined his dreams in a letter home to his sister shortly after arriving.
“You ask me when I first thought of going to America? Long ago – 3 years at least & I would then have gone if I had the money tho’ I should have got on I dare say very badly, at first. However I believe even then had I gone I should have been by this time much better off than I am now. I should have learnt some business by this time and that is what I do not now possess. Ever since then I have cherished the idea & every book I have read about America has confirmed me in the belief that I shall get on there or nowhere.”
At the end of the letter he expressed surprise at the bigotry expressed by some of the American white sailors.
“My pointing to two men on board the vessel who altho’ black were better men than the whole 6 of the sailors were, even if all their good qualities had been separated from the bad & fused into one lump, had no effect. They seemed to value their colour by its cheapness. It was a cheap kind of pride indeed. Many people have to pay a deal for pride, but these sailors inherited it.”
Murray was introduced to the printing trade as a compositor. He worked in Boston then New York and in August 1846 enlisted as a volunteer in the Stevenson Regiment near the end of the Mexican War.
Many in the United States endorsed the idea that the nation had a manifest destiny to control the continent from coast to coast.
He applied three days before departure of the company and was put on the waiting list of volunteers. When the deadline arrived there were enough faint hearted no shows that Murray was added to the roll.
Sailing from New York around the horn of South America. One man was tossed off the ship and drowned in the violent waters off Cape Horn. Another died of “apoplexy” during the rescue effort. Murray arrived in California October 21, 1847.
He was involved in a series of skirmishes at La Paz, Mexico in November. The war would end in February 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
His regiment disbanded just as gold was discovered in California and like many he found his way to the mines.
There Murray met San Luis Obispo resident Romualdo Pacheco. Pacheco would become the 12th governor of California, the the first California born governor and the first of Hispanic decent.
Neither struck it rich digging for gold and soon moved on to other pursuits.
In 1851 Murray put his print training to use as the co-owner of the Sonora Herald however it was not long before he tired of the gold country and moved to San Luis Obispo. He had spent time during the Mexican war stationed in Santa Barbara and found the Central Coast an attractive area.
His friend Pacheco had begun a political career, elected San Luis Obispo Superior court judge in 1853.
About the same time Murray married Mercedes Espinosa and moved to San Luis Obispo establishing a law practice. The Walter Murray Adobe is the small building in Mission Plaza. The Mission about that time housed the court and jail.
It was a lawless time for California. The new state’s explosive growth following the gold rush and lax emigration standards lead to a large number of outlaws looking for easy money.
San Luis Obispo county’s first sheriff quit after a year because the job was too dangerous. The cowboys returning from selling their animals up north were easy prey for thieves.The bones of robbery victims could be found bleaching in the sun along El Camino Real.
From Marysville to San Francisco to San Luis Obispo vigilante committees formed that decade in response to ineffective, over worked or corrupt law enforcement of the era.
The San Luis Obispo Committee of Vigilance was formed in 1858. Of the 100-150 members, Murray’s name was near the top.
Pio Linares was a leader in the Jack Powers gang which had the practice of murdering their victims. They lived the pirate motto “Dead men tell no tales.”
He lived in town and often attended civic events but his reputation for brutality made it unlikely a jury would convict.
After a lurid series of crimes the gang went underground.
Linares was traced to the Canada de Los Osos Rancho the vigilantes mounted up in pursuit.
In a two day skirmish Murray was wounded in the arm and fellow vigilante John Matlock was killed.
In a letter to his sister Murray wrote:
I offered to follow up the trail with six men but was over ruled. It was getting late and it was agreed to guard the wood till morning. Guards were placed on all sides. That night one of our guards received a shot through the instep. No other shots fired. Next morning we went into the woods again following up the trails. It was so dense that we were obliged to crawl on our bellies. We found the saddle bags of Pio Linares, the man whose roof had been burned off. In them we found a spy-glass, used to spy out the whereabouts of his victims, some powder, balls and shot, his frock coat and clean linen, needles and thread, and his wife’s daguerreotype. While the rest were overhauling these things, I and another man pushed [on] a few more paces and as luck would have it received the first fire. I got shot through the fleshy part of my left arm, and my companion had the whole back of his coat ripped open with a rifle-ball. I could only see what I took to be a man’s head, at which I fired three shots from my revolver. One shot went through Pio Linares’s leg, slight wound, and another through his coat, and another through the hat I was firing at. The two last shots I fired after being wounded. The robbers fired about 6 or 8 times. We were only about 15 yards from them and in good sight.
I then began to feel faint from my wound and backed out. This led to the retiring of the whole party, who then took up a position on the outside to prevent egress. I went home and wrote letters all over the county. By night the wood was surrounded by over 100 men. In the morning Capt. Mallagh with 24 men entered again and after crawling over a mile again drew fire. They had a bush fight of about ten minutes, resulting in the death of one of our party, an American, and the severe wounding of two others, one by accident. Pio Linares was killed, shot through the head, and two others, Miguel Blanco and Desiderio Grijalva, were taken prisoners.
The gang was broken up by the efforts of the vigilantes, some gang members were hung, others fled.
Murray was a founding member of the Masonic Lodge in 1861 and his friend Pacheco joined that year as well.
The growing Murray family created a pressure to provide for a wife and six children. (Another child was from Espinosa’s previous marriage and they also raised two orphaned girls.)
He regretted the decision to abandon a growing business in the gold country and move to a dusty cow town but decided to build his future here.
By the end of the 1860’s Murray was District Attorney, with an office in his adobe home next to the mission. The salary was not enough and his advertising at the time said also was notary public and offered his services as attorney.
Murray wanted to be a Judge and needed get the word out. The Pioneer supported Democrats but Murray held Republican views. The Tribune was launched August 7, 1869 about a year after the Pioneer.
Some sources say the first copies of the paper were printed in the adobe by the misson.
By 1873 the Pioneer was out of business and Walter Murray was a judge.
In December, 1873, he was appointed by Gov. Booth as District Judge of the First Judicial District, (Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties) filling the vacancy on the death of Pablo de la Guerra.
Ambitious, hard working and with no shortage of personal courage Murray had come a long way from London. He was described as articulate and having strong political views.
The end came quickly. The first sign of trouble came in May 1875. He had several attacks of what was termed gastritis and though his doctor advised rest he continued with his court calendar as often as he could, riding to Ventura and Santa Barbara hold court. In Santa Barbara he presided over a notorious murder trial and returned home exhausted. While conducting business at the office of Judge Venable, Murray was struck with a violent chill and taken to the nearby Cosmopolitan Hotel on September 21.
He died October 5, 1875 in a room at the hotel at the age of 48.