Clark County History: Doran Stearns

As a 20-year-old Union soldier, Doran Stearns of Vermont passed the marksmanship test to join the nation’s first sniper unit, the American Sharpshooters. To pass, he made 10-for-10 shots inside a dinner plate-sized bullseye from 200 yards. Stearns served as a sniper for three years in Civil War battles, including at Gettysburg. Captured by the Confederates in 1864, they locked him up in the notorious Andersonville prison from May to November.

Shortly after Stearns’ release, the Army transferred him to medical duty. He served as a hospital steward, caring for the sick and wounded until the end of the war. In 1866 he married Emma Gilham of Fredericksburg, Virginia, later abandoning her and her two small sons to head northwest. During his travels west, he found work in Nebraska for the Daily Bee and as a nursery salesman in Portland and Vancouver.

Once in Portland, Stearns believed that newspapers were a route to prestige and wealth. Ignoring the city’s intense competition, he launched the Bee with the slogan “Be busy as a bee.” Upgrade every hour. He printed 1,000 copies of the first issue and gave it away for free. He sold the struggling Republican newspaper to WS Chapman, who managed it for two turbulent years before Stearns bought it out in 1880.

Still a promoter, Stearns wrote a travel guide in 1877 to lure settlers to Clark County because land in Washington Territory was cheaper than in Oregon. That year he married his second wife, Clara Duniway, the daughter of suffragette Abigail Duniway, who was the sister of Oregonian publisher Harvey Scott. Stearns did not meet the mother’s standards, so the couple married while she was out of town. Abigail had a fit when she returned. Forgiving her daughter, the suffragette visited the Stearns’ lakeside home shortly before Clara’s death in 1886.

For the second time Stearns sold the Bee in 1880. Two years later he joined the Evening Telegram as an advertising manager working for its owner, Henry Pittock. Wanting to reduce publishing expenses, Pittock purchased a stationery store in Oregon City. Later he decided to move the operation to Clark County, and in 1883 set about building a company town and paper mill at what was then called La Camas.