JAMES E. NUGENT
Probably one of the most widely known newspapermen in the central part of California is James E. Nugent, the owner and editor of the Sierra Valley News, published at Loyalton, Sierra County, and one of the brightest and newsiest country papers in this part of the United States. Mr. Nugent was born in a house at the corner of Quincy and State streets, Chicago, Illinois, on the 29th of April, 1862, and is a son of Patrick J. and Arminta (Shadley) Nugent. The genealogical record of the Nugent family harkens back to Castle Nogent, in Normandy, France. The Nogent’s became soldiers under William the Conqueror, whom they accompanied to England, and after the conquest they settled in England and Ireland. The branch of the family from which James E. Nugent is directly descended settled in Dublin, Ireland, and their fair hair and blue eyes bespeak a distinctively Nordic origin. The motto of the Nugent’s, as given in Burke’s Peerage is “De Crevi,” or “I Decree,” the modern meaning of which is “I Will” or “I Can.” Patrick J. Nugent was born in Dublin, Ireland, and received a good education, having graduated from Trinity College, in Dublin. In 1844 he came to the United States, locating in Chicago, Illinois, which was still in the Fort Dearborn period. He became a builder and a dealer in Chicago real estate, in which fields of activity he met with marked success, but the great fire which devastated that city in October, 1871, caused him a loss of over a million dollars. He had in many ways become prominent in that city, having been conspicuous among the pioneer real estate men, and took an active part in local civic affairs, as is evidenced by the fact that he was a member of the old volunteer fire department. After the fire he traded his property there for a restaurant in Denver, Colorado. To him and his wife were born eleven children, five of whom are deceased. The survivors are as follows: Lizzie, who became the wife of W. H. Howell, of Arcata, California; James E., of this review; Mrs. Mary Strouse, who resides at Inglewood, California; A. L., of Las Vegas, Nevada; Belle, who is the wife of B. B. Sheffield and resides at Pasadena, California; and Hattie, the wife of Lincoln C. Hall, of Loyalton.
James E. Nugent spent the first nine years of his life in Chicago and received his early education in the Christian Brothers School in that city. At nine years of age he began to contribute to his own support, and after the family moved to Denver, Colorado, he learned the printing trade on the old Denver Times, on which he worked before and after school hours and on Saturdays. His father was anxious for him to study for the Catholic priesthood, but newspaper work appealed to him more strongly and he has never forsaken his first love. He received only four months’ schooling after going to Denver, but in the stern school of experience and the “poor man’s college,” the printing office, he acquired a wide fund of accurate information and no one unacquainted with his early history would suspect that he is not a college man. The family had been so impoverished by the Chicago fire that James E. was glad to work at anything he could find to do as a boy in Denver, and among his other jobs was assisting in running a stage station on the Fair Play Road through Turkey Creek Canyon—the old Red Rock house. His father eventually became a livestock dealer at New Castle, Colorado, and his death occurred there in 1894, at the age of seventy-eight years. The mother, who was born in 1834, died in 1888, at the age of fifty-four years.
In 1882 Mr. Nugent went to Idaho, where his cousin, James W. Haworth, ran the Weiser Leader. Later the paper was sold to Dr. S. M. C. Reynolds, for whom Mr. Nugent worked for a short time and then bought the journal. After publishing the Leader for one and a half years, he sold it at a profit, and went to Boise, Idaho, where he worked on The Idaho Statesman. Regarding his experiences at Weiser, Mr. Nugent has told the following incident of one of the roughest towns in the west, which was periodically shot up by invading cowboys: “Like all young editors, I was going to make the world over, and I roasted the sheriff for not stopping the nuisance. It was Christmas Day and the town was full of rampaging cowboys. Their leader accosted me, telling me he was going to shoot my belly full of bullets. I reminded him that there was going to be a dance that evening and it would be a shame to mess the street up with gore. He agreed with me and invited me to take a drink. But he was out for trouble and was shot to death that same night.”
At Boise, Mr. Nugent worked on The Statesman, the oldest paper which is still published in the northwest. In 1885 he went to Portland, Oregon, where he worked on the Portland Oregonian. There, during his spare time, he gratified his love for music by playing the clarinet in the orchestra of the old New Market Theater, so that while newspaper work was his vocation, music became his avocation. In 1886 he went to San Francisco, whence he removed to Sacramento and took a job on the Sacramento Bee, and it was while employed there that he was married, from which time on he largely laid aside his music interests and paid strict attention to business. Going to Fullerton, California, he became the owner and editor of the Fullerton Journal, after which he was in succession the editor and proprietor of the Anaheim Journal, the Madera Times, the Willits News, the Bodie Miner, the Bridgeport Chronicle-Union, the Angels Camp Californian, the San Andreas Prospect, the San Andreas Citizen, and lastly, in 1929, the Sierra Valley News, a weekly paper, established eighteen years ago. Under Mr. Nugent’s able management the News has become one of the most important factors in the progress and improvement of Sierra County, and his editorial utterances have been influential in local affairs. Mr. Nugent has also been a feature writer for the Los Angeles Times. He pursued a university extension course in feature and fiction writing, and many of his articles have had wide reading and been liberally quoted. Mr. Nugent set up the first printing press at Rawhide, Nevada, and worked on the Rustler for Bill Booth. In the Sierra Valley News he loses no opportunity to boost for his city and county, and his optimism and public spirit have been reflected in the able and forceful editorials which have characterized the News. He possesses the genuine newspaperman’s instinct for news, which he presents in an attractive and wholesome style, and the News is a welcome visitor in most of the homes in Sierra County.
On June 20, 1889, Mr. Nugent was united in marriage to Miss Rebecca Hennessey, who was born in Boston, Massachusetts. When two years old she was brought to Sacramento, California, where she was reared and educated. She proved a true helpmate to her husband, encouraging him by her counsel and loyalty. Her death occurred at San Andreas, California, on April 7, 1927, at the age of sixty-two years.
Mr. Nugent has always been a staunch supporter of the Republican Party and in 1930 was a strong advocate of the selection of James Rolph, Jr., for governor. In 1929 Mr. Nugent was appointed justice of the peace and city judge of Loyalton, to which offices he was regularly elected in 1930. He is a good public speaker, his addresses being full of logic and sound reasoning, as well as a due share of wit and humor. In this line he gained additional laurels in his address of welcome on the occasion of the recent Swiss picnic at Loyalton. He is a member of White Pine Lodge, No. 175, I. O. O. F. Wherever he has lived he has boosted whole-heartedly for his community and has done all in his power to promote its best interests. A striking example of this was when, in 1909, he championed the construction of a highway from Mono County to the west to connect up with the state highway system. For twelve years the people of that county had been seeking a road west of the Sierra. In the state engineer’s report for that year Mr. Nugent discovered little but apologies. He wrote a letter to the engineer, commenting on the beautiful printing, the splendid grammar and the excellent picture conjured up by the report, and concluded with the statement that “the people of Mono County had to travel into a neighboring state to reach the capital of California.” The engineer, in a return letter, gave Mr. Nugent a severe panning. Nugent then published both letters. However, as the direct result of this encounter, what is now known as the Tioga Road was constructed and has become one of the most popular in the west.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
Source: Wooldridge, J.W.Major History of Sacramento Valley California, Vol. 3 Pages 368-371. Pioneer Historical Publishing Co. Chicago 1931.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.