OAKLEY — Area history hounds remember Charley Brown, owner and editor of The Oakley Herald, as a hard-working proponent of the city, a passionate newsman and advocate of the rock formations that would later become a famous Cassia County national reserve.
Brown came from West Virginia to Oakley in 1917 as pastor of the local Union Church. The next year he purchased the paper and went on to publish the city’s news for the next 42 years until his death.
“He is a man Oakley should never forget,” said Robert Fehlman, president of the Oakley Valley Historical Association. “He was the community historian and documented everything that happened. Early Oakley was a news hub, and what was going on here was really significant to southern Idaho.”
Now, there’s no chance that significance will be lost to history. The historical association has digitized 50 years of the city’s newspapers — the Oakley Sun, founded in 1897, went onto become The Oakley Eagle and was renamed the Oakley Herald in 1910.
Little is left of the Sun or Eagle, but the Herald has been preserved for generations to come.
Years ago Idaho State University had copied the volumes of news onto microfilm, which was cumbersome to use and the film was not indexed.
“When we got it on microfilm it was difficult to read,” said Aleta Stringham, the association’s secretary.
Stringham, who picked up Oakley’s news torch after Brown died, published a weekly paper called the Oakley News from 1967 to 1978. Stringham’s family owned The Oakley Drug, where she collected news from people across the counter. Even after a fire destroyed her printing press and other equipment, she continued to print the news at the Burley Reminder.
After her 10th child was born she finally washed the newsprint from her hands.
21st century history
The association talked to the Church of Latter-day Saints library in Salt Lake City, which agreed to digitize the only clean copy of the paper in the state, housed at the Idaho State Historical Society.
Brown’s will was found and his heirs released the copyrights of the paper to the city of Oakley, which passed a resolution giving it to the historical association.
“That was a chore,” Fehlman said.
The volumes on the flash drive have now been indexed by date, month, year and issue for ease of reference.
“Everything in the world is digitized now and you can get it on your phone,” said Rachel Clark-Dillon, assistant curator at the Oakley Valley Museum. “It was important to do this because this is history and I love history. When somebody reads a copy of The Oakley Herald it brings back memories and the connections between people.”
Many older residents still remember Brown, Fehlman said. He had a peg leg and was often seen driving his Model T Roadster. He was also known to sleep quite often in the vehicle and would go sit in it if he was feeling uncomfortable, Fehlman said.
One of Brown’s favorite locations to drive was the City of Rocks, where he took hundreds of photographs and named many of the formations, although many of them were later renamed.
“He spent his life trying to get the City of Rocks designated as a national park or monument,” Fehlman said.
A lifelong bachelor, Brown noted the extraordinarily pretty girls in the valley, and to promote both the City of Rocks and the local beauties, he launched a Bathtub Rock Beauty Contest in the late 1930s.
The contest fell apart, Fehlman said, during WWII when all the men were at war.
“The ladies didn’t want to go to the Bathtub Rock Beauty Contest,” Fehlman said.
But Brown takes the credit for putting the rock formations on the map. The park received a designation as a U.S. National Historic Landmark two years after his death and became a national reserve in 1988.