W. W. Robertson — People from Yakima’s past

April 22, 2010

Wilbur Wade Robertson

Wilbur Wade Robertson was one of those characters you see in period movies and chalk up to poetic license and exaggeration — larger than life not only in accomplishment but in personality.

He was a cigar-chomping, straight-talking activist publisher from the old school, a staunch conservative known statewide for the boldness — and, occasionally, vitriol — of his editorials. The Federal Writers Project 1941 history book “Washington: A Guide to the Evergreen State” describes him posthumously as “one of the most picturesque figures in Washington journalism.”

But in 1898, when a 31-year-old W.W. Robertson arrived in what was then North Yakima, he was practically a kid. He’d been raised in Nebraska by pioneer teacher parents and had left the University of Nebraska within months of graduation to go to work.

According to legend, he slept on a pool table in a saloon that first night because he couldn’t get a room. True or not, he rose the next day and promptly bought one of Yakima’s two weekly papers, The Republic. The man knew how to make an impression. Twelve years later he bought the other newspaper, The Herald.

He ran both papers, which became The Daily Republic and The Morning Herald, until his death in 1938, taking on the nickname “The Colonel.”

“He was a frank, fearless observer, and his comments on politics and life will be greatly missed,” Gov. Clarence Martin told The Associated Press upon Robertson’s death. Robertson’s son, Ted Robertson, carried on the legacy, merging the papers and ultimately selling the Yakima Herald-Republic in 1972.

— Pat Muir

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