Conservative publisher not afraid of cultivation book controversy
April 7, 2023 — Former longtime Siuslaw News owner, publisher and editor Dave Holman was a man with strong, often conservative, opinions. He was known across Oregon for his “tell-it-like-it-is” style that was in full effect in each of his weekly editorials in his Florence newspaper and also in letters he wrote to other papers around the state.
Take this excerpt for example, from his editorial on page 2 of the Feb. 27, 1969 Siuslaw News:
“Recently this writer had an occasion to visit the student union at one of our State universities, and for one not subject to such experiences, this was an eye-opener. Dirty, long-haired, unshaven males, with equally long-haired females sprawled all over the stairway, eating sandwiches, throwing the paper wrappings on the stairs and leaving spilled cups. For a person to use the stairway, he had to literally step over and around these alleged human beings. The filth on their clothes and the visible dirtiness of their hair was enough to turn one’s stomach, AND THESE ARE THE ONES WHO ARE TRYING TO CHANGE THE ESTABLISHMENT! [sic].”
To say Holman was not a fan of the counterculture movement of the late 1960s/1970s would be an understatement. That makes it a bit surprising that more Florencians haven’t heard the story of when one of the most conservative newspaper publishers in the state of Oregon published a book so counter to the culture of the time that the Federal Bureau of Investigation tried to stop it from being printed in the first place.
It was the late 1960s and Eugenian Bill Drake was a little concerned about the precarious legal situation surrounding some of his not-so-legal activities.
“For a couple of years I grew some pretty nice specimens in the hills around Eugene, and developed a solid clientele for my medicinal plants,” recalled Drake. “However, those were the days when monsters like J. Edgar Hoover and John Mitchell ruled the land and I saw friends who were in the same business of creating special herbal medicines being harassed, arrested, imprisoned and in one instance I still remember like yesterday, shot full of bloody holes. For growing flowers.”
The medicine Drake referred to had been essentially illegal in the state of Oregon since the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively made possession or transfer of cannabis or its byproducts illegal throughout the United States under federal law.
Drake knew that it was only a matter of time before he was arrested or worse. So one day, as he was sitting on the banks of the McKenzie River lamenting the loss of his great interest, a friend had an idea.
“Why don’t you write a book about growing?,” the friend said. “They can’t bust you for writing a book, can they?”
Drake had traveled to Mexico, Colombia, Morocco, and Lebanon and at each stop learned tricks of the marijuana trade from locals— tricks of the trade he utilized to grow his successful crops in the hills around Eugene.
He put that knowledge on paper and wrote “The Cultivator’s Handbook of Marijuana,” one of the first books written in the United States about the cultivation of what is now one of this country's top cash crops (both legal and otherwise).
As Drake was but a writer he needed someone to add pictures to his creation. For that he enlisted his friend Terry Rutledge.
“Terry was a Eugene street artist with a style I loved,” recalled Drake. “He, like a lot of people at the time, loved R. Crumb and if you look at the illustrations you can kind of see that. He was from Eugene but actually hung out in Florence a lot back then. I thought he was a genius but like a lot of people of those days, I’ve never been able to find him again. I don’t even know if he lives.”
After Drake finished writing and Rutledge illustrating, they found a company, the Eugene Auger, one of the area’s counter culture publications, to do an initial printing of 500 copies.
With freshly printed books in hand, Drake headed south to San Francisco. The combination of Drake’s writing and Rutledge's illustrations, and maybe some good luck, would create the perfect storm for the success of the book.
Word spread quickly around the Bay Area and those 500 copies were gone in no time. At the Whole Earth Catalog, a counterculture magazine and product catalog, he was told "You've got to get back to Oregon and get more of these printed right now.”
Getting back to Oregon was the easy part of those instructions. Finding a printer was not.
Drake began inquiring with print shops as to who could handle a larger print run, but it was not long before someone from one of those shops called the Portland offices of the FBI to inform them of what was going on in the college town to the south.
Though Drake was not having much luck, one shop went as far as manufacturing the plates to print the book but those were eventually confiscated by FBI agents.
After calling printers all over the Willamette Valley, Drake soon realized that the next batch of his books he gets printed will not be anywhere near as easy to get done as the first.
He was ready to take drastic measures and start looking out of state when inspiration struck.
“In the little coastal town of Florence there was a newspaper publisher whose reputation as an ultra right-winger was well known,” remembered Drake. “His name was Dave Holman. His letters to the editor of other Oregon newspapers were famous, and newspapers all over the state regularly re-printed his editorials. But, I noticed that Dave wasn’t really a right-wing nutcase. His ideas were always based on a deep respect for the US Constitution and his editorials were almost always about how the rights and responsibilities of citizens were being subverted by left-wing politicians.”
Though Drake looked the part of “long-haired hippy” he did have a few beliefs in common with Holman, a former Marine.
“I was also pretty conservative when it came to questions of Constitutional rights and responsibilities,” said Drake.
Armed with nothing more than a hunch and only a few things in common with a man he only knew from the papers, Drake headed west for Florence and the Siuslaw News offices, on the search for someone crazy enough to print his book.
The author headed to the coast, book in hand, confident, as he knew the value of his work but also unsure and nervous as he was pretty sure he was being watched by the FBI.
That suspicion was quickly confirmed as the same little black sedan that had spent the last few weeks parked down the street from his house also happened to join him on his trip to the coast.
After having a little fun with the agents that were following him by leading them up into logging roads of the coast range, Drake arrived at the Siuslaw News offices looking the part of the very long-haired hippy Holman was known to deride in his editorials.
Luckily the first person he met when he walked in seemed to like him.
“I was a little naive then but I learned later in corporate training the key to success is getting past the secretary,” remembered Drake. “All the more important in this case, I later learned that ‘secretary’ was Marge, Dave’s wife. She asked what my business was there.”
Drake explained his book, its subject and also his respect for her husband’s reputation as a staunch supporter of the constitution.
“Dave, there’s a hippie out here who wants you to print his book and he says you’re the only person in the state with the guts to do it. Shall I send him in?” Drake remembers Marge Holman asking her husband.
Drake entered the office. He described Holman as “short, muscular, with the buzz-cut pugnacious look of a former Marine, and he was sitting behind his desk with his arms crossed and a ‘I can tear your heart out and eat it’ look on his face.”
As expected, Holman got right to the point.
“Why are you coming to me to print this piece of s–t?” he said.
Drake explained that, via intimidation of different forms, the FBI had made it basically impossible for him to get his book printed, a story Holman doubted… until Drake pointed outside to the caravan that had followed him to the coast.
After going out and reviewing the agent's credentials Holman came back in and made a call.
According to Drake the call went like this:
I’ve got this guy Bill Drake in my office and he wants me to print his book about growing Marijuana, and I’ve got two of your agents outside on the street. You’ve got ten minutes to tell them to leave, and I’m printing this guy’s g–damn book, and I better not see any of your agents anywhere near my shop or his house or I’m going to tear you and your agency a new a—hole.”
Holman agreed to print the book and maybe realizing this hippy might be onto something, he only asked for a small down payment for a large print run of 5000 copies.
Drake would eventually move to Florence for a period and his son was born here.
“Florence is a delightful little place and it made it very convenient for me to drive over and grab the boxes and take them to Eugene,” recalled Drake.
For a time Drake was able to make a living from the book, something he never really expected.
“It was never a conventional book,” recalled Drake. “It was just a little pamphlet. It was wonderful when it happened and that people respected what I was trying to do and for 10 years it gave me the kind of income that allowed me to be a full time father and only work part time.”
Drake’s knowledge of ethnobotanical plants would continue to be an important part of his life and in the early 1980s he and partners would start the Sante Fe Natural Tobacco Co. The company is the producer of the American Spirit brand, one of the highest selling cigarette brands in America.
“I, and my partners, built the initial company,” explained Drake. “Very quickly the wrong investors showed up. My wife told me they were snakes and not to let them in. I said ‘They’re good guys. They’ve got money. We need them’. I lost the company I was in and out real fast.”
Today Drake continues to fight against the “20 different pesticides, including DMT that are put on national tobacco brands today”, according to Drake and though “The Cultivator’s Handbook of Marijuana” is no longer in print Drake’s more recent work “Smoke No Evil” is.
“I've written this book to advocate that this is a solvable public health problem, based simply on the fact that, ludicrously, tobacco cartel products are exempt from all pesticide regulation,” says Drake in the book’s description.
To purchase “Smoke No Evil” go to //a.co/d/9zDnbOc.
To read Drake’s blog where he discusses all things medicinal plants visit: panaceachronicles.com/.