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Newspapers of the Old West

Arizona Territory

In 1879 a newspaper by the title of The Nugget began publication in Tombstone. Shortly after that there appeared a second newspaper in Tombstone. Its title was The Tombstone Epitaph. Few newspapers in the Old West gained as much acclaim as The Tombstone Epitaph. It was edited by John P. Clum. It is said that when someone asked Clum as to how he came upon the name for his paper he replied "Every tombstone needs an epitaph." His newspaper was to be a statement of the era.

California Territory

There is an interesting story to relate concerning a particular newspaper from California. It was a Pro-Confederate and, thus anti-Lincoln, and was published in San Francisco with the name The Democratic Press. Shortly after Lincoln was assassinated, a group marched to the newspaper offices and literally destroyed the press and equipment. Editor William Moss had to change the name of the paper and soften his anti-Lincoln stance before he could safely re-open. He changed the name to the Daily Examiner. It was this paper that George Hearst ultimately bought in 1880 to lay the Foundation for the building of a newspaper empire.

The Lincoln assassination also played an important role in launching to fame another California newspaper. The Democratic Chronicle was edited and printed by two brothers named Charles and Michael De Young. The paper saw its first issue on January 16,1865. The brothers were 17 and 19 at the time! (Incidentally; the only other person working for their paper at the time was Mark Twain.) At any rate, on April 15, 1865 all of the San Francisco papers were already on the streets by 8 AM and none made mention of the news of the assassination. On their way home from working all night in getting their paper out, they stopped at the telegraph office to see if anything interesting had come through. There was a telegram relating that Lincoln had been shot the night before. They took the telegram and hurriedly produced an "Extra" with news of the assassination and got it on the streets. These two teenagers "scooped" all of the other papers in town. From that moment, their paper was destined for a new journalistic career.

Colorado Territory

There is an interesting story relating to how the first newspaper in Colorado came to be. In 1859 there was a "Pikes Peak Gold Rush" which turned out to be a false alarm. John L. Merrick came to Denver City with the intention of starting a newspaper. Four days later William Buyers came to town with the same intention.

Soon the pending competition became evident. Both publishers worked frantically to put their newspaper off the press first. Both were faced with many problems. One such problem to face was that the roof leaked and the rain was pouring over their presses and work area. Canvas was stretched over the presses to help keep them dry and in working order. Excitement was mounting among the townspeople. Bets were placed on just which would be the first paper off the press! Buyers produced the first copy of The Rocky Mountain News on Saturday evening, April 23, 1859. Just a mere 20 minutes later Merrick had the first copy of The Rocky Mountain News on the street. Very soon thereafter, Merrick so1d his press and left to seek his fortune in the gold fields.

Dakota Territory

The first newspaper in the Dakotas was printed at Sioux Falls City on July 2, l859. That paper was The Dakota Democrat. It must be distinguished that this paper technically wasn't a "territorial" however. The Dakotas didn't officially become a territory until March 2, 1861. This paper was printed on an irregular basis and before long the name was changed to The Independent. 1t was still in business in 1862 when the Santee Sioux Indians raided the village. The Indians dumped the press into the river and made off with the type metal. They melted the type down to use to make their inlaid designs in their peace pipes.

The Homestead Law in l863 provides an interesting aspect to the content of the newspapers in the area. (I once read that the Homestead Law was a great gamble in that "the government bets you 160 acres of land against your $18 that you will starve to death before you live on it for five years!') At least in the beginning, not all newspapers in the Dakotas were established because of any great editorial desires of the editors to bring news to the area. The prime motive in many cases was simply money! One of the requirements of the Homestead Laws was the advertising of "proving up" notices. During the height of land development many newspaper editions carried as many as 2000 of these legal notices -- at the rate of about $5 each! This meant plenty of profit for the publisher! (Other territories had much the same "journalistic phenomenon" but not to the extent that the Dakota Territory did.)

Yet another ingenious solution to publishing a newspaper in the less than normal conditions that the Old West provided was solved by one editor. W. A. Laughlin became too ill to continue publishing his Black Hills Pioneer in 1866, but this didn't stop him. Saturday nights at Deadwood is where most of the printers from the surrounding areas came to celebrate the end of the week. Since typesetters were abundant in the town on Saturday nights, he came upon a unique idea. His paper was published weekly, so each Saturday night he sponsored a contest for typesetters. The prize was a bottle of good whiskey. By the end of the contest he had his entire next edition all typeset and ready for the press!

There is a final interesting story to relate about a newspaper and the Dakota territory. Then President Benjamin Harrison, was about to sign the proclamations which would admit the 39th and 4Oth states to the Union. He had his secretary place each document inside an identical edition of a newspaper. He then shuffled them back and forth until no one present could tell which document was which state.

Just enough of the proclamations were left exposed for the President to sign. He signed them and then shuffled the papers again before the documents were removed. Because of this "shell game", no one will ever know which of the Dakotas was actually the 39th or 4Oth state! When President Harrison signed the documents on November 2,1889, South Dakota had 275 newspapers and North Dakota had 125.

Kansas Territory

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 brought a new form of journalism to Kansas. This act granted self-determination to the citizens of the new territory on the question of slavery. For this reason, almost all of the newspapers in the territory took a stance that was clear to the reader of whether the paper was for or against slavery. The volatile issue created a rip-snorting style of journalism which resulted in many scathing editorial attacks. This style lasted for over a decade.

Following the Civil War, the role of the press in Kansas changed. The advent of railroads and the shipping of cattle brought a change in the newspapers. In the 1860's millions of acres of land were opened by the Homestead Land Act. This land was well suited for grazing, thus, Kansas became the terminus for a new industry -- cattle. With the advent of a new industry came the need for new towns along the "cow trails." Needless to say, where these new towns appeared, many also had newspapers. Ads for shipping of cattle are abundant.

A final bit of trivia on Kansas newspapers: In 1873 the Smith County Pioneer printed for the first time the words of the famous ballad Home on the Range. Discovery of the edition of the newspaper with the printing ended the long controversy over the ballad's authorship. (It was written by Dr. Brewster Higley.)

Idaho-Montana Territory

In 1860 gold was discovered along the Salmon River. Lewiston, Idaho was only a tent city then, but it was the closest supply post for the gold seekers and for trappers. Thus it became a logical spot for a newspaper. A. S. Gould established The Golden Age on August 2, l862. It was the first newspaper of the territory. As if the problems of producing a newspaper in the backwoods weren't enough, Gould had a major problem in keeping the paper going. In his first issue he denounced the common practice of ill treatment of the Indians by the miners and trappers. The records indicate that while his paper did last for a brief period of time, the editor disappeared after the first issue got off the press!

While there were many teenage editors in Old West journalism, one of the youngest was Lee Travis. In 1873, at the age of 14, he was editing a paper titled The News Letter. By no means was it a crude publication. It was a full-fledged newspaper. In addition to handling all the editorial and printing tasks, young Travis continually traveled over three rugged counties in a buckboard to promote subscriptions and advertisements! Before he died of acute bronchitis in 1882 at the age of 21 he had become a respected newspaperMAN who established several other newspapers, among them the Helena Morning Capitol.

Nebraska Territory

0n July 1,1862, President Lincoln signed an act to aid in the construction of a railway and telegraph line from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. The fact that this line was to follow the lOOth meridian assured that Nebraska would become a developed territory as there needed to be towns along the route. The establishment and growth of these towns made for ideal locations for newspapers. Journalism, of course, followed this historical development. The first papers appeared along the Missouri River. Oddly enough, the first five Nebraska territory newspapers were all printed in what later became Iowa.

Most of these early Nebraska papers were established more often by the town companies eager to promote their chosen town sites. A press and an editor were considered vital for the success of a land venture. In 1855 there were 17 such incorporated towns in the territory and each had a newspaper. These newspapers were sent East as promotional literature to lure new citizens to their town. Although the towns were virtually nonexistent, the newspapers gave glowing accounts. One such example is the Palladium of Bellevue, Nebraska. An article in their paper, which was sent East, stated "The center of commerce, the halfway house between the "Atlantic and Pacific Oceans." Quite an overstatement for a "tent city!" Because of this method of revenue, the Nebraska newspapers relied less on the legal notices of the Homestead Act than the Dakota newspapers.

Nevada Territory

A different sort of newspaper came to Nevada about 1854. These were in the form of handwritten newspapers. The first was The Gold Canyon Switch as was edited by Joseph Webb. The second manuscript paper The Scorpion, which was written February 1,1857 in a settlement called Mormon Station. It was this settlement that also produced the first newspaper in the Nevada territory using a printing press.

W. L. Jernegan and Alfred James produced Volume 1, Number l of The Territorial Enterprise on December l8, l858. As Virginia City grew in size, the paper moved to this city from Genoa in l860. 1n 1862 a disgruntled prospector came to the Enterprise office seeking work. He was fed up with prospecting for gold and not finding any. This prospector was none other than Samuel Clemens. Although he worked for the paper for only about two years, it was here that he developed the writing style which was to make him famous. It was also here that he adopted the pen name he became famous for -- Mark Twain! The Territorial Enterprise, with many format changes and brief gaps in publication, ceased publishing about 1979.

The Nevada territory can claim the distinction of having the youngest editors in western journalism history. The Olcocvich brothers -- nine and eleven years -- published The Su in Carson City in 1888.

Oklahoma Territory

The Oklahoma territory was very different from the other territories. Oklahoma was Indian Territory. For this reason, it was "off limits" to White settlers.

In 1809 a Cherokee by the name of Sequohah started developing a "talking leaf" for his people. Up to this point the Cherokee language was verbal only -- that is, there was no set of symbols to express their language in writing. His Cherokee alphabet became widely accepted by his tribe. In 1828 it was cast into metal type so that printing on a press could be done. This same year the Cherokee Advocate became the first newspaper in the territory. It was a bilingual newspaper. Its first issue was on September 6, 1B44. In August of 1844 there appeared the second newspaper using Sequohah's alphabet Subsequent papers bore truly unique "Americanized" Indian titles such as: Our Brother in Red, The Tahlequah Telephone, The Indian Chieftain and so forth.

April 22, 1889 brought the Homestead Act to Oklahoma. It is said that 50,000 new settlers entered the territory on that date! (It wasn't until 1890 that Oklahoma was established as an official territory.) This ended the era of the Indian press because soon after this date printers and equipment came to the area to set up English language newspapers.

Oregon Territory

The first newspaper of sorts to be "published" in the Oregon territory was the Flumgudgeon Gazette and Bumble Bee Budget. It was a handwritten newspaper and produced in 1845. The first newspaper to use an actual printing press was The Oregon Spectator. It began publication on February 5, 1846. The second newspaper to be printed in Oregon was the Free Press. The press that was used to print this paper was unique. Lacking a traditional printing press to use, editor George L. Curry had one made of wood! Also lacking an abundance of metal type, Curry hand carved from wood many sets of letters!

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