WESTERN NEWSPAPER MEN
Two or three years ago a quiet, unobtrusive
little man came casually into the office of the Nebraska State
Historical Society. His mode of talk, his mind, his habit, easily
named him as one of a disappearing, almost vanished race,--the old
time itinerant newspaper man. There is no mistaking the class.
Quiet spoken, reticent, never boasting of experience, or
achievement and yet with a grasp of the world of fact, fiction and
philosophy that would put to shame the arrogance of the
self-assertive individual so common in our day. It was only after
half a dozen brief interviews and Christmas dinner together that
the knowledge and ability of our new friend became patent. He was
born near Davenport, in Iowa, long enough ago to have been a young
man at the outbreak of the civil war. He enlisted in the 16th Iowa
regiment and saw three years of service, nearly a year of it in
Rebel prisons at Andersonville, Millen and Florence. He had
rambled from the Atlantic to Pacific, had seen Mexico, Central
America and Europe. He has known Joaquin Miller and many other
celebrities in literary and political circles. He had contributed
much in writing to the history of Iowa and was familiarly known to
the newspaper men in Iowa as Clint Parkhurst. A volume of his
poetry has just been printed by the Woodruff Printing Company.
Poetry stamped with a breadth of information and sometimes a fire
of energy which surprises the reader.
Since his first visit Mr. Parkhurst has become better known to the editor of this magazine. After a good deal of insistence he was finally persuaded to write a brief story on Western Newspaper Men. This story is herewith published. It is in fact only the frame-work of a hundred stories gradually drawn out of the writer. No one knows the modern world so well as the thoroughgoing newspaper man. There are not many of him. There are still fewer of the old time newspaper men. For one who has served his own time at the printer's case and editor's desk there is no one quite so interesting as the thorough-going, old time newspaper man. The editor of this magazine is sure that he has every Nebraska editor in accord with him on this question. After living and wandering in thirty or forty states and countries Mr. Parkhurst is contented to make his home in Lincoln. He is a lover of little children and the sentiment is warmly reciprocated by them.
The nation whose unity he fought to preserve,--fought and lived in prison pens,--kindly provides for his necessities. A pile of books or newspapers, a table, a big window and occasionally a brief, always brief, word with a sympathetic friend furnishes what is more than food or shelter or raiment for the soul filled with memories of a busy and eventful life and with the eternal longing for more knowledge. Here follows Mr. Parkhurst's story:
Western Newspaper Men
By H. C. Parkhurst
In musing on seventy-nine years of mortal experience, I have been wondering what I would have done had there been no types, presses, books or papers. A dull world it would have been, though "Satan still finds work for idle hands to do." Most of my busy years have passed in close contact with printer's ink, and when engaged a while at something more novel, exciting or profitable, I remembered the words of an old-time friend: "Keep up your connection with the press."
That I have seen startling changes in mechanics and methods, is a matter of course. I have also had brought home to me many tragedies once regarded as inseparably connected with newspaper life. I have intimately known four publishers who were shot and killed; six editors killed themselves with bullet or poison; and four or five who literally killed themselves with work. The number of scribes who were caned,
clubbed, shot at or otherwise ill treated has been very many.
Mishaps and bloodshed have occurred in plenty. There is not so
much "live journalism" now as there used to be but people still
linger among us who, occasionally, consider it a public duty to
"go gunning for an editor."
I heard the shots fired that killed Charles De Young, chief founder of the San Francisco Chronicle. In various parts of the United States, for a long or a short period, I have been employed on about twenty-five daily newspapers, some of them of national fame. This varied experience, properly narrated, would make an interesting volume, but I shall not write it. One matter might be touched upon, however, for the reason that "contempt of court" cases are beginning to be quite numerous. The first one I ever heard of I suddenly found myself involved in. As it excited attention throughout the country, I will make brief mention of it.
In 1872 I was put to work on the Chicago Evening Journal as reporter, and was soon afterwards made general court reporter, The excessive use of the writ of Supersedeas by the Supreme Court of Illinois had become an intolerable abuse. I was so impressed with the fact that one day I wrote an editorial severely criticising the Supreme Court, handed it to Mr. Andrew Shuman, managing editor. It was no part of my duty to write editorial, and I had plenty of reportorial work to do, but I thought it would be a mental relief to roast the Supreme and so I turned loose. The article was printed that afternoon. A couple of days afterwards an officer of the law arrived from Ottawa and arrested Mr. Shuman, and also Mr. Charles Wilson, chief owner of the paper, on the charge of "contempt of court." Arraigned at Ottawa on following day, Mr. Shuman contended that an act complained of must be committed in the actual presence of the court, or it could constitute no true contempt of court. This view was not taken by Chief Justice Lawrence, and Mr. Shuman was fined $200, and publisher Wilson $100. Mr. Shuman desired to refuse to pay, and to go to jail, and afterwards test the matter, but Wilson over-ruled and paid the fines.
This action of the Supreme Court created astonishment in Illinois. From motives of rivalry and enmity, two dailies in Chicago commended the court's action, but all other publications in the city viewed it as a blow at the freedom of the press. The weekly papers throughout the state almost unanimously condemned the Court. The Atlantic Monthly (Boston) published an article concerning the matter, and quoted the offensive article entire, and partially condemned it, but only mildly supported the court. All eastern daily papers that expressed an opinion took sides against the court. A state election was near at hand in Illinois. Chief Justice Lawrence and two of his associates were candidates for re-election, and with press and public against them they fared badly being disastrously defeated. One justice also resigned, and the entire Supreme Court was reconstituted, and the evils complained of were rectified for the time being at least.
Most of the newspaper men I knew in former days are gone. Like actors on a stage they played their parts, won praise or blame, and made their exits--as great and small must do. To advance presidential prospects Gen. John A. Logan was, for a considerable time a silent partner in a Chicago newspaper company. It was often my duty to confer with noted persons, such as Joe Jefferson, Henri Rochefort, Leland Stanford, Gen. Terry of the Broderick--Terry duel (sic) and others I might name. Mr. Jefferson was the most unassuming, pleasant, and democratic of all of them--a contented, friendly gentleman who was not in any hurry at all, and was only too glad to give you the information you needed. I took a great liking for him. In those days I often met Melville Stone, one of the editors of the Post and Mail, who was supposed to be dependent on his salary. Instead of money he had ideas. One of these was that a daily paper could be printed in Chicago and
sold at a profit for a cent a copy. He was ready to discuss the
matter with any proper person, and talked a great deal on the
subject. Some people laughed at him; others merely disagreed with
him. I was out west when he finally put his thoughts into living
action. How he got started I don't know, but his efforts
culminated in the Chicago Daily News--morning, noon and evening.
From the very start it proved successful--financially, and in
every other way. Some years afterwards Stone sold out at a big
figure and went into the banking business. He was not "cut out"
for it, but, nevertheless, made a very good vice president and
made some more money. Then he suddenly quit banking to accept the
post of chief manager of the Associated Press of the United states
with his main office at New York City. Although well along in
years he was still in the harness two years a go, and had just
published a fine volume of reminiscences that were worth reading.
In spite of lamentations men do get rich in journalism as well as
in anything else. Stone got rich, and has also wielded a wide
personal influence for good.
Romance and grievous misfortune were strangely intermingled in the career of a reporter I knew intimately for a long time. An old, eccentric and very wealthy publisher married a girl whose unusual beauty caught his attention. In a year or two he died, leaving a great publication on the hands of an inexperienced girl--little more than a school girl or child. Much confusion ensued. Some one had to visit the lady continually for consultation, instruction and authority. The reporter I speak of was assigned to the task and performed his duties so thoroughly that he soon married the blooming widow and by his advice she sold the valuable paper and the immensely valuable real estate to a newly formed company, and the happy pair retired from business cares and went on a long trip to Europe and the Mediterranean lands. In a year or two they returned. The reporter was energetic and ambitious; he had to be occupied, he was a good newspaper man, and he had a superabundance of money. He decided to start a new daily paper. This created rivalries and enmities. He ran his new paper on the sensational plan, cut and slash at everything and everybody, and really seemed on the road to swift success. One day, without his knowledge, and through the blunder or the intentional treason of a trusted subordinate, some improper advertising appeared in the paper. The matter was unnoticed, to all appearances, and the blunder was repeated. Then the law was invoked. The young publisher was arrested on a charge of felony. Several trials took place. For a long time the case continued in the courts. A bushel of money was spent in maintaining a desperate defense, but, in the end the pubisher (sic) had to go to prison. There was no escape. He accepted his fate with much fortitude. But by the time he had served his sentence his costly newspaper property had been wrecked. Almost his last dollar was gone and he and his heart-broken wife were glad to scrape enough money together to fly from a scene of calamity and sorrow. No one knew where they went, or sought to find out.
Another case was quite as bad. A newspaper publisher who became a millionaire, and afterwards embarked in banking, railroad building and other schemes till he was supposed to be worth millions, finally came in contact with many charges of tremendous defalcations. With a big staff of noted lawyers he fought the case for years. He wrecked and lost all his properties and landed at last in prison. After serving part of his sentence he received a pardon, but died a week after his release.
A generation ago--longer ago than that--John P. Irish was widely known through Iowa, Nebraska and adjacent states. As a newspaper publisher, fine public speaker, politician and leading citizen of unblemished name, he won attention and respect. With high qualifications for a brilliant political career, he never seemed to "hit things right." There
was a always something the matter. For various reasons he
"pulled up" and went to California. There he became "Col. John P.
Irish;" he had fame and influence; he made money; he established a
daily paper at the large flourishing city of Oakland, and at the
same time was appointed chief editor of a daily paper in San
Francisco. He had everything he wanted but political success. That
always evaded him. I knew Col. Irish almost from my boyhood, and
could say most flattering things of him, but it is unnecessary.
Some weeks ago I was startled and grieved to read that he had been
killed by a street car in Oakland. He was eighty years of age.
The Gibbon Historical Society, in cooperation
with the ex-service men there, has published a placard with the
latest accepted rules relating to the display of the American
flag. Enough copies have been printed to supply every school room
in Buffalo county. The State Historical Society is glad to
acknowledge receipt of one of these cards.
Early Richardson County Poem
The first dentist in Richardson county; Dr. R. D. Messler, died at Falls City, November 23, 1923, aged 74. He came to Richardson county in 1866. He was a musician, active and influential and with a kind spirit that endeared him to all. Some years ago he wrote an original poem which may find an appropriate place here as an evidence of the type of thought held by pioneer Nebraskans:
Methought I heard a trumpet's call
Far distant yet so loud
I sprang up from my slumbering bed
And found my robe a shroud
And looking down I saw my couch
A grave beside a wall
Matted o'er with weeds and grass
That grew both rank and tall.
A headstone gleamed amid the grass,
My name engraven on;
The day of birth, the day of death,
And the fragment of a psalm.
Crumbling granite marked the spot
Where once the church had stood
Where in life I'd worshipped,
With the Brotherhood.
Standing round on every side
Were friends in life I'd known,
No one moved or spoke a word
The trumpet still was blowing.
Sparkling dewdrops glistened
On every shrub and flower
All nature seemed in sweet accord
T'was Resurrection hour.
"I'm the Christ the Lord anointed
I have for you a place prepared,
Glory in the highest glory,
Wake ye Nations everywhere."
One man living on the south side of town froze to
death in an attempt to reach aid. He and his son were living in a
sod shack and had no food. They stayed there one day but saw they
could not stay the storm out so started with the wind in their
faces to locate the four houses which constituted Harvard. The
father gave out long before they reached them, and the son just
managed to get to one of them before he dropped.
The storm came on so suddenly and was so entirely unexpected that the people were completely unprepared. Many were like the boys, Turner and Moger, who lived on bread made of flour and salt, and snow water and coffee made from the same dirty snow water. Several lives were lost thruout the county and thousands upon thousands of cattle were lost in the storm.
Early Days in Webster County.
"Uncle Si," correspondent of the Guide Rock Signal, is writing installments of Webster county history. Very interesting are these pioneer recollections. Among them is one of a command of cavalry which crossed the Republican river in June, 1870. From it we take the following interesting paragraph:
A little while after the cavalry reached us the heavy government wagons began to reach camp. We wondered how they got those heavy wagons across creeks and canons as there was no bridges or roads.. Then they showed us how it was done. They would stretch heavy rope cables across a bad place and swing the wagons across on them. The next night after the soldiers had marched on we waded the Republican to our house on the north side and were soon asleep. We were awakened by McCallum who whispered that a great body of Indians were fording the river just below our cabin. We jumped into our clothes, crawled down to the river bank and laid there flat until morning. We could hear them go down into the water on the south side of the river and wade across one after another. The night was very cloudy and the darkness was awful. We could not see the Indians and were afraid of being discovered by their dogs. Morning came and to our surprise and joy we saw thousands of buffalo on the north side where there were none the evening before. The land where Guide Rock now stands, and away to the north, east and west was a great moving mass of these big beasts. It was they who had been crossing the river.
There was plenty of game in 1870, in the Republican Valley. Here, is a recollection of that time in hunting.
An old civil war drum recently came to Griff
J. Thomas of Harvard, from his comrade of the civil war, Richard
Trist, of Racine, Wis. The drum was a token of union between these
two men, friends in boyhood and more than friends in the army.
Near the time for Muster Out for both, the Wisconsin comrade sends
the drum to the Nebraska comrade. The Nebraska State Historical
Museum has a place for this drum when no longer used by either of
John Jacobson of Lexington was born in
Denmark Jan. 15, 1849, and settled in 1871 at what was then Plum
Creek (now Lexington) on the Union Pacific railroad. He has lived
there ever since, working for many years as section hand on the
Union Pacific, and homesteaded about four miles west of Lexington.
He made a sod house 10x12 with a dirt floor, one window and one
door and lived there alone until he proved up. A recent interview
with him, printed in the Lexington Pioneer, contains many things
of interest, but the most important contribution in it is the
detailed story he gives of grasshoppers stopping railroad trains
on the Union Pacific and the reason why they stopped the trains.
This story is one of the stock stories of the Nebraska pioneer
life. It has been told, with variations, thousands of times, many
times by people who did not know the circumstances. It has often
been regarded as a frontier lie. The detailed account of Mr.
Jacobson is therefore worth Preservation in the historical annals
of Nebraska. Here it is:
"In the fall of 1873 our section gang was ordered to Stevenson. Stevenson comprised two section houses located four miles west of where Kearney now stands. When we got there we shoveled grasshoppers off the track so that trains could get through. The track was so oily and greasy that the wheels of the engines would just spin and they could not pull a train. This was during the grasshopper plague in Dawson county and the hoppers were so thick and flew in big droves that some times they shut out the sun just like a cloud does. The reason they settled at Stevenson was because they met a storm and heavy wind."
The editor of this magazine wonders whether grasshoppers came in such numbers in 1873. The great grasshopper invasion came on July 20; 1874--as he very well remembers.
First Nebraska Creamery
Franklin W. Corliss died at 2912 South 24th St., Omaha, Nebraska, October 20, 1922, aged 80. In 1871 he built the Waterloo Creamery which is stated to have been the first creamery in Nebraska. For many years he continued in the dairy business and was a pioneer in the introduction of pure bred Holstein cattle in the state. He was active in the construction of the drainage canal from the Elkhorn to the Platte which reclaimed a large tract of rich swampy land.
Made a State Institution February 27, 1883.
An act of the Nebraska legislature, recommended by Govenor James W. Dawes in his inaugural and signed by him, made the State Historical Society a State institution in the following:
Be it Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Nebraska:
Section 1. That the "Nebraska State Historical Society," an organization now in existence--Robt. W. Furnas, President; James M. Woolworth and Elmer S. Dundy, Vice-Presidents; Samuel Aughey, Secretary, and W. W. Wilson, Treasurer, their associates and successors-be, and the same is hereby recognized as a state institution.
Section 2. That it shall be the duty of the President and Secretary of said institution to make annually reports to the governor, as required by other state institutions. Said report to embrace the transactions and expenditures of the organization, together with all historical addresses, which have beer, or may hereafter be read before the Society or furnished it as historical matter, data of the state or adjacent western regions of country.
Section 3. That said reports, addresses, and papers shall be published at the expense of the state, and distributed as other similar official reports, a reasonable number, to be decided by the state and Society, to be furnished said Society for its use and distribution.
Property and Equipment
The present State Historial Society owns in fee simple title as trustee of the State the half block of land opposite and east of the State House with the basement thereon. It occupies for offices and working quarters basement rooms in the University Library building at 11th and R streets. The basement building at 16th and H is crowded with the collections of the Historical Society which it can not exhibit, including some 15,000 volumes of Nebraska newspapers and a large part of its museum. Its rooms in the University Library building are likewise crowded with library and museum material. The annual inventory of its property returned to the State Auditor for the year 1920 is as follows:
Value of Land, 1/2 block 16th and H
Value of Buildings and permanent improvements
Value of Furniture and Furnishings
Value of Special Equipment, including Apparatus,
Educational Specimens (Art, Museum, or other)
Library (Books and Publications)
Much of this property is priceless, being the only articles of their kind and impossible to duplicate.
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