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William Allen White

Article Index

Jotham Meeker, a Baptist missionary connected with the Shawnee Indian Mission near the present site of Kansas City, established the first newspaper published in what is now Kansas. Meeker, a printer as well as a minister of the Gospel, came to Shawnee Mission early in 1833 and (according to his diary) began setting type on the first issue of the Shawnee Sun on February 18, 1835.

This first issue appeared six days later. The Sun, a monthly publication, was printed in the native language of the Shawnee tribe, and was the second newspaper to be published in an Indian language the first being the Cherokee Phoenix (1828), issued in the South. No copies of the Sun's early issues are known to be in existence; but a copy of one of the later issues, dated November 1841, was found in Kansas City a few years ago.

On September 15, 1854, shortly after the opening of Kansas Territory to settlement, a second newspaper, the Kansas Weekly Herald, made its appearance at Leavenworth. Evidently the press proposed to lead rather than to follow the course of progress, for few signs of civilization were visible on the town site of Leavenworth at that time. This departure from usual journalistic practice was criticized by some as preposterous, but most residents of the Territory saw nothing out of the ordinary in the fact that the printing press should thus precede other activities.

The clash between opposing forces within the Territory on the issue of slavery provided the pioneer Kansas editors with abundant copy. Ardent champions as they were of one side or the other in this conflict, the editors actually helped to make the news they reported. During the years of bitter strife that followed the opening of the Territory, printing offices were wrecked or burned by warring factions and their presses demolished or thrown into nearby streams. Lawrence newspapers suffered this fate when the notorious Sheriff Jones and his men sacked the town on May 21, 1856. Jones's men destroyed the plant of the Herald of Freedom, edited by Dr. George W. Brown, smashing the press and throwing type and other equipment in the Kaw River.

The Kansas Free State, established January 5, 1855, by Josiah Miller and R. G. Elliott, suffered a similar fate at the hands of the Lecompton raiders and was never revived. Miller, a native of South Carolina, had left that State because of his opposition to slavery. The "border ruffians" considered him fair game on account of his southern origin and arrested him for treason against the State of South Carolina. Acquitted of the charge, he stumped several of the northern States for Fremont during the Presidential campaign of 1856. Returning to Lawrence in the following year, he was elected probate judge and later State senator from Douglas County. Thus the tradition of the Kansas newspaper man as a political leader was early established. A notable example of this tradition was John J. Ingalls who edited the Atchison Champion during the Civil War period (1863 6). An important figure in Territorial and State politics, Ingalls was United States Senator from Kansas from 1873 until his defeat by the Populists in 1890. From that time until his death ten years later he devoted himself chiefly to literature and journalism.

In spite of raids and wreckings, the pioneer press developed steadily, and by 1858 there were 22 newspapers in the Territory. This number had increased at the close of the Civil War to 37 exactly as many as existed in the country as a whole at the time of the Declaration of Independence, a coincidence upon which Kansas newspapers like to dwell. Kansas had been torn and desolated by years of strife, its economic life paralyzed, and its general development apparently hopelessly arrested. Newspapers played a major part in the phenomenal development of the next five years by reviving hope and confidence, encouraging immigration, and promoting industry. The State's population grew from 140,179 in 1865 to 362,307 in 1870, and the number of newspapers increased during the same period from 37 to 80.

Captain Henry King played a prominent part in the post-war period of Kansas journalism. A native of Illinois, he served in the Union Army throughout the Civil War and then returned to Illinois to edit the Daily Whig at Quincy. In 1869 he came to Topeka, where he edited successively the State Record, the Commonwealth, and the Capital. He was also the first editor of the Kansas Magazine. In 1883 he went to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat as contributing editor. Promoted to the managing editorship of the Globe-Democrat in 1897, he held that position until his death in 1915. Of Kansas journalists in the 1870's and early 1880's, Captain King has written as follows:

We had our rivalries and antipathies, but for the most part they were transient and subordinate, and did not cause any serious disturbance of the fundamental concord. It was in our politics, however, that we were most apt to disregard the impulses of brotherly love and patience. The Kansas newspapers had early manifested a partiality for aggressive and vociferous campaigns. They were fond of putting candidates under the harrow, as they called it a process which they have not yet entirely abandoned, I am told. Even a toughened veteran like General Jim Lane had been lacerated to the point of calling for mercy from the Atchison Champion when Ingalls was editing it. "About the mildest term it ever applies to me," he said, "is miscreant."

The Topeka State Record was first published in 1859 by Edmund G. and W. W. Ross. Edmund Ross, while serving the unexpired term of Senator James H. Lane in the United States Senate, incurred the wrath of his constituents by voting in favor of President Andrew Johnson in the latter's impeachment trial. His political career ruined, Ross returned to his former profession and published the Lawrence Standard for a number of years.

Prominent among the earlier journalists of Kansas was Daniel W. Wilder, better known in later years for his Annals of Kansas. Wilder had settled in Kansas in Territorial days, becoming editor of the Elwood Free Press in 1858. In 1861 he became editor of the Leavenworth Daily Conservative and purchased Colonel Dan Anthony's interest in that newspaper when Anthony joined the army. He went to Rochester, New York, in 1865 to edit the Evening Express, but returned to the Conservative three years later. In 1871 he left Leavenworth for Fort Scott, where he became editor of the Monitor. In the following year he was elected State auditor, and won a reputation for reforms instituted in that office.

John A. Martin purchased the Atchison Squatter Sovereign in 1858 and changed its name to Freedom's Champion. During the war he served as lieutenant colonel and later as colonel of the Eighth Kansas Regiment. After his discharge from the service in 1864, he resumed his editorial position with the Champion and continued at that post until his election as Governor in 1885. He died in 1889, not long after his retirement from the governorship.

Noble L. Prentis, like Martin a native of Illinois and a Civil War veteran, was associated with Captain King on the Topeka Record and Commonwealth, was later editor of the Junction City Union, and during Colonel Martin's term as Governor (1885-1889) was proprietor of the Champion in Atchison. In 1888 he took charge of the Newton Republican, leaving that paper for a position on the staff of the Kansas City Star which he held until his death in 1900.

Another soldier-editor was Col. Daniel R. Anthony, who founded a Kansas newspaper dynasty. As one of the proprietors of the Leavenworth Conservative, established in 1861, Anthony "scooped" the State press on the news of Kansas' admittance to the Union in that year. At the outbreak of the war he became lieutenant colonel of the Second Kansas Cavalry. After the war Anthony returned to newspaper work, and the Leavenworth Times, following its consolidation with several contemporaries, came under his control in 1872. Upon his death in 1904 his son, the late D. R. Anthony, Jr., Congressman for several terms from the First Kansas District, continued publication of the Times. The next of the line, D. R. Anthony, III, is publisher of the paper today (1938).