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Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Kansas People
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William Allen White

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).


 

Also prominent in the early post-war period were Marshall M. Murdock, founder of the Wichita Eagle in 1872, Preston B. Plumb of the Emporia Kansas News, and Sol Miller of the Troy Kansas Chief. But these names are of minor importance in comparison with that of Edgar W. Howe, author of The Story of a Country Town and of numerous other books that have won for him a national reputation in addition to his fame as a journalist. Howe's newspaper career began in 1873, when at the age of nineteen he became editor and publisher of a newspaper in Golden, Colorado. Four years later he moved to Atchison and began publication in that city of the Daily Globe, which under his editorship and proprietorship was a potent force in Kansas journalism for more than a third of a century. Retiring from active newspaper work in 1911, Howe edited and published for several years a magazine called E. W. Howe's Monthly. He died at Atchison late in 1937.

Another Kansas editor and publisher of national reputation is Arthur Capper, who like Ed Howe entered newspaper work at the age of nineteen. Beginning as a typesetter on the Topeka Daily Capital, he worked upward on that journal through the successive stages of reporter, city editor, and Washington correspondent, to become its publisher and proprietor. In 1893 he assumed editorship of the North Topeka Mail, a weekly newspaper later consolidated with the Kansas Breeze, which was founded in 1894 by T. A. McNeal and edited jointly by McNeal and Capper. The latter soon established other publications, including Capper's Weekly, Capper's Farmer, and the Household Magazine.

As publisher of the Capital, Capper soon became closely identified with the Republican party in Kansas politics, and as that party's candidate he was elected Governor in 1914 the first native Kansan to hold this office. After serving a second term as Governor, he was elected to the United States Senate in 1918 and subsequently reelected in 1924, 1930, and 1936.

Capper has been fortunate in his editorial assistants, such as the late Harold T. Chase and T. A. McNeal. Chase was editorial writer for the Capital from 1889 until shortly before his death in 1936, and his scholarly and keenly analytical writing received more than Statewide recognition. The association with T. A. McNeal, from whom Capper purchased the Kansas Breeze in 1895, has continued since that date. Tom McNeal is now (1938) the dean of Kansas editors. A native of Ohio, he came to Kansas in 1879 and was part owner of the Medicine Lodge Cresset for fifteen years. He served a term as mayor of Medicine Lodge, was later a member of the State legislature, and for six years held the office of State printer.

Unlike many of his journalistic contemporaries Frank P. McLennan, Capper's most prominent rival in the Topeka newspaper field, never aspired to public office. He came to Emporia from Ohio in the iSyo's; published the Emporia Daily News with Jacob Stotler and Alexander Butts for several years, and then purchased the bankrupt Topeka State Journal at public auction in 1885. McLennan successfully conducted the Journal as an independent newspaper for nearly half a century. He also served for many years as vice president of the board of directors of the Associated Press, once remarking that he regarded that position as preferable to the office of United States Senator. He died in Topeka in 1933.

Capper was succeeded as Governor of Kansas in 1918 by Henry J. Allen, a Wichita publisher whose attempt to regulate labor disputes through the Kansas Industrial Court attracted national attention. Beginning as editor of the Manhattan Nationalist in 1894, Allen later acquired and operated several daily papers in smaller cities of Kansas. He published the Wichita Daily Beacon from 1907 until 1928, when he sold it to Max and Louis Levand. Shortly after the death of Frank P. McLennan in 1933, Allen became editor of the Topeka State Journal.

J. A. Wayland, who founded the Appeal to Reason at Girard in 1897, was a political journalist of a type seldom found in Kansas, where editors have been prone to promote themselves for public office and to align themselves with the dominant political group. Wayland was an ardent Socialist, and his Appeal to Reason, backed by a fortune acquired in Texas real estate speculation, soon became a national organ of the underprivileged. Wayland later leased the paper to Fred Warren, who continued its publication until 1912. E. Haldeman- Julius then took it over, changing its name to Haldeman-Julius Weekly in 1922, and later to the New Appeal and to its present title, the American Freeman.

For several decades, no name in the annals of Kansas journalism has been better known to the American public than that of William Allen White, "the sage of Emporia." Born in that city in 1868, White was reared in Butler County and learned the printer's trade in the office of the El Dorado Republican. In 1891, soon after graduation from the University of Kansas, he joined the editorial staff of the Kansas City Journal, and was later employed on the Star in the same city. In 1895 he purchased the Emporia Gazette, which he has owned and edited ever since.

With the publication in 1896 of his famous Gazette editorial, "What's the Matter with Kansas?" White achieved national renown almost overnight. Appearing in the midst of a heated Presidential campaign, it assailed the Populist movement then sweeping the Middle West and was given such widespread prominence by the Republican campaign managers that it played an important part in the election of McKinley.

Like Ed Howe of Atchison, White is no less well known as an author than as a journalist. A dozen books of fiction, biography, social and political commentary have appeared from his pen in the past forty years. He has also played an active part in politics and public affairs as an independent "progressive."

Not a few editors and writers who have risen to prominence elsewhere in the country began their careers in Kansas newspaper offices. Wesley Winans Stout, who in 1937 succeeded George Horace Lorimer as editor of the Saturday Evening Post, is a native of Junction City who left college in his freshman year to work on the Wichita Beacon and was later on the editorial staff of the Kansas City Star. Walt Mason, characterized by William Allen White as "the poet laureate of American democracy," wrote the first of his now widely syndicated "prose poems" as a staff worker on the Emporia Gazette, to which he had come after serving an apprenticeship on the Atchison Globe. Edwin S. Beck, a son of the pioneer Holton editor Moses M. Beck, has been managing editor of the Chicago Tribune since 1910. Will T. Beck, a younger son, has continued publication of the Holton Recorder, which his father purchased in 1881.

The Kansas City Star, although a Missouri newspaper, has often been a potent factor in molding public opinion in Kansas. The late William Rockhill Nelson, founder of the Star, soon learned that Republican Kansas offered a more fruitful field for his political theories than traditionally Democratic Missouri. Nelson's successors have continued his editorial policies, and the Star has been identified with the liberal element in Kansas Republicanism.

The indomitable spirit of the pioneer editor still prevails in Kansas journalism. Recent years of unprecedented drought and agricultural depression have not daunted the State's press. And, as has been demonstrated in recent political campaigns, Kansas editors have lost none of their traditional trenchancy. More than 700 newspapers and other periodicals, published in Kansas in 1937, included 61 dailies, 497 weeklies (five of which were published by Negroes), 71 monthlies, and 21 quarterlies.

Realizing that the most accurate and complete history of any community lies in its newspapers, Kansas editors have cooperated with the State Historical Society in preserving their issues for students of Kansas history. The periodical section of the society possesses the most complete files of the State's newspapers in this country. In many instances the society's file of a paper is the only one extant. In January 1937 the State Historical Society had 44,307 bound volumes of Kansas periodicals.

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