Volume 11, No.8          Buffalo County Historical Society          September, 1988

THE NEWSPAPERS OF KEARNEY
Part I
by Margaret Stines Nielsen

        From its earliest days, Kearney has been served by one to seven daily and weekly newspapers. The Kearney Junction Times first appeared on October 12, 1872 with Mendel, Clapp and Cunningham as publishers. Lyman G. Cunningham, a Civil War veteran, graduated from Iowa Wesleyan College in 1870, worked on the Sioux City Journal, then homesteaded on a farm near Riverdale in 1872, where he was joined by his bride, Mary Clapp. He began soliciting advertising and subscriptions for a paper but the press he ordered was delayed and the first issues of the Times were printed in Albia, Iowa. The front page of the original issue, dated October, 1872, is devoted to advertising and a statement of its goal: "the greatest good for the greatest number."

        Cunningham constructed a two-story building on Smith Avenue (present 24th Street and 5th Avenue) which would serve as the first school, the first meeting place for the Presbyterian and Methodist churches and, on Saturday nights, the Philomanthenus Literary Society. The paper was published daily from 1874 to 1876 when it was leased to A. C. Edwards who named it The Gazette. Berger and Julian took over the lease in 1878, renaming it the Nonpareil. In 1880 Cunningham regained control of the press and began publishing the Kearney Weekly Journal. When fire destroyed the building, he built a brick structure which still stands at 15 West 23rd Street.(1)
 
 
Journal Building 1890 15 West 23 Street
 
Keaney Junction Times Building, 1872; 
later Buffalo County Journal
        On February 3, 1873 the Central Nebraska Press was established, with Webster Eaton as proprietor. Samuel C. Bassett says of the Press:

In the days of the founding of ... Kearney Junction it was generally understood that the owners of the townsite and the promoters of the town donated to "Web" Eaton a considerable number of city lots to establish a newspaper, daily and weekly... "Web" Eaton ... was a very shrewd politician; he secured by appointment, political preferment, and left the management of the Press largely in the hands of his brother Rice Eaton.... Under his management the Press soon secured a state wide reputation ... and exerted a large influence.
        On March 18, 1879 William C. Holden took over the Press introducing an era of muck raking which lasted for nearly ten years. Bassett wrote that Holden "seemed to take delight in general attacks on individuals and it would have occasioned little surprise had he been killed by some whom he attacked."

        Only one copy of the papers published during Holden’s tenure was found, that of March 19, 1881. In a vitriolic story titled "Wonderful Heroism" Holden wrote that Constable Hage and Policeman (?) Cutting went to Denver "armed to the teeth" in pursuit of David and Mrs. Allen, indicted for perjury. Denver police had been alerted to "this dangerous pair" and they were jailed "until Hage and Cutting could take in the Palace and other places of high-toned resort." Returning to Kearney, they were met by Sheriff Seeley "with an excited posse” who took the Allens to "the hog pen known as the Buffalo County Jail ... that something rotten has existed in the sheriffs office we have no doubt.”

        Mr. and Mrs. Allen had testified to some of those activities including prisoners who were "spirited out through the keyhole of the jail" The Allens posted bail, provided by eleven well known citizens, and returned to Denver. Holden charged that the indictment was  Sheriff Seeley's means of getting revenge.

Holden also took a jab at a competitor:
The Nonpareil is again charging Ayer with having been a thief in the Clerk's
office ... Mr. Ayer stands 1000% higher than his accuser as an honorable
man and gentleman.
New Era Standard Office, 1904.

        Although J. J. Saville, editor of the Western New Era had stated that "personal journalism is ... cowardly ... when an editor attacks an individual through its columns" this did not prevent him from printing a long letter titled "The Prostitute Press" written by "Gillespie” (2) The writer tells of an encounter between Holden and

an emigrant we were recently trying to sell Kearney real estate ... Kearney is not so vile as represented and the Press is not exactly in the line of respectable journalism ... The loud editor ... all ablaze unbolting his smut geyser for full half an hour ... We should rather pity the unfortunate man who has so little regard for decency ... as to issue a paper that wears not a fig leaf of shame.
        In discussing Holden's attacks on individuals, Bassett writes, "in some cases the provocations were great and the parties guilty as publicly charged, but the Press under Holden's management lost public ... influence and support ."

        Another newspaper of the time, equally adept at name-calling, was the Nonpareil under the ownership of B. H. Goulding. Goulding, a lawyer, came to Kearney in 1874 and began selling farm implements. In 1880-81, he bought the Nonpareil from Berger and Julian.

        One issue in the spring of 1881 was chiefly devoted to the Democratic County convention, in which Goulding accused "The Ring" of being "carpet-baggers"

James Van Sickle bought whiskey last Saturday and used it to influence the Ring convention ... If the Ring Ticket is elected Buffalo County will wait a long time before it sees the money that has been taken from the treasury.(3) The Ring candidate is a U.P. supernumary ... a carpet-bagger ... The Ring convention was a little talk, much whiskey and a good deal too much railroad aristocracy.
        Even the staid Buffalo Journal, in its issue of April 4, 1881, attacked Goulding:
 
    The Nonpareil man flipped coppers to ascertain on which side of the
political fence he would heave himself. Since the coin was borrowed from
the Webb faction it naturally landed a little that way ... Goulding (who
called the temperance ticket an old woman's ticket) put on a red ribbon when
a Temperance reformer came to from Chicago. He and the Temperance disorganizer John Seaman, shook hands over the bloody chasm ... then worked like Turks for whiskey at command of the saloon keepers.
        Finding the Nonpareil "not remunerative", Goulding sold it in 1883 and entered the insurance business in Lincoln. At least one Kearney man admired his colorful writing: in 1887 H. D. Watson brought him back to Kearney to write promotional dispatches for Kearney and "its great water power" to be sent to eastern newspapers. Goulding also sold himself on Kearney's prospects; he went into real estate during the boom days.

        The Western New Era was first published by Dr. John J. Saville, a surgeon during the Civil War. He practiced medicine in Sioux City, Iowa for a while before coming to Nebraska as Indian agent at the Red Cloud Agency. In 1877, he entered a tract of land on the former Ft. Kearny military reservation, where he farmed and continued his medical practice.

        According to Bassett, the Western New Era was established to promote the interests of W E. Dorsey, a candidate for Congress. In the first issue, Dr. Saville wrote of his choice of the name: "To Buffalo County a New Era is at hand when farmers will no longer be the victims of corrupt rings." While Republican in politics, the editor advocated that "they properly adjust the relations of capital and labor." As for the Temperance Party, he had "little stock for a large part of the arguments of many temperance advocates.''

        A history of Buffalo County, published in the first issue of the New Era on August 6, 1880, said of the county seat battle between Gibbon and Kearney, "the contest degenerated into a scrimmage for county funds between the two banks." It was the "cause of bitter factional strife that yet curses the county. During the fall election we propose to throw some light upon the subject for the benefit of farmers."

        In 1884 the Rhone Brothers took over the New Era with F. S. Rhone as President and Roy W. the editor, and the name became the Kearney New Era. They took a bold step on February 2, 1886 when they allowed the Methodist Ladies Aid to issue a "Women's Edition." The temporary staff congratulated the editor for entrusting the paper to "those who know little of publishing ... If this effort demonstrated that women are fully competent to edit a newspaper they hope sometime to present another." The paper contained a history of Kearney churches and an "appeal to voters to make every effort for the suppression of saloons and gambling haunts for coming years." Also included was a report from Maud Marston about a Girls Club in Chicago.

        The Kearney Daily Enterprise, described by Bassett as a sky-rocket, was established as a promoter of the Kearney boom. Kearney citizens had "raised a subsidy in cash and lots for a daily newspaper which should contain the A.P. dispatches and be a paper of some metropolitan pretensions."  H. D. Watson accepted the subsidy and appointed William E. Smythe as editor.

        Smythe became editor of the Medford, Massachusetts Mercury at the age of nineteen because his father had taken the advice of a Boston editor: "get him a place as 'devil' in a country printing office; hand him a copy of Partorfs 'Life of Horace Greeley'; tell him to study politics and American history." After an ill-fated book publishing venture he came to Kearney and took over the publication of the Enterprise in association with Will Hall Poore and L. R. Britton.

        The first issue appeared on June 24, 1889. By August 1lth the staff announced they were publishing a ten-page paper: "We couldn't help it - the advertising was coming in so heavy." The paper recorded the rapid development of Kearney, along with its great expectations. On Sunday, December 22, 1889 the accomplishments of the past year were described in glowing terms. "12,000 souls" were said to be living in Kearney.

        The Enterprise made its biggest scoop when it sent its society editor, Maud Marston, to Kansas City where she boarded the train carrying Nellie Bly back to New York from her trip around the world. Maud was the only reporter to interview her on this lap of her journey.(4) Will Hall Poore, writing under the name of G. O. West, was widely quoted as humorist and satirist. On April 30, 1890 he wrote, "Lincoln is an abominable seat of corruption in these closing days of the legislature, or else there is six-footed lying on the part of the great Omaha journalist. Rosewater (editor of the Omaha Bee) gives a list of the men he objects to and tells why. It would take a 32-page souvenir to tell why the public objects to Rosewater."

        Smythe's downfall apparently occurred because of his flip-flop on the "prohibition amendment" as against local option, the cause of bitter dissension during the election of 1890. As reported in the Crete Vidette,

       The prohibition party in Nebraska have secured the support of the Kearney Enterprise. The temperance people have subscribed for 10,000 copies for one year at $1.25 per copy.

        Apparently the prohibitionists weren't able to make good on delivering that many subscriptions. The Hub of August 21, 1890 reports that the Enterprise was about to come out against the amendment. "The information was based upon the statements of ... Ed Roggen, chief swag dispenser of the brewers and distillers"

        In the same issue an article titled "The Role of the Wrecker" reports that the Enterprise had dispensed entirely with the AP report - "no general news, no sporting notes, no congressional report, no markets" The Hub further states:

The Enterprise was recently reorganized with Kearney's four land companies
at the helm ... Smith destroys the influence of the paper ... by selling out
to the organizers of the whiskey campaign ... Smith, the wrecker was brought
up standing before the directors of the company, and the Hub understands ... that the strings which bound him to the paper have been ruthlessly severed and that he steps out entirely.
        Smythe became the editor of the Omaha Bee, much respected for his knowledge of irrigations L. R. Cunningham took over the Enterprise, publishing it as the Journal-Enterprise.
NOTES
1. The building, carrying the names "Cunningham" and "Journal Building," with the date. 1890 was for many years the Kearney
    Laundry and is now a restaurant.
2. James E. Gillespie was described by Nebraska historian Andreas as "lawyer and dramatic writer".
3. The trial of Van Sickle was called off. Though he was probably guilty of theft, it was agreed he was a victim of his friends.
4. Tales of Buffalo County-Vol. 1
5. His book, The Conquest of Arid America, republished in 1969, is considered a classic in the field.
Proofread 4-26-2002
Revised 3/12/2003


 

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