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Pistol Packin' Pencil-Pushers

by Cecil Howes

May 1944 (Vol. 13 No. 2), pages 116 to 138.
Transcribed by lhn;
digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society.

"THE newspaper is the historian's surest and most nearly eternal source of information. The living event is forever gone, but the newspaper is evidence that life was here."

I know not who wrote the above lines, but they typify the highest ideals of journalistic endeavor, the factual recording of things as they are. Recently there passed from the Kansas scene the last of the rugged individualists, editorially speaking. The death of William Allen White ended an era in Kansas newspaper history.

It began with the turbulent days preceding the Civil War and continued in unabated fury for fifty years except as the participants passed to their rewards. Bill White was a comparatively late comer into this galaxy of individual journalists, but he left his mark upon the era as distinctly as did Sol. Miller, M. M. Beck, John Speer, Dan Anthony, Marsh Murdock, Jake Stotler and a host of lesser but no less active editors in Kansas.

These men brought to Kansas a record in the number of newspapers and newspaper readers that has not been approached by any other state and has had much to do with the high literacy rate of our citizens.

They brought to the Sunflower State the Kansas language, a style terse and pointed. None ever asked a Kansas editor to make his writings more definite and certain. There was precision in what these editors said, they were proud to take sides on any question of moment and none was ever adverse to replying "I dood it." The Kansas language is one without equivocation, innuendo, double talk or double meaning. It is generally incisive and sometimes mordacious. It doesn't wiggle, wobble or waver, beat about the bush, put out a smoke screen, play hide and seek or dodge the issue and does not stoop to demagogery. It contains no weasel words.

Nationally the era passed with the deaths of Dana, Horace Greeley, "Marse" Henry Watterson, William Rockhill Nelson and their contemporaries. At the beginning of the present century began the era of anonymity in newspaper editing. In recent years there has been a bit of swinging back through the use of columns and commentators upon events of the community, the state, the nation or the world.



Pistol-packing pencil pushers is no figure of speech or alliterative titling. It was an actual fact. For, in the days of which I write, the typewriter had not been invented or was chiefly a toy or an instrument of business. It may be recalled by some that Col. William R. Nelson refused to allow typewriters in his news or editorial rooms because he felt that his writers tended to string out their stories or editorials and what he wanted was a clear-cut, sharply defined statement of fact or opinion without quantities of expressive but unnecessary verbiage.

The editors wrote with pen or pencil. During territorial days and through much of the Civil War period every Kansas editor also packed a gun. The old Colt's horse pistol was as much the necessary equipment of an editor in those days as was his pencil and a piece of scratch paper, or maybe just an old envelope.

With one or two exceptions I am inclined to the belief that no Kansas editor was actually bloodthirsty. They seldom shot to bolster their views or their ego but toted their guns purely as a matter of personal protection against viciousness. There is little sign of lust to kill in all the history of Kansas journalism, as rowdy, vituperative, flamboyant, pitiless and partisan as it was in the early days.

You should remember that Kansas was settled by crusaders, either from the North or the South, men and women who were willing to give their lives and their property in support of or in opposition to human slavery. There were no pennyweights, no shrinking violets within or without the newspaper profession in those days. Pillage, torture and murder were concomitants of the times. It was frequently a question of the survival of the quickest on the draw. Like their contemporaries in the crusade editors took sides. There was no sitting on the fence in those days. You were either for or against slavery and all of its works and you lived and acted accordingly and always tried to act first and examine into the probable intentions of the other fellows or their groups afterward.

The editors in Kansas for the first ten years of its history as a political entity, either as a territory or a state, fought fire with fire. Fire and brimstone was a necessary ingredient of their views upon the slavery question, border ruffians, jayhawking, murder, theft and the general cussedness of any editor or others who happened to have leanings toward the other side of any question.

Those men, on both sides, were masters of vigorous English. They knew or concocted virile expressions. They applied the barbed


epithet where they thought it would do the most good. Personal and editorial abuse was not uncommon. They spoke and they lived not only vigorously but violently and some died with their boots on.

Those editors were the embodiment of the drive and force of a crusader. They never were neutrals and never nonpartisan. Their abusive expressions were the off-shoot of enthusiasm, and psychologists assert that concentration for anyone along a certain line induces obsessions and engenders personal animosities. The editors of an early day and their constituents made no distinction between politics and other questions of moment. If an editor were "agin" something he was also "ferninst" the personality that was sponsoring whatever project the editor happened to be "agin" at the moment. There was no distinction between editorial freedom and personal freedom in those days. If an editor objected to any program or the views of any person it was taken to be personal as well as political opposition to the proposal under discussion.

So it is no wonder that editorial viewpoints bred personal animosities. The times and conditions were such that no other course was open, they believed, as did their constituents and those whom the editors opposed. There is an old dogma, "If you believe you are right, let there be no deviation from the charted course." That was firmly imbedded in the minds and personalities of the men and women who constituted the citizenship of Kansas in those early days. And it applied to the editorial brethren as well as to the ordinary sovereign squat-meaning Mr. Average Citizen.

Some mention must be made of a group of newspaper men, not editors, but correspondents for Eastern papers, who packed pistols as well as language and had an important part of keeping aroused the question of squatter sovereignty and how slavery was to be driven from the new territory by force of numbers and arms when needed.

This group of audacious writers wrote feelingly and generally quite accurately of a passionate and raucous period in the history of Kansas. All of them were rugged, a few ruthless,.they recorded the progress of human history as they saw it, fearlessly and sometimes intolerantly. They engaged in bitter and acrimonious debates in their newspapers over policies of the two factions of Antislavery settlers and, like the settlers, they were one of them and fought personally and with their pens to make Kansas a free state.

Horace Greeley visited Kansas early. Dr. Edward Everett Hale wrote a book about the new territory without ever setting foot on


its soil. Many of these correspondents did come to Kansas to write about affairs and remained to help mould the affairs of the new state and to live within its borders until their own hour glass ran out. Some of them held public office in a later day.

Marcus J. Parrott, Martin F. Conway, Col. Richard J. Hinton, Samuel F. Tappan, the Hutchinsons, William A. Phillips-later a member of congress from Kansas and for whom Camp Phillips was named, James Redpath, Richard Realf, James M. Winchell-later to be chairman of the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention, John Henry Kagi, John E. Cook and many others were in this group of correspondents, all militant advocates of Democratic processes, so long as it meant the destruction of slavery and the slave power.

Those of you who may have taken only a cursory glance at Kansas history will remember the sacking of Lawrence, the tossing of the type and printing presses of the Free-State newspapers into the Kansas river. There were other instances of a similar nature at Atchison and Leavenworth and print shops were wrecked at other points because the editors were too outspoken, too vehement possibly, in their advocacy of either the anti- or the pro-slavery causes. But these losses did not deter the editors a single minute. They borrowed money or type or printing equipment and their papers came out shortly after these episodes just as bitterly assailing the other side and as plain-spoken in support of their beliefs as if nothing had happened.

Dan Anthony I of Leavenworth deserves top billing among the pistol-packing pencil pushers. He fought a duel, was shot at numerous times, was seriously wounded once and killed a rival editor in his own home town. All of these incidents occurred during the territorial or early statehood days, and he carried two big horse pistols for many years and to his dying day these lethal weapons, ready to go, laid on or in the top drawer of his desk. During the later period of forty years he never had occasion to use this armament, but it was well known that "Ole Dan" was always ready. He mellowed a good deal as he grew older and while his likes and dislikes were just as sharply drawn and aggressively supported or opposed he learned to temper his violence materially.

The first victim to the pistols of Ole Dan was R. C. Satterlee, one of the editors of the Leavenworth Herald. Anthony had heard that a rebel flag had been flown from a store in Iatan, Mo., across the river from Leavenworth. He went over to see about it, visited the store where it was displayed, and returned to relate his adventures in his paper, The Conservative. [1] The Herald copied the Anthony version


and then printed another version, concluding: "Whereupon, it is said, Anthony made double-quick time out of the store down the railroad track, with coat-tails extended, and the utmost horror depicted on his countenance." [2]

The next day Anthony called at the Herald office and inquired for Satterlee. When his rival was not in the office Anthony and a friend left. They met Satterlee a short distance from the Herald office and after an exchange of a few words the shooting began, which resulted in the death of Satterlee and the wounding of Anthony's companion. [3]

About the close of the war Anthony engaged in a violent controversy in support of Capt. J. B. Swain, "recently sentenced by a court martial at Fort Leavenworth for killing rebels." In his paper Anthony said:

Col. Jennison gave the orders for the killing, and when called on to testify, denied his verbal order [4]

The next day there appeared this advertisement in the Leavenworth Daily Times, then published by P. H. Hubbell & Co., and later purchased by Anthony:

D. R. Anthony, in his statement of May 11th, in regard to me, lied, and knew he lied, when making it.

(Signed) C. R. JENNISON [5]

Anthony met Jennison on the street the following day. Jennison called to Anthony that he wanted to talk to him. Anthony asserted that he backed away and advised Jennison that he did not want to talk to him and further that Jennison was armed with at least two eight-inch navy revolvers.

The shooting began and Jennison was wounded in the leg. [6] Anthony was acquitted of a charge of assault with intent to kill. [7]

Later another rival editor, W. W. Embry, shot Anthony [8] and Embry was killed by Thomas Thurston, a former employe of Anthony. [9] The wounds of Anthony were so severe that medical journals of the time said, "So far as we can ascertain there. are no parallels in the annals of surgery of a man surviving such a wound." Colonel Anthony did survive and lived many years as an aggressive, militant editor.


Anthony engaged in many fist fights with citizens. He apparently had no personal fear of anybody at any time. He was mayor at Leavenworth, and Gen. Thomas Ewing, then commander of the district of the border, had Anthony arrested and taken to Kansas City and martial law was declared in Leavenworth because the mayor had refused to allow some Missourians to reclaim horses which they believed had been taken from Missouri and were being held by Kansas Antislavery men. Anthony was held by the soldiers only one day and martial law was lifted. On returning, the evening of September 8, 1863, Anthony found his fellow citizens assembled to greet him. He addressed them in part:

Yesterday, I was brutally arrested and marched out of town with two thieves at my side, followed by a company of soldiers with cocked revolvers pointed at my back. Tonight, I returned to Leavenworth, my home, escorted by a committee of ten of your truest and best men.
Yesterday, Martial Law reigned in Leavenworth-today it is scattered to the four winds of Heaven. Yesterday we were despondent, today we are triumphant. . . . The thieves who had me in arrest, left in a hurry. . . . Had Gen. Ewing made the same haste when he left here in pursuit of Quantrill, with his enemy in the front, that his detectives and soldiers did with an imaginary foe in the rear of them, Quantrill would not have escaped from the butchery at Lawrence with impunity. [10]

A. F. Collamore, Leavenworth correspondent for the old Kansas City (Mo.) Times, wrote of Anthony in 1880:

The fiendish, bloodthirsty proprietor of the Leavenworth Times, is so fearfully low down and utterly despicable, here, where he is thoroughly known, that the very dogs, the sorriest mongrels or the mangiest Spitz, would, in a certain contingency, pass him by, and cross a county writhing with agony, in search of a cleaner post. For twenty-two years, it has been his habit to call decent men, who opposed his lunacies, "dirty dogs," "gamblers," "skunks," "drunkards," "scoundrels," etc. His beastiality of disposition, and brutishness of heart, have banished him from the walk in life of every gentleman, and he stalks through our streets, despised, shunned, and hideous to the sight of those who, with gentle instincts or cultivated habits, loathe disagreeable or disgusting surroundings. Ignoring decency, to answer an argument, or refute a charge, he even resorts to his vocabulary of billingsgate which springs spontaneous from a putrid heart, and scatters his blackguardism in very poor English. Gentlemen, congregated on the sidewalk, scatter at his approach, as though a cyclone of epidemic pestilence was imminent, and ladies shudder, as they drop their veils and shrink with horror, when they realize his vicinage. . . [11]

From the above it may be gleaned by all that Collamore didn't like Anthony. It may be said here that the respect was mutual, for


Anthony wrote of Collamore and two others, that they had "for years been associates and participants . . . in whisky drinking, gambling and debauchery. The trio embraces three of the lowest, dirtiest, filthiest scoundrels that ever infested any place on earth." [12]

Anthony was a participant in many affrays aside from his shooting affairs with editors. Gen. James C. Stone, one-time resident at Leavenworth, is reported to have beaten Anthony with an umbrella. Collamore's account says that "Anthony backed for half a block while he received the castigation and then ran yelling for mercy." [13]

One of Anthony's employees, who learned the newspaper business under the fiery editor of the Leavenworth Times, has written: "He was a hard task-master, yet a good one. His likes and dislikes were very marked. If he didn't like you it was best to remain in the background, for he never forgot why he disliked you." [14]

One of the interesting incidents in the career of Colonel Anthony and an enlightened sidelight on his character, is the campaign he waged against his own cousin, George T. Anthony, for a second term as governor of Kansas. George T. Anthony had had the most active support of the colonel in the first campaign, but they quarreled over a matter of policy during the first few months of Governor Anthony's term and became bitter political enemies. So acrimonious were the attacks by Colonel Anthony upon his cousin and so actively did he wage his campaign that the governor had only a smattering of votes in the convention which nominated John P. St. John as the Republican candidate for governor and thus denied Governor Anthony a second term.

The next in line of the pistol-packin' editors takes us to Topeka, where another important shooting affray involving editors occurred. J. Clarke Swayze was the editor of the Topeka Blade. He had long been engaged in sharp newspaper controversies with F. P. Baker, editor of the Commonwealth and with John W. and V. P. Wilson, former editors of the Topeka Times.

Swayze accused the Wilsons of padding the bills for county printing and frequently printed reflections upon the integrity of the Wilsons. The Wilsons retaliated and the bitter controversy continued for many months. On March 27, 1877, John Wilson put on his war paint, donned his lethal implements and went hunting for


Swayze. He found him within a matter of minutes and when the smoke of battle cleared Swayze was mortally wounded. [15]

The late John Wesley Roberts, the founder of the Oskaloosa Independent and grandfather of the present editor, engaged in numerous sharp controversies in his papers and personally with the methods of Colonel Anthony. Yet, when Anthony was lying near death from the bullets of Embry, Roberts, who was then editing the Leavenworth Daily Commercial, frequently sat beside his brother editor and discussed philosophy, politics, economics, religion or any other topic which came to their attention. [16]

Roberts was one of the pistol-totin' editors, not for any rival editor but for citizens who felt themselves aggrieved because Roberts had stepped upon their toes.

The Oskaloosa Independent said:

The Independent editorially denounced jayhawking. During all the years of the war this newspaper continued with heavy indictments of this unlawful business, and became, thereby, the object of hatred and threatened revenge by the horse-thief crowd, which grew to considerable numbers in these parts.

Even after 70 years the Independent cannot name names or tell all it knows about this business, but the editor relates the following to show the temper of those times:

Toward the close of the war its editor, J. W. Roberts, was repeatedly threatened and plots were made to do him bodily harm and destroy his property. Men followed him about the unlighted streets, whistled their signals in the darkness, and at one time during the county fair plotted the burning of the printing office. Warned of this mob action a party of 16 armed citizens of the town took positions at the windows of the office and stood guard through the night. The toughs got cold feet and failed to show up and a killing was averted. At another time three of the gang were appointed to go to the editor's residence in the night, call him out and beat him up. A neighbor woman, sitting up with a sick child, saw the three fellows go by the house and hide in a big patch of jimson weeds in the barn lot. The editor had been warned of the plot and had three loaded guns at his bedside. But again the nerve of the scoundrels failed them and they slunk away in the darkness. In later years Mr. Roberts remarked to his son, then associate editor, that while he and his friends won the long conflict and saw law and order restored when three of the outlaw leaders were driven from the county, he "wouldn't go through it again for a warranty deed to Jefferson county."

Once a time bomb, crudely made, was placed in the door of his printshop, but it was discovered in time to prevent damage or injury. Roberts engaged in a bitter fight against a gang of horse-


thieves who called themselves the Union League, and finally drove them out of the county. An attempt to wreck this printing plant was made because he espoused the cause of prohibition. [17]

Two decades from territorial days the fighting spirit of the Kansas editors was still rampant but they were not so much given to riddling their rival editors with bullets as with satirical invective and verbal brickbats. Many of them continued their vituperative onslaughts down into the early years of the present century. Their methods of devastation changed from lead to words, but the words were tossed about with equal vigor and colorful design as those earlier editors tossed leaden missiles at each other and their enemies.

It wasn't until later that the editors generally changed their ways. Possibly it was not until William Allen White pointed out that the masters of abusive language in Kansas editorial chairs were either dead or in the poorhouse that the general plan of name calling was replaced by vigorous arguments and careful marshaling of facts and figures to win debates and discussions.

The period from the late 1860's down to the close of the century may be divided into two distinct sections, both intermingled as to time but widely different as to locale and purpose.

We herewith present some excerpts from various newspapers of our fair state in which the editors expressed their more or less general or specific views relative to their rivals. It should be noted that these were purely newspaper rows between editors of the same neighborhood or in adjacent counties where something occurred which aroused an editor to a determination to drive his rival out of the community, not by threats but by the most scathing, ruthless, meaningful, sometimes vulgar but generally colorful epithet, invective and innuendo.

Let us look now upon the proofs thereof: Frank C. Montgomery was the editor of the Hays Sentinel and Harry Freese was competitor. There were numerous flare-ups between the two editors and some name calling.

Montgomery didn't mind being called a horse- thief. He had a horse. He didn't mind his rival calling him a skunk for his rival smelled bad. But when Freese accused Montgomery of stealing a picket fence, which Montgomery did need, but didn't steal, it was too much. He went on the warpath, found Freese and they engaged in a street ruckus that was long the talk of the town. The record does not show how long the rival editor stayed in the hospital, but


Frank Montgomery carried to his grave a twisted and gnarled finger as the result of the fracas.

T. W. Eckert, editor of the Arkansas City Traveler, wrote of the editor of the Arkansas City Enquirer:

It is reported that Charlie McIntire may soon take charge of Greer's supplement in this city. Charlie is all right. In fact, anybody would be an improvement On the eunuch who is snorting around in the basement, but unable to do anything.

That paragraph cost Eckert $700 in a libel judgment. The Kansas Free State, Lawrence, April 7, 1855:

It was exceedingly amusing to see how very much some men were alarmed in this place on the day of election. The editor of the Herald was concealed most of the day, until near night, then, loaded down with revolvers and bowies, sneaked over to the polls and voted after the Missourians had dispersed. A number of others did not go to the polls.
We have heard of hybrids of various descriptions, but only once of a cross between the quadruped and insect. That isolated case is the editor of the Iowa Point Dispatch-he is half "fyste" and half tumble-bug! His quadruped nature is indicated by his bark, and his insect nature, by the substance he delights to revel in!
"Venerable," of the Dispatch, acknowledges his indebtedness to us, to the amount of a hundred barrels of corn.-Keep your corn, neighbor, for home consumption; if we should have a hard Winter, provender for asses will be scarce in the Spring!

From the Marysville Enterprise, May 16, 1868:

Cone [of the Nemaha Courier, Seneca] for the three hundred and fifty-fifth time, refers to our being in the guard-house on one occasion. We have acknowledged that fact so often that it is useless to do so any more. Cone-you idiot-you Jackass-red-headed, frizzle-headed, mush-headed, slab-sided, brainless deformity and counterfeit imitation of a diseased polecat-we inform you again, once more and emphatically, we were there. But it wasn't for stealing type!

From The Advisor, Voltaire, April 22, 1886:

The snooping propensities of the Colby Cat are fully equal to those of the old "yaller" variety, and like the "yaller" cat, is continually in trouble by reason of it. For the past winter the Colby feline has been too much engaged in Sheridan county to smell much in any other direction, but the vigorous kicking it has received from that quarter has driven it out and now the nose of the beast is in this county. We are loaded for bear and don't want to monkey with cats, but if some things continue, there will be an excellent opportunity for some one to start a manufactory of fiddle strings in Thomas county.

From the Ottawa Republican, October 22, 1874:

For the most fulsome and able-bodied lying we recommend the Ottawa Journal as being in advance of any sheet in Kansas. Their elementary principles are founded upon falsehood and their political contest upon exaggeration of the most exaggerated sort. It has grown to an impossibility for them to make the most common statement about the most common affairs, without falsifying and enlarging.

From the Dodge City Times, October 6, 1877:

After a sojourn of some weeks in the dog house, or, as it has been more recently dubbed, the "lime kiln," Mr. John Blake and his room-mate, "Shorty,"


are again as free as air. They were released immediately after the last meeting of the Council. Mr. John Blake greatly regrets that he has been thus compelled to eat the city's bread and drink the city's water for so long a time, as it made him think of the dry and dreary times when he was a good templar and tasted not the beverage.
Although we have promised Mr. Blake not to say anything that would injure his standing in the community, yet we are compelled to waive that promise for once and say that he is about as onery a specimen of the genus-homo as we ever saw, and we do earnestly believe that his proper sphere is the rock pile. He might make a good well digger or street scavenger if he was properly watched and kept at work, but as a man on his own merits, he is no good.
As for Shorty, he is not so bad. But he will persist in always being around under foot, and never was known to refuse a drink. 'He might have some style about him if he was a mind to, but he don't seem to care.
These two ex-guests of ours, we hope, will not cause the city useless trouble and expense any more.

There was intense rivalry between Atchison and Leavenworth to become the trading and political centers of the territory soon to become a state.

R. S. Kelley and John H. Stringfellow founded the Squatter Sovereign at Atchison, a Proslavery paper. At Leavenworth was published the Proslavery Kansas Weekly Herald, edited by H. Rives Pollard. Wrote Pollard May 11, 1855:

It is with great reluctance we condescend to notice anything from the vituperative pen of the insignificant, puerile, silly, black-guard who at present presides over the Editorial conduct of the Sovereign. Atchison may be, but Leavenworth is not the place where Peter Pindar's remark, "every black-guard scoundrel is a king," is recognized by the community. . . . The egotistical dupe of the Sovereign thinks we are a representation of the verdancy of Virginia. . . . Be that as it may, we can retort by saying that the mendacity of Missouri is represented in the person of one R. S. Kelley, of Atchison.

To which Kelley replied in no uncertain terms that Pollard was the scum of the earth, a blackguard, muckraker and various other terms not of endearment. To this Pollard replied (issue of June 1)

The low, silly, garrulous numbskull of the Squatter Sovereign, yclept Kelley-the contemptible, whining, blind puppy of Atchison, that answers to the name of "Bob," continues to pour forth his tirade of abuse upon us with unrelenting fury. The Sovereign, in speaking of our "low flung language," says: "He can assail no one but in the language of the doggery."
It is to be presumed that when we assail a dog, it will be in language intelligible to him. We look upon Kelley as a dog, and consequently thought the "language of the doggery" suitable to the occasion.

In the peroration of the Sovereign's article, Kelley becomes exceedingly bellicose, and gives us to understand he "will fight." This does not frighten us: if Kelley wishes to fight, and will designate some time and place for that purpose, we will meet him.


The two rival editors of newspapers in rival towns continued their tirades and Pollard became so incensed that he challenged Kelley to a duel. But Kelley was too busy promoting the slavery cause and suggested that if his rival would devote as much time and space to editing a newspaper worthy of the name and support the cause for which the papers were founded and boost the community in which he proposed to live, his rival wouldn't have time to fight a duel.

Next possibly we should consider some newspaper rows with a somewhat different purpose in view. These grew out of the bitter county-seat contests which marked the settlements of some of the western Kansas counties. The driving force of the rival editors was not so much the general annihilation of their competitors as the destruction of the claims of the rival town for the county seat. About the first thing that the promoters of a town sought was an editor. About the only requirement they laid down was that the editor be the owner of a shirt-tail full of type, a battered old press and a command of abusive language intended to tear to pieces whatever upstart might undertake the publication of a newspaper, alleged or real, in the rival community.

The things those birds said about each other, to put it mildly, were not nice, in accepted parlance. There were many fightin' words used by editors of an earlier day and there is reason to believe they meant most of what they wrote, as witness these excerpts:

From the Hugoton Herald:

Now if we had Sam Wood hung and the deadheads that came over from Springfield to attend to our business tarred and feathered, we would have our dirty work done for the spring. The adherents of Wood are an itinerant class of gamblers, toughs and disreputable roustabouts, the most despicable followers the heart of such a contemptible old villain could wish.


From The Jacksonian, Cimarron, August 2, 1889:

We are "onto" the lop-eared, lantern-jawed, half-bred and half-born whisky-soaked, pox-eaten pup who pretends to edit that worthless wad of subdued out-house bung-fodder, known as the Ingalls Messenger. He is just starting out to climb the journalistic banister and wants us to knock the hay-seed out of his hair, pull the splinters out of his stern and push him on and up. We'll fool him. No free advertising from us. Murphy, k. m. a.

E. L. Cline, editor of the Garfield County Call, Eminence, November 25, 1887:

Ravanna, a hamlet conceived in infamy and buried in disgrace. The most degraded of . . . bats was one who flourished as the editor of a newspaper called the [Ravannal Record. . . . He flies from


one corner of the rookery which, by the way, was intended for a court house, to another, regardless of stone walls or contact therewith. His cheek is of flint and the indentions in some places have almost worn through the wall. He is a great curiosity to every visitor of the "deserted village," and oftentimes since have men well versed in veracity tried to win from him his laurels as a liar but in every instance met with disasterous failure. He stands alone more than the peer of any liar on the earth or in the sun, moon and stars, the balance of the universe still to hear from. For this fame he has become immortal and will continue to eke out a miserable bat-like existence until some undiscovered planet will send forth an expert who will rob him of his fame, then like Sampson shorn of his locks, he will sink into insignificance and pull the dilapidated walls of the rookery down upon him.

The Chieftain, published at Ravanna, referred to the Garfield County Call as Gall.

The Call, of October 21, 1887, said:

Poor fool! Go off and soak your head, and do not try to defend the $2.500.00 Boodle Bull any more, for you can't tell lies without losing what little brains you have got, and saying just the opposite of what you want to.

The Chieftain said:

Eminence is thriving like a potato bug in an onion patch.

The Eminence Call said:

Although in the interest of humanity, common decency and honest government we desire that this enterprising, God-fearing and progressive city of Ravanna shall be and remain the permanent county seat of this magnificent county, dowered by nature with a climate that makes the most favored part. of Italy seem by comparison like a fever-breeding, miasmatic swamp, yet we refuse, in speaking of the denizens of that nondescript collection of bug-infested huts which its few and scabby inhabitants have the supreme gall to call a town, a few miles distant, to descend to the depths of filth and indecency indulged in by the loathsome creature who sets the type for an alleged newspaper in that God-forsaken collection of places unworthy to be called human habitations.
While we can only think of that loathsome tramp with shuddering contempt, our loathing is mingled with a certain degree of pity. He of course was not responsible for the fact that he was born a complete degenerate and fitted out with a face that causes children to scream with fright and old, staid farm horses to break their halters and run away when they see him coming toward them. Those who have known him from childhood say that the first sentence he ever uttered was a lie and since then he has never told the truth except on compulsion.
His first known crime was stealing the pennies from the eyes of his dead grandmother and his next was robbing the cup of a blind organ grinder. He is the kind of a man who sleeps on a manure pile from choice and whose breath has been known to turn the stomach of a veteran skunk.
We only indulge in this description of his person in order to satisfy the curiosity of such of our readers as have never had the misfortune to see him, so that they may be spared being nauseated by getting in his vicinity.


The rival editor replied by saying that he could not waste space on a man who disproved the Darwinian theory, because it was impossible that any monkey could have been the ancestor of such a monstrosity and that the only reason this editor had not been hung long ago was that it was impossible to keep the rope from slipping over his head. In fact he did not have a head, his neck had simply grown up and haired over. "There was a tradition," he said, "that at one time he did have what seemed to be a head, but that a wen had grown up beside it. He was taken to have the wen removed. The surgeon being somewhat nearsighted and in a hurry, cut off the head and left the wen and the editor's own folks didn't discover the difference for a month afterward."

Neither of these rival towns had more than 400 bona fide voters but at the county-seat election one town polled 17,000 votes and the other 18,000. The town casting the fewer number of votes started a contest, the editor saying that this was the time to show "whether our boasts about a free ballot and a fair count meant anything, or have the liberties of the people been destroyed by the most unprincipled villains who ever stuffed a ballot box?"

The Ravanna Chieftain said:

We too might have resorted to fraud, but our citizens, relying on their constitutional rights and believing that there could not be such shameless villainy in this free land, decided to allow only legal votes to be counted; but the human hyenas shall not prevail. If the courts are too cowardly or too venal to rebuke such outrages then a brave and God-fearing people will rise up in their wrath and smite these polluted lepers hip and thigh.

The late lamented Tom McNeal got into the newspaper business by accident and a bucket full of sorghum molasses. Tom was educated to be a lawyer and was just getting into the practice when a more adventurous brother, who had come to Kansas and settled in Barber county, sent for him to come to the short grass country.

Tom came, expecting to be a lawyer and grow up with the country. But instead, he turned editor, forgot the law, except for a term or two in the legislature when he first proposed and successfully accomplished the granting of the right of the mothers of this state to vote in school elections.

M. J. Cochran was the editor of The Mail at Medicine Lodge. He was a careless printer, had little command of English and few of the attributes of a decent, respectable editor. Besides those deficiencies his morals were not of the very highest type.

But let Tom tell the story himself


On a decidedly cool night . . . the regulators took the editor from his humble office, stripped him of his clothing and then administered a punishment which I think was entirely unique and unprecedented in the treatment of editors. There was no tar in the town and not a feather bed to be opened, but an enterprising settler had brought in a sorghum molasses mill the year before and as sorghum generally grew well there, had manufactured a crop into thick, ropy molasses. Owing to the cold weather the molasses was thicker and ropier than usual. The regulators secured a gallon of this, mixed it well with sandburs, and administered this mixture liberally to the nude person of the editor. I do not need to tell my readers who are familiar with the nature of the sandbur, that it is an unpleasant vegetable to have attached to one's person.
Other citizens . . . told the editor that he could remain as long as he wished and they would be responsible for his safety. Cochran expressed his appreciation . . . but confessed to them that the atmosphere of the town did not seem salubrious or congenial to him. . . . [19]

Tom's brother, J. W. McNeal, and his brother-in-law, E. W. Iliff, bought The Mail [20] and shortly thereafter Tom McNeal became an editor and philosopher. During territorial days and directly following the Civil War, there were many bitter onslaughts upon the integrity of editors by persons offended by editors. Sometimes those persons actively engaged in some activity with which an editor disagreed, did not have a newspaper with which to make reply. So they resorted to handbills, some of them quite large and sometimes the language was not only vigorous but flamboyantly vehement, as witness this handbill, published in what is generally termed as "circus type," meaning the largest type the printing office owned:

To the Public
I, the undersigned, on my own personal honor and responsibility, do hereby publicly declare G. W. Brown, Editor of the Herald of Freedom, to be a wilful LIAR, a malicious SLANDERER, and a most contemptible COWARD; all of which charges I hold myself in readiness to prove.

Lawrence, July 14, 1857 [21]

Thirty years ago William Allen White wrote the obituary of the last of the important newspaper rows in Kansas. He closed the era under review in 1907, with these pertinent and pointed remarks:

There is in progress in a small Kansas town, at the present time, a newspaper row that reminds one of the halcyon days when the rag across the street was edited by a lop-eared leper. Unfortunately for the picturesque in journalism, the lop-eared lepers are nearly all dead, or in the poorhouse. We seldom


hear of them any more, and we sigh for the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still.
In this Kansas row, one of the editors is described as a hyena that prowls by night. The hyena that prowls by night replies that his antagonist is to all intents and purposes a polecat. The polecat appears slightly dazed by this rebuke, but rallies bravely, and intimates that the hyena would consider it no crime to steal the coppers from a dead man's eyes, although such a charge involves nature faking; for what would a hyena do with coppers-or, for that matter, why should a dead man wear them on his eyes?
The hyena ignores this accusation, and expresses his profound conviction that the polecat would rob a widow's hen roost. And so the cheerful controversy proceeds. It is really refreshing, as viewed from a distance, and it is too bad that the Prominent Business Men . . . are always butting in. They ought to be sending marked copies of the local papers all over the universe. [22]

I think now we should consider the fighting editors of Kansas in their political activities, or at least their views upon political questions and the promoters thereof. They had views of personalities and projects and the Kansas editors viewed with alarm and pointed with pride at things that were or ought to be and often pointed the finger of scorn and in no uncertain language told their subscribers about those who would seek positions of honor and trust within the commonwealth.

It might be well, at this point, to point out that the constitution of Kansas established the freedom of the press and the supreme court of this state enunciated the doctrine that a political figure has no rights that anyone is bound to respect. Even before that view was expressed in legal verbiage, the earlier editors assumed the dogma was correct and acted accordingly. Much can be quoted from the fulminations of various editors of an early day regarding political figures. Suffice it to quote two expressions of editorial opinion about Jim Lane, as somewhat typical of the directness of approach of these editors toward political personalities. First from the Kansas State Journal, Lawrence, April 6, 1865:

The grim chieftain of Kansas [Lane] slew his enemies by wagging his jawbone; his prototype-Sampson-killed off the Philistines with a weapon of the same kind.-Tribune.

From the White Cloud Kansas Chief, April 19, 1860:

MUZZLE THE HOUND!--Jim Lane, the demagogue, whoremonger and murderer, is peregrinating the Territory, for the ostensible purpose of denouncing the issuing of Territorial Claim Bonds, authorized by the late Legislature, but in reality to gratify a personal spite, and abuse Gov. Robinson. In this despicable business he is encouraged by Republicans, and generally makes it con-


venient to ease himself of his overflowing bile at Republican County Conventions.

Daniel W. Wilder, long-time editor and political figure, engaged in many sharp controversies with Gov. Charles Robinson, first governor of Kansas, a leader of the New England Emigrant Aid Society and directing force of one branch of the Abolition contest. It should be remembered that Robinson believed that Kansas could be won to the Antislavery cause through mere force of numbers. He was bitterly opposed to John Brown, Jim Lane, Wilder, Sam Wood and others who believed in direct action. Brown, Lane and the others held to the doctrine that fire could best be fought with fire, that murder should be avenged with murder, torture with torture and theft with greater thievery. Robinson and his group believed such nefarious activities were entirely unnecessary and that the crusading spirit of the North would send such crowds of Abolitionists into Kansas as to make the doctrine of squatter sovereignty a reality and accomplish the desired result without bloodshed and without plunging the nation into a war over state rights, which had been abrogated when the constitution was written but still was and is sometimes to this day claimed to be somewhat of a political fetish.

Robinson, and many of those who opposed him, carried their political feuds to their graves. Years after the conflict, Robinson wrote a book about the territorial days. A copy came into the hands of Wilder, who wrote a personal letter to Robinson, which said:

I am glad you have written the "Kansas Conflict." You have a personal history well worthy of preservation; the history of a hero. The historian will never leave you out. But I am decidedly on the other side in the main part of your version, or perversion. Your wife's book is better than yours. . . [23]

The late J. K. Hudson, long-time editor of the Topeka Daily Capital, engaged in numerous editorial forays against the great and near great in Kansas political affairs and some of these resulted in personal encounters because of the bitterness of the editorial lambastings which Hudson dispensed through the columns of his paper.

A violent encounter between Hudson and Cassius Gaius Foster of the United States district court came about with the adoption by the people of Kansas of constitutional prohibition. The Capital supported prohibition and Judge Foster as vigorously assailed the doctrine. Judge Foster was the instigator of some litigation involving political activities of political enemies and also directed against


Hudson and the Capital. In the course of the long series of lawsuits, Hudson wrote:

The editor of the Capital offers no excuses for having stripped the judicial pretender of his dignity, and shown the people the danger of placing the great power of a United States district judgeship for life in the hands of a man who neither appreciates or understands the fact that his office should not be used for political purposes or to protect his narrow, personal prejudices. . , [24]

A more modern version of a similar theme can be presented by a study of the long editorial controversy between Clyde M. Reed, former governor and now United States senator, in his Parsons Sun, and Judge John C. Pollock of the United States district court of Kansas.

The Farmers Alliance movement, which later grew into the Populist political organization, brought forth from the editorial pens and pencils the most robust initiative, the sharpest criticism and the most vigorous individuality of any modern political period in the history of the state.

It was an agrarian movement, imbued with the feeling that the money changers were in control of the affairs of the government; that the farmers were being denied their just rights; that the mortgage companies were choking the progress of the great farm areas; the railroads were hamstringing the producer of foodstuffs; the people were being exploited by the politicians in the interest of the rich; the farmer was being browbeaten and reduced to peasantry by the machinations of business and its satellites.

It produced William A. Peffer, he of the long whiskers; Elizabeth (better known as Mary Ellen) Lease, who advised the farmers to raise more hell and less corn; Jerry Simpson, better known as "Sockless" Jerry, although he was never caught without those appurtenances for the nether limbs; Annie Diggs; Frank Doster and his doctrine that the rights of the user are paramount to the rights of the owner; Gov. L. D. Lewelling; Gov. John W. Leedy and a host of others, brilliant of mind, quick of wit and a wholesouled determination that their cause was just. There was nothing anemic about these men and women of vision and determination; and there was no padded bludgeon which they used or which their editorial or political opponents used on them. They struck from the shoulder with all the forceful and colorful language which the dictionary provided. The editorial opposition was not in the least backward, either.


Senator Peffer, long-time editor of the Kansas Farmer, now one of Senator Capper's 57 varieties, the only Populist ever elected United States senator from Kansas; the man who defeated the erudite Ingalls, was the writing-leader of the group. It may be here noted that nearly all of the projects suggested by the Farmers Alliance and the Populists are now a part of the law of the land, including postal savings; the direct election of senators; regulation of railroad rates and services; women's suffrage; the regulation of bond issues and sales; the recall of public officials and some others. Projects which they favored and not now effective were consolidation of the railroads; direct election of the president; a postal telegraph system; the initiative and referendum; government ownership and control over coal beds and a proposal that the president be limited to a single term.

Peffer's real name was William Alfred. Many commentators referred to him as William Anarchy Peffer. One editor wrote: "Peffer is old enough to quit building castles in his whiskers."

Another wrote:

Senator Peffer is not obliged to spend money for a Christmas tree. He simply puts glass balls, small candles, strings of popcorn and cornucopias in his magnificent whiskers and there you are.

Another comment:

Senator Peffer was a gentle soul who thought in figures and talked the same way. He had no style either in oratory or writing, being dull, prosy, cumbersome and interminable. But he knew a lot of things, or thought he knew them and exuded statistics from every pore to prove them.

The most interesting series of political letters which Kansas has produced was written by "Fightin' Joe" Hudson of the Capital at the very beginning of Governor Lewelling's term, the first Populist administration in Kansas.

In this connection, it may be noted that communism, as a political organization or entity, was first brought into Kansas by Hudson in that long debate. In an extensive examination of Kansas papers no mention of communism as we understand the term was found. The French Commune, of course, was well known, but did not have the connotation of the present day, or, as I believe Hudson construed it. Let me quote from an editorial of January 13, 1893:

You and your co-workers of the Populist party . . . have a well-defined plan, after gaining possession of both branches of the Legislature, to impeach Chief Justice Horton and Justice Johnston, of the Supreme Court. Doster, the anarchist, will dishonor the seat so long honored by Judge Horton, and when you control both branches of the Legislature, the executive and the


judiciary, it will be appropriate for you to haul down the stars and stripes that float over the Capitol and run up the appropriate red flag of anarchy and communism.

In another letter, January- 15, Hudson wrote:

Permit me to congratulate you that there were no more blunders that could have been made in your first week. You exhausted the supply. . .

At another point, also on January 15, Hudson wrote:

The most reckless orator of your calamity party never pictured a more defiant executive head than yourself for a revolutionary movement against the tyranny of law and good order. . . . The present revolution was impairing your ability to state facts, while you yet retained the capacity of the average speakers of your party to substitute bombast for reason and threats of lawlessness for patriotism. It is the duty of the press to point out the public officers who endeavor to pass gall for ability and windy bravado for courage.

Again, on January 22:

Your administration . . . for a young thing, has attracted wide attention on account of its brilliant and original character, its defiance of public sentiment, and its reckless disregard of legal forms. Since you read your flamboyant inaugural endorsement of the anarchistic spirit and the treasonable tendency of your party, . . . Kansas has received more ridicule, contempt, and criticism than ever in a dozen years before.

In a campaign after the legislative war, William Allen White wrote what is generally termed his second most powerful editorial, "What's the Matter with Kansas," [25] a document reprinted many times since his death.

It will be impossible to close this narrative of political editorials without reference to a more recent campaign than any of the others. This was the almost single-handed effort of William Allen White to drive the Ku Klux Klan out of Kansas.

He derided, kidded, abused, villified and lambasted the organization and its members and also the politicians who coddled the outfit for political expediency. In the Gazette of August 2, 1921, White wrote

It is an organization of cowards. Not a man in it has the courage of his convictions. It is an organization of traitors to American institutions. Not a man in it has faith enough in American courts, American laws, and American executive officers to trust them to maintain law and order, and it is an organization of lazy butter fingers in politics, or it would get out at the primary and the election and clean up the incompetent officials whom its members think are neglecting to enforce the law.


The Ku Klux Klan in this community is a menace to peace and decent neighborly living, and if we find out who is the Imperial Wizard in Emporia we shall guy the life out of him. He is a joke, you may be sure. But a poor joke at that.

When he became a candidate for governor because he had reason to believe the candidates of both the major parties were supported by the Klan, Mr. White announced in the Gazette of September 20, 1924:

[The Ku Klux Klan] represents a small minority of the citizenship and it is organized for purposes of terror. Its terror is directed at honest, law-abiding citizens, Negroes, Jews and Catholics. . . . They are entitled to their full constitutional rights; their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They menace no one. They are good citizens, law-abiding, God-fearing, prosperous, patriotic. Yet, because of their skin, their race, or their creed, the Ku Klux Klan in Kansas is subjecting them to economic boycott, to social ostracism, to every form of harassment, annoyance and every terror that a bigoted minority can use.

When a governor of Kansas at a public meeting makes his salutation, "Ladies, gentlemen and polecats of the press"; when a governor of our fair state stands in the window of his own office in the Kansas statehouse, remarks, as he watches a reporter amble along a statehouse walk, "If someone will kill that S-O-B I'll meet him at the door of the prison with a pardon," it need not surprise anyone that the editors and reporters replied in harsh words.

To many of the present day the excerpts submitted present a rather sordid picture of Kansas newspaperdom of an early day. But these excerpts are only one facet of the newspapers and their editors of that time. It would not be fair or decent to eliminate these and present only the Pollyanna, the flowery stuff, the material praising politicians and other editors.

Something of the period which brought forth the pistol-packin' editors must be understood to fully grasp the significance of the editorial explosions submitted herewith.

Times have changed. No editor of the present day would offer such fulminations as were common in an earlier day. They don't run newspapers that way these days. But no record of the early days of Kansas newspapers can leave out the invective and denunciation which appeared so frequently. They were a part of the editorial investiture of those days when name calling was a fine art but doubtful as to its potency or efficacy.

What has been written here has been an attempt to provide not an exhaustive but a representative replica of the verbal assaults by the


editors of Kansas. You would be exhausted long before the available material had been culled from the pages of the newspapers of Kansas.

What has been presented is intended to be, and I believe fairly represents, the typical fulminations of the scribes of Kansas during an earlier day. They may be multiplied many times. Many of them, and others like them not here set down, represent numerous black eyes, some broken noses; a cracked skull or two, some cauliflower ears and numerous abrasions of the scalp, hands and arms. They preferred a meat ax rather than finesse; direct action rather than deftness, and the record indicates they got the desired results. They were great characters in those days, intensely interesting to study, gifted with imagination, always partisan, never neutral, and thoroughly imbued with the vision that the function of an editor was to enlighten, educate, interest and entertain, and gosh, how they did it


1. The Conservative, Leavenworth, June 12, 1861. Anthony was then associated with D. W. Wilder in the publication of the Conservative. He later was publisher of the Bulletin and Commercial. The Times, which was established in 1857, was acquired by Anthony in 1871, and the paper has since remained in the control of the Anthony family.
2. The daily Leavenworth Herald, June 13, 1861.
3. Ibid., June 15, 1861.
4. Leavenworth Evening Bulletin, May 11, 1865.
5. Leavenworth Daily Times, May 12, 1865.
6. Leavenworth Daily Conservative, May 14, 1865; Evening Bulletin, May 15, 1865.
7. Ibid., June 2, 16, 1865; Daily Conservative, June 6, 17, 1865.
8. Leavenworth Daily Times, May 11, 1875.
9. Ibid., January 3, 1880.
10. Leavenworth Evening Bulletin and Daily Conservative, September 9, 1863.
11. Kansas City (Mo.) Times, May 30, 1880.
12. Leavenworth Times, May 28, 1880.
13. Kansas City (Mo.) Times, May 30, 1880.
14. Letter from H. H. Seekler, business manager of the Leavenworth Times, to the writer. March 29, 1944.
15. Topeka Daily Blade, March 27, 28, 1877; Topeka Weekly Blade, March 29, 1877; The Commonwealth, March 28, 1877.
16. Letter from Frank Roberts to the writer, undated.
17. Ibid.
18. Kansas City (Mo.) Star, May 31, 1942.
19. McNeal, T. A., When Kansas Was Young (New York, 1922), pp. 80, 81.
20. The Mail, Medicine Lodge, March 6, 1879; Medicine Lodge Cresset, March 20, 1879.
21. Handbill, Manuscripts vault, Kansas Historical Society.
22. Emporia Gazette, November 6, 1907.
23. Letter, D. W. Wilder to Gov. Charles Robinson, April 27, 1892, in Robinson Collection, MSS. division, Kansas Historical Society.
24. Foster vs. Hudson, the Legal and Political History of the Suits Brought by Hon. Cassius Gaius Foster, Judge of the United States District Court of Kansas, Against Maj. J. K. Hudson, Editor of Daily Capital, . . . From 1889 to . . . 1895 (Topeka, 1895), p. 3,
25. Emporia Daily Gazette, August 15, 1896; Weekly Gazette. August 20, 1896.