Early Newspapers
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EARLY SOUTHEAST TEXAS NEWSPAPERS:
HISTORY OF YESTERYEAR RECORDED IN THEIR YELLOWED PAGES

By W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE-JOURNAL, January 1, 1978, p. 10a.

If the histories of the area's daily newspapers (including the discontinued Beaumont "Journal") would fill a book, another volume could be written about two dozen other early publications in Southeast Texas which folded. Most of them were unable to weather the financial floodtides of yesteryear, but two of them ceased publishing because the owners were, or became, soldiers in the Confederate Army, and the printing establishment of a third was washed away during a hurricane.

The Enterprise Company has emerged as Jefferson County's oldest, continuously-operated business of any kind, and in 1980, that company celebrated its centennial anniversary. Beaumont's two newspapers that survived (until they were combined), the "Enterprise" and "Journal," were founded, respectively, in 1880 and 1889.

Early Sabine Pass newspapers, all of which eventually failed, included the "Times," 1859-1861; "Spy," 1861, "Union," 1868-1870; "Beacon," 1870-1872; "Times," 1883-1886; and "News," 1895-1913. At one time in 1897, there were a "Sabine Pass News" and a "Sabine News," which were eventually combined by Frank H. Robinson, one of the pioneer publishers of newspapers at Jasper, Colmesneil, Kountze, and Sabine Pass. Most people today would not realize that for forty years, there were two separate and thriving towns, Sabine Pass and Sabine, but like many of the old newspapers, the latter also folded and died before World War II.

The first account of an early-day Jefferson County printing office was recorded in a letter dated Aug. 25, 1859. While on a steamboat trip to Sabine Pass (then known as Augusta or Sabine City),, Henry R. Green, an early Beaumont school teacher and local correspondent of the Galveston "News," observed:

"There is also here a newspaper just started to life, the Sabine Pass "Times," a neat, little affair, edited by a talented and accomplished gentlemen, Prof. James T. Fuller (who also operated Fuller's Academy), but damn such a foreman as he's got. He has no more appreciation of the humorous than a 'possum has of cologne. I thought he was a Bishop of the -- Church at first glance -- so dry, steady, and sedate."

"You know, printers are generally kinder devilish and pretty good judges of a certain kind of staple commodity of the Old South (moonshine) at two-bits (25c) a quart....Prof. Fuller is also the principal of a flourishing academy . . ."

In 1860, Schedule VI, Jefferson County's Social Census, reported the "Times" as being "commercial, literary, and political" in nature, and had a circulation of 625. In his memoirs, Edward Isaiah Kellie of Jasper stated that he had begun working for Fuller in 1860 as a 'printer's devil' following his 2-year apprenticeship at the Galveston "News."

Although Fuller died in Nov., 1860, Kellie, at that time a 16-year-old orphan, continued publication by himself until he enlisted in the Confederate Army in April, 1861. He also noted that on publication day, he 'hawked' copies of the "Times" at one cent each on the decks of the docked schooners and steamboats in the harbor.

In January, 1860, A. N. Vaughan, also a teacher and the first mayor of Beaumont, founded the Beaumont "Banner," that city's first weekly publication, a copy of the Nov. 27, 1860, and perhaps others surviving among the files of the late Beaumont attorney, Chilton O'Brien. A periodical often quoted in the Galveston papers, the "Banner" was described in the same census as a "scientific" weekly with a circulation of 400.

Like the "Times," the Beaumont newspaper also became a victim of the War Between the States. In May, 1861, Vaughan and three fellow Beaumonters, W. A. Fletcher, Jeff Chaison, and another publisher-to-be, George W. O'Brien, enlisted in Co. F, 5th Texas Infantry, of Hood's Brigade, bound for Virginia.

Until the writer recently located evidence of its erstwhile existence, the strangest newspaper ever to exist in Southeast Texas had been forgotten for more than a century. In 1897, the Galveston "News" correspondent in Beaumont interviewed W. N. Vaughan, the son of the "Banner's" founder, who owned the only surviving copy of the Sabine Pass "Spy," dated May 9, 1861.

The correspondent described the "Spy" as a "folio just the size of note paper," whereas its predecessor, the "Times," was tabloid-size, and had printed its last issue the previous month. Also, except for the name, the format and type were quite recognizable as belonging to the defunct "Times," which had ceased publication the previous month. Listed as the "Spy's" publisher and editor were two 16-year-old orphan boys and Confederate soldiers, respectively Edward I. Kellie and John W. Keith, a claim, no doubt,that no other newspaper has ever made.

Vaughan's copy of the "Spy" carried only war news and probably was published only for benefit of soldiers in the Sabine Pass Guard, a militia unit then undergoing monotonous close-order drill in the surrounding salt grass prairies. Elsewhere in the paper, the editor predicted that Maryland, because it was a slave state, would secede from the Union of states, and that the Federals would fail in their boast to blockade the southern seaports.

Apparently, the "Spy" had become history as of Sept. 1, 1860, or perhaps earlier if its supply of paper were exhausted. In September, Keith enlisted in Co. A, the cavalry arm of Spaight's 11th Texas Battalion. Kellie took "French leave" to go to Jasper and enlist in Capt. B. H. Norsworthy's company, which arrived on the Shiloh battlefield only one day before that bloody battle began.

Both Kellie and Keith were to leave their imprint on East Texas history. Following the battles of Shiloh, Chickamauga, and Atlanta, Kellie returned and founded the Jasper "Newsboy" in 1866. In 1876, he sold out to Frank H. Robinson, whose name would also appear on Sabine Pass papers after 1895. In 1880, Kellie was editor of the Orange "Tribune." Kellie lived out most of his life at Jasper, founded and commanded the 'Jeff Davis Rifles" militia company there, and also served many terms as state senator. He was also a realtor and died at Jasper about 1930.

Keith was an uncle of W. N. Vaughan, so the copy of the "Spy" may have been passed down to him by either his uncle or father. John W. Keith became a very wealthy Beaumont lumberman, serving until his death in 1888 as vice president, treasurer, and a major stockholder of the Long Shingle Manufacturing Company and Texas Tram and Lumber Company of Beaumont and also the Village Mill Company of Village Mills, Hardin County, Texas.

In 1868, Charles Winn, who was collector of customs at Sabine Pass, began the Sabine "Union," but no copies of it are known to survive. The paper was founded as the Southeast Texas voice of Reconstruction Radicalism and proponent of the regime of Gov. E. J. Davis, a 'carpetbagger' administration in Austin. Apparently, the publication succumbed to financial woes in 1870, for the 470 people in the Sabine Pass of 1870 could barely afford one newspaper, let alone two. And in the same year, a competitive journal, one which heralded the rebirth of the "New Democratic Party," was started there to counter the "Union."

In February, 1870, W. F. McClanahan, an ex-Confederate soldier from Mississippi, started the Sabine Pass "Beacon," one copy of June 10, 1871, surviving in the archives of the New York Historical Society (and obtained on microfilm for Lamar University). This copy becomes the second oldest surviving copy of a Jefferson County newspaper.

The issue of the "Beacon" carries a good balance of local and world news, local and out-of-town advertisements, ads for 20 steamers and nine schooners in the marine columns, and plenty about the "New Democracy" politics. It is also the only source of information for two hurricanes which struck Sabine almost back to back on June 4 and 9, 1871. Obviously, the "Beacon" was not remunerative enough to support the owner and his family, for McClanahan also sold insurance and music instruments. In 1872, he entered into a partnership with Geoge W. O'Brien and combined the "Beacon" with O'Brien's "Neches Valley News" at Beaumont to become the Beaumont "News-Beacon."

Upon his discharge from the Confederate Army, Capt. George W. O'Brien, who became "Mr. Democrat" of Beaumont and had formerly commanded Beaumont's Co. E of Spaight's Texas Battalion, began a newspaper in 1868 to supplement income from his legal practice and shingle mill during the difficult post-war years of the Reconstruction period. With every breath, he also chided the activities of the corrupt Gov. Davis regime in Austin, which is the major reason why he purchased the printing plant of the defunct Liberty "Gazette," moved it to Beaumont, and began the "Neches Valley News," several copies of which survive in the late Chilton O'Brien's library. Altogether, about 25 copies, encased in plastic, of Beaumont's earliest newspapers, the "Banner," "Neches Valley News," "News-Beacon," and Beaumont "Lumberman," survive, which Capt. O'Brien's grandson graciously allowed the writer to examine and photocopy many years ago.

In a copy of the "Neches Valley News" of April 20, 1872, "J. W. L. Johnson, Local Reporter," gives a graphic, although in the literary mode of his day, very flowery account of some of Beaumont's social activities, including a wedding and reception; a party and dance, a picnic, as well as religious events. Other news typical of that Reconstruction Era included complaints about the unreliability of mail contractors and the usual chiding of the Radical state governments (including a complaint that one-seventh of the state of Arkansas had been 'given away' to Northern purchasers for the taxes due).

On December 31, 1872, Capt. O'Brien and McClanahan, probably for financial reasons, combined their papers into the Beaumont "New-Beacon" with O'Brien, McClanahan, and W. L. Haldeman as publishers. It is obvious that the format, news, and political stance of the new newspaper varied but little, but the motto, "We Paddle Our Own Canoe," was imported from the old defunct "Beacon" at Sabine Pass.

In 1876, the partnership was dissolved, and O'Brien sold his printing establishment to John W. Swope of Houston, who founded the Beaumont "Lumberman," of which there are at least two surviving copies. For four years the "Lumberman" was a definite asset to Beaumont, printing local news and world news, lumber markets and prices, and railroad car shipments of lumber as well as social events. Its lumber market was quoted weekly in the Galveston "Daily News." These were the years when the first large sawmills were built at Beaumont and Orange, and both cities soon became the hub of a timber industry unequalled elsewhere in the South. The worth of the "Lumberman" is best evaluated in the quote columns from it in the Galvestons papers. Nevertheless, the newspaper suddenly ceased printing in October, 1880. During the same month, O'Brien foreclosed on an overdue lien on the printing plant, and soon afterward, Swope moved back to Houston.

O'Brien then sold the printing press to an attorney, John W. Leonard, who a month later, in conjunction with T. A. Lamb, began publishing the "Enterprise." There is certainly much evidence that the new "Enterprise" enjoyed excellent financial management from the beginning, as more than a century of its existence attests to. One of the first annoucements to that effect appeared in July, 1881, when the editor observed:

"Last October this writer bought the "Enterprise" outfit and material from Capt. G. W. O'Brien on credit, giving two notes, payable respectively in seven and fourteen months, and a mortgage as security for payment. The friends of the paper will be pleased to learn that on Monday, by the payment of $600 to Capt. O'Brien, we lifted these notes, released the mortgage, and now own the "Enterprise" without encumbrance."

It is not the writer's intent to chronicle the histories of the three area dailies, Orange "Leader," Port Arthur "News," and the "Enterprise, believing that each is the most capable of writing its own history. And each of them already has in the various anniversary editions of the past. In each instance, however, the present company has absorbed, combined, or discontinued some other early newspaper.

About 1919, The Enterprise Company purchased the Beaumont "Journal," which was published as an afternoon newspaper from 1889 until 1983. About 1895, the Orange Leader Publishing Company purchased the old Orange "Tribune" and combined it with the "Leader." In like manner, the Port Arthur "News" bought out and absorbed the old Port Arthur "Herald," both of which were founded about 1896. The first issue of the "Herald" was published aboard a Kansas City Southern passenger train that was carrying a load of Northern sightseers on a real estate excursion trip. The paper remained the mouthpiece of the railroad and many of its subsidiaries, such as Port Arthur Land Company, and many years of "Herald" microfilm dating back to 1897 remain a treasured source for early Port Arthur history. In July, 1875, A. N.Harris founded the Orange Tribune, which he published for about 20 years, and a few copies of it are known to survive.

During the closing years of the last century, there were other newspapers begun in Beaumont, namely, the "Advertiser," "Herald," "New Era," "Echo," "Recorder," and the "Independent Freeman." The later three were black newspapers, but the writer has minimal information about them. The "Recorder" seems to have enjoyed a few years of existence around 1890, and was often quoted in the Galveston "Daily News." No surviving copies of them are known to exist.

In July, 1888, the Beaumont "Advertiser" made its grand debut, so the Galveston "Daily News" noted in one of its articles:

"A new journal, the Beaumont "Advertiser," will float to the breeze in a few days. An entire new plant has been purchased and will soon be in a position to advertise that growing city....The "News" had received copy No. 2 of the Beaumont "Advertiser," a large and handsome sheet . . ."

No surviving copies of the latter are known to exist either. Since it was last quoted in Galveston in September, 1890, it apparently came to a quick and ignoble demise after about two years, probably either under-financed or unable to meet competition from the "Enterprise" or the new Beaumont "Journal," founded in 1889.

The "Recorder" began publishing in May, 1889. The Galveston "News" noted its origin with the following comment:

"The Beaumont "Recorder" is a new issue from the newspaper world....devoted to the interest and advancement of colored people . . ." It was last quoted in the "News" in November, 1890, indicating that it too may have lasted less than two years. Like the "Recorder," the lives of the other four newspapers varied from a few weeks to about one year, and no copies of any of them are known to survive.

Via a Galveston quote, the "Enterprise" noted in September, 1883, the introduction of a new weekly, the Sabine Pass "Times," by the "Enterprise's" former agent at Sabine, W. F. McClanahan. It was described as a "sprightly little paper whose first number gives abundant promise of an auspicious future." In 1884, the "Times' became the first area newspaper to hire women compositors to set its type. McClanahan noted that their work was as good as that of any man, but added jestingly" "They will sass the editor." The newspaper's 'future,' though, was indelibly tied to a West Indian hurricane, which destroyed Sabine Pass, drowning 86 persons and washing the printing plant into the gulf, where the "Times" figuratively drowned also on October 12, 1886. The Galveston "News" began a fund to try to rebuild the newspaper from donations, which came to naught.

In August, 1888, after McClanahan had moved to Orange, he and other local citizens organized the Orange Publishing Company and began printing the "Southeast Texas Journal," described as a "spicy, 8-page paper as large as the Houston Post." The "Journal," too, folded after two years and was soon replaced by the Orange "Leader," which is also a century old. For about two years, editor McClanahan published a newspaper at Westlake, Lousiana, which also folded. His last newspaper venture was the Sabine Pass "News" in 1895, but he quickly sold out when Frank H. Robinson of Kountze and Colmesneil came south to Sabine, the new townsite of the Kountze Brothers banking syndicate. In 1881, Kountze Brothers built the new Sabine and East Texas Railroad from Sabine to Rockland. As the East Texas Land and Improvement Company, they bought up all the land surrounding Sabine Pass and owned 250,000 acres of timber land in Hardin County.

For the next 20 years, in addition to being land agent for East Texas Improvement Company and its mouthpiece, the Sabine Pass "News," Robinson was editor of one of the county's most respected weeklies. Surviving copies indicate the extremely high quality of printing, pictures and paper, which may have contributed to its demise. The paper was quickly embroiled in the shipping canal and customhouse disputes with the Port Arthur newspapers, and as the fortunes of both Sabine and Sabine Pass declined around 1915, the "News" folded as well.

Prior to 1895, Robinson had already been a giant in the East Texas newspaper field. In 1876, he bought the Jasper "Newsboy" from Kellie and published it for the next six years. In 1882, he founded the Kountze "Kaller," the first newspaper in that city. In 1885, he founded the Colmesneil "Times." In 1889, the Galveston "News" observed that:

"The Colmesneil Times is a neat, spicy newspaper, all home print, published here every Wednesday, and has perhaps the best local circulation of any paper in East Texas. Mr. Frank H. Robinson, who holds down the editorial tripod, is a splendid newspaper man and always keeps his newspaper abreast of the times." (The town of Colmesneil, today only a shadow of its former self, had a population of 2,200 persons in 1890.) In 1895, Robinson sold out and moved to Sabine Pass. One of the last of the Confederate veterans, he died at Beaumont in 1940.

The Woodville "Eureka" was another pioneer newspaper of East Texas. Founded in March, 1882, the editor confessed on the paper's tenth anniversary that the "Eureka" fell far "below the standard that it aimed at." Its motto was a tribute to the Golden Rule: "With malice to none and love to all."

In Civil War days, Thomas J. Chambers, nephew and namesake of the early Anahuac settler and land speculator, founded and owned the Liberty "Gazette" until it fell upon hard times during Reconstruction days (1868). Its successor in 1887 was the Liberty "Vindicator," one of the few early Southeast Texas newspapers to weather successfully the frequent financial floodtides of the twentieth century. Microfilm holdings of the "Vindicator" for the years 1887 to 1960 are among the prize historical possessions of Lamar University's Mary and John Gray Library.

Today, three area daily newspapers survive to boast that superb management enabled them to conquer the hard times. Except for the "Vindicator"" and "Newsboy," most of this article has focused upon those newspapers that sank in the stream, being unable to swim with the economic currents. Today, any microfilm sources of the early newspapers of Southeast Texas are priceless archives of history, and sadly only a precious few of them have survived. It is even sadder to learn how many old copies have fallen victim to time, fire, hurricane, and even silverfish. Perhaps saddest of all was for the writer to learn that, as late as 1945, twenty years' editions of the Sabine Pass "News," 1895-1915, were destroyed by the willful neglect and/or disposal as garbage by the library that owned them.

Copyright 1998-2018 by W. T. Block. All rights reserved.
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