NEWSPAPERS OF MADISON PARISH
From The Madison Journal Centennial Issue August 14, 1975, Section I pp. 1-7
(Slightly modified and reformatted by Richard P. Sevier)
In what does a parish tell its story? Some people have the vague notion that history books fall from heaven readymade, or that they emerge spontaneously generated from a chaotic mass of "old records." On the contrary, the events of 100 years ago are pieced together bit by bit from whatever diaries, letters, account books and newspapers that have weathered the years.
Of these, the newspapers portray life at its broadest extent, even when serving a small community such as Madison Parish. Not so much for their newsgathering capabilities as for their positions as public forums, the various parish journals that have appeared over the years reveal what it was like to be a Madisonian long before you grandfather could remember to tell you.
Throughout the years, the daily life of the parish made up the "warp and woof" of its weekly newspapers. And, with a little patient untangling, a bit of history may be found there.
Madison Parish has been without churches, schools, courthouses or jails, but it has rarely lacked a newspaper.
Just three years after the parish came into being as a political entity, John O. Stewart founded the Richmond Compiler. Its birthday was July 6, 1841. Seven issues later, the surviving file of the Compiler begins.
The file, which has been passed down through the Bettis clan until it is now in the possession of Mrs. Ed Eiland, continues weekly through July 12, 1844, except for a five-month gap in 1843 when publication was suspended. John Q. Anderson who read the file and wrote an article on it for the Louisiana Historical Society, said Mrs. S.B. Bettis told him of a companion volume covering the next four years which had existed in Monroe.
At the time he wrote his article, mud and mold had completely destroyed the file only a few years before. For some reason, no one had apparently thought to microfilm it, so the file is now lost forever. At Dr. Anderson's suggestion, Mrs. Bettis sent her file to the University of North Carolina Library to have it microfilmed. Therefore, if the file is subsequently destroyed the tragedy will not be as great.
For the last 40 or 50 years, every issue of every newspaper in Louisiana has been photographed and the microfilm placed on file in the LSU Library. With the existence of these films and owing much to the advanced profession that journalism has now become, future generations will be able to understand today's complex world much better than we can describe the Richmond of 134 years ago.
In one respect, though, the newspapers of yesteryear have a jump on today's Madison Journal and its contemporaries. It can be seen by comparing the Compiler file with the 1965 Journal file: the copies of the Compiler, still as white as when they came off the press 134 years ago, are in far better condition than the yellow, brittle Journals only 10 years old.
The reason for this condition lies in the quality of the paper used. The Richmond Compiler was printed on expensive paper made from cotton fiber, which lasts almost indefinitely. Today’s newspapers use regular newsprint made from pulpwood, which begins to self-destruct the moment it leaves the press. The acidity of this type of paper gradually decomposes the cellulose fibers, especially when exposed to sunlight.
Since most people discard the paper a week or so after they receive it, its longevity is not missed. The use of newsprint Instead of "cotton paper" enables us to publish a newspaper which is not much more expensive than the Richmond Compiler. (The subscription rates for the Compiler, which was only four pages long, were $5 a year. The Journal, six or seven times that length, charges only $6 a year.
You may want to save this edition much longer than you would a regular issue. It can be made to last 200 years longer by checking the acidic decomposition, using the following recipe: dissolve a milk of magnesia tablet in a quart of club soda and chill the solution overnight. Then pour it into a pan or tray large enough to accommodate a flattened newspaper, soak the newspaper for an hour and pat dry. Repeat at 50-year intervals.
What would you find if you read a typical issue of the Richmond Compiler? Well, you'd most likely get sore eyes. The print was made infinitesimally small to cram as much as possible on the expensive paper. Each issue consisted of four pages, with no headlines or illustrations.
There was also very little news. The Compiler editors figured that in a community as small as Richmond everyone knew the news almost the instant it happened, so there was no reason to waste space by repeating it.
The Compiler would run a long announcement of a scheduled event (such as a horse race) of interest to the public, but rarely would it print a follow-up story. A crevasse in the levee causing massive overflowing in the parish might get an inch and a half of column space, at most.
However, the Compiler did run long, detailed accounts of lynchings, murders and other violent crimes, even if they occurred in faraway states. The people in this sleepy southern parish had a strong emotional need for this type of excitement. News of local crimes increased the interest in the ever-popular court days.
Most or all of an issue (depending on the energy and health of the editor) would consist of articles from other newspapers. Late papers were the country editor's livelihood, and he was always glad to get them. From them he could glean speeches; essays on state and national issues, articles on the violent incidents mentioned above, or perhaps even a passing mention of himself, his newspaper or his parish. He was always fond of engaging in hot disputes with the editors of other papers.
The front page was usually reserved for poems, anecdotes, sentimental stories, excerpts from books, and speeches. There would occasionally be a patent sermon by one Dow, Jr. These sermons, had few religious overtones, and were rarely based on scripture references. Readers sent in lines from Shakespeare, short poems, even seemingly irrelevant slogans, and Dow, Jr. would construct a moralistic tale from them. These essays were eloquent to the point of absurdity.
The second page consisted mostly of editorials and short bits of news. From our standpoint the editorials were the best part of the newspaper. The insults and stinging wit of many of these pieces would prompt angry letters and even libel suits today. One of the best of these was a response to a correspondent of the New Orleans Advertiser. The city reporter had called Madisonians a "non-reading" people. (in other words, ignorant and illiterate), as well as highly praising Judge Curry for his efforts at clearing the court docket.
Editor Downes of the Compiler responded in part: "At the time the author writes, his honor ‘was up to his eyes in the docket of Concordia,' but the 'non-reading people' were not apprehensive, it seems, of his sinking, knowing that light matter floats in fluids, and therefore did not dread an immersion of his brain ... An accident occurred during the session of the Court in Madison which gave rise to remarks the narration of which will serve to show the high estimation some of the Madisonians have of his honor's talents.
"A gentleman in going from court was thrown from his horse upon his head without any serious injury, however, though the fall was a very dangerous, and severe one. The gentleman, to whom it occurred in relating the circumstance, remarked in conclusion, that if he had been so large a man as his honor it would have broken his neck. One of the company replied - 'had It been his honor, there would have been no danger of his breaking his neck for the softness of his head would have yielded to the concussion.' We have not heard the remark doubted."
Most of the ads were placed on the last two pages, along with filler gathered from other newspapers. The Compiler eventually was able to fill these pages completely with advertising. These ads consisted mostly of professional notices (ads for doctors, lawyers and dentists), lists of items sold at a local general store, and public notices.
Sheriff sales were very important to the Compiler. These sales had to be announced in at least one parish newspaper and printed in both French and English. In any one issue, sheriff’s sales would take up half or more of the advertising space. These announcements were a vital source of income for a newspaper.
The importance of judicial advertisements also caused the fortunes of a newspaper to rise or fall with the political parties it espoused. Opposition papers frequently began as political sheets; if the candidates supported by one of these papers won an election, the other paper frequently was forced to suspend publication. Its portion of the judicial advertising patronage would be taken from it and given to its opposition, and the losing newspaper couldn't survive financially without it.
Despite its profusion of ads, the Compiler found it difficult to meet its expenses. Though it was growing rapidly, the parish did not have enough inhabitants to adequately support a newspaper. The ones who did subscribe and buy ads seemingly were very reluctant to pay, as evidenced by this complaint of the Compiler editor in the Jan. 18, 1841 issue: "Our friends have patronized us extensively, and if we could only get the money, we could get along finely. We have bills to pay, we are anxious to pay them and to do this must call upon such of our friends as are in arrears to "call at the Captain's office," and settle! --settle!! --Verbum sap, eh?
John Stewart ran into financial troubles soon after he founded the Compiler. In December 1841, he sold a half interest to John Kercheval, newspaperman from Port Gibson, Miss., who took over the major share of the editorial duties. The editorial opinions of both Stewart and Kercheval corresponded with the beliefs of the Whig-party, which was the dominant party in Madison Parish at that time.
Stewart and Kercheval had a difference of opinion shortly after about the policy to be adopted in the conduct of the paper. Being unable to reach a compromise, Stewart sold the remainder of his interest in the paper to James M. Downes, a local attorney and a Democrat.
Downes was willing to let Kercheval have exclusive editorial power over the paper; however, he thought that "the honor in that case, would be equivalent to the services rendered (April 12, 1842) " and could not consent to further compensation. Naturally Kercheval could not agree to this and sold his half of the press to Downes. Kercheval joined the Concordia Intelligence, a St. Joseph paper, as co-editor.
Downes had very little time to run the Compiler, having to look after his legal career and the many other activities such as horse racing, which occupied his time. His reputation was such that the editor of the Vicksburg Whig called Downes a "locofoco editor" who "considers the girls of Madison Parish are like the Irishman's whiskey, meat, drink and clothes. (Feb. 29, 1843)."
Downes wrote several, long editorials, which bristled with Latin phrases and legal jargon. Many of his pieces were so long he had to begin them on the front page, and he was immodest enough to print them twice. Yet real learning and a solid grasp of local issues turned his editorials into far-reaching, valuable discussions of parish problems and needs.
Downes ran a blatantly partisan paper and openly insulted local officials in its pages. It was he who wrote the scathing attack on Judge Curry (quoted above) - all the more surprising for the knowledge that Downes would have to appear before Judge Curry many times in a professional capacity.
John O. Stewart revived the paper in November of that year. He was determined to make it a success. He entered into partnership with E. Ferry, a Democrat, to provide the paper with enough financial backing to ensure its permanency, and to guarantee its neutrality. He also began publishing columns by "Clitus," a Whig, and "Madison," a Democrat, in alternate weeks.
Downes ran into increasing opposition by people who thought the Compiler was political. He also found it impossible to edit the paper properly and attend to his professional duties too. Chastened and humbled, Downes suspended publication on June 23, 1843. The Compiler had just completed its second volume.
The last issue in the Compiler file was published on July 12, 1844. Nothing is known of the history of the Compiler after that date. For all we know, the Richmond Compiler may have continued unbroken publication for many years, finally going up in flames with the town of Richmond in 1863.
Indefensible as it may seem, the fact is that little is known about the founding and early years of The Madison Journal. After all, a newspaper's major premise is to inform the public when issued and serve as a chronicle of history for future generations.
And though much of the early history of the Journal has been obliterated by the elements - wind, fire and rain; and human developments such as war and finance; nearby parish newspapers provide insight into the personality of the paper and the mood of the people it served.
Files of a rival newspaper The Madison Times and the neighboring Carroll Conservative in Lake Providence furnished facts about the Journal in the 1840s up to 1912, when complete Journal files begin.
R. H. Wiggins, a graduate student at Louisiana State University in 1934; serves as one of the most informed sources about Madison Journal history. He chose for a term paper that year, 'History of Journalism in Madison Parish’. Wiggins, a professor emeritus of Journalism at LSU, was educated with the financial aid of W. L. Rountree, late publisher of the Journal. Rountree met Wiggins at a Boy Scout camp, took the 13-year old in and taught him the newspaper trade.
Wiggins portrayed the story of journalism in Madison parish as a drama colored by the muddy waters of floods, of flames of fires, the blackness resulting from yellow fever, and factionalism that flared brightly only to sound the death of two parish papers, including the Journal itself.
An intact 1873 issue of the Madison Journal, the oldest copy held by the paper, is evidence of the publication's century-old existence. However, not much is known about the periodical prior to that time.
According to "Louisiana Newspapers, 1794-1961,' edited by T. N. McMullan, and published in 1965, the first issue of the Journal was printed April 18, 1845. The editors were E. B. Towne and J. K. Marble. Earliest known copies of the Journal are in the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library of Tulane University in New Orleans. These copies are dated July 20, 27 and August 17, 1849.
While nothing is known of J. K. Marble, Ezra Blake Towne, along with his brother, Edwin Towne, moved to Madison Parish from the state of Vermont. They purchased Laclede and Wilderness plantations and settled there.
Ezra Towne was elected Justice of the Peace or Magistrate for the town of Delta on Jan. 21, 1848, nearly three years after he established the Journal at Delta.
Ezra was urged by his brother to return with him to Vermont at the outbreak of the Civil War, but he refused saying he had made his money in Delta and Madison Parish and he intended to stay here. He became a colonel in the Confederate Army.
Towne married Matilda Ann Price, and they were the parents of three children, a daughter, Maude and two sons, Wiley and George. Wiley's son, Ezra Bland Towne, resided at Delta until his death recently. He was a member of the Madison Parish School Board for a number of years. His son, E. B. Towne Jr., resides in Tallulah where he owns and operates his own business.
While the year is not known, the Journal ceased publication sometime around the Civil War, probably when Colonel Towne joined the Confederate Army.
It is known that he reestablished the Journal in July 1870. Proof of this fact is the existence of the 1873 Journal issue, which is Vol. 4, No. 47, dated December 9. The 1873 copy was found in the Madison Parish Clerk of Court's office in 1973. Prior to that, the oldest privately owned copy of the Journal was dated Tuesday, Aug. 24, 1880, with an issue number of Vol. 11, No. 7, further proof of the 1870 beginning.
This paper is owned by Mrs. Rosalie Rountree, wife of the late publisher of the Journal, William L. Rountree. At the time it was found, Wiggins wrote, it was the earliest known copy before 1912, with the exception of four 1880 issues in the Hill Memorial library at LSU.
Other facts known about Towne are that on April 24, 1869, he was elected parish judge. He was also one of the charter members of the Madison Parish Police Jury, an office which at that time paid nothing to its members. As a matter of fact, if a member failed to attend, the sheriff was ordered to arrest, bring in the absent member, and fine him heavily.
Colonel Towne was a printer in early life and it is believed that he served on the New York Tribune under the famous newspaperman, Horace Greeley. In November 1883, Ezra Blake Towne died. But apparently before his death, he sold the paper to H. C. White whose name appears in the 1880 issue as "proprietor."
Wiggins wrote that, "Under the name of the front of the 1880 issue is the slogan, "Equal and Exact Justice to All." That was its motto during those trying days of reconstruction when the white people were attempting to overcome the rule of the carpetbaggers. The front and back pages were 'patented’, which means that a company in a large commercial center printed it and sent it to the publisher who printed the inside pages with local news, editorials and what little advertising he could get. The front page contained numerous reprints from other publications. A poem, "Loved Too Late," was taken from Harper's Weekly, a story entitled, "The Honor of the Lashleys," a group of pungent paragraphs' from the Boston Advertiser, the Boston Journal of Commerce, the Steubenville Herald, the Buffalo Courier, Whitehall Times, Waterloo Observer, Boston Transcript, and other reprints were used."
Editorials in the early years of the Journal were often long and of a political nature, but a variety of other subjects were covered. Headlines for some of the editorials in the 1880 issue were "A prosperous Outlook "The President's Lawsuit," Forgeries of Wilcox", and "Cotton Culture."
Several columns were devoted to news from other cities. A 'sprightly letter from our special correspondent of the Fourth Ward' signed You Know Who, wrote of 'Tallulah Talk.' Among the things the writer discussed was the weather.
"Interesting advertisements were those in liquors and ‘100 Dollar Reward.'
John Thomas, alias John the Baptist, tried and convicted of murder on June 25, 1880. "The description followed and then: I will offer One Hundred Dollars for the arrest and delivery to me of said Thomas. Elias S. Dennis, sheriff of Delta."
Wiggins pointed out that excerpts of this half-century old paper show the type of news found in the papers of that day. "The stories on local news happenings were more often badly written as compared to practices of modern journalism. Human-interest accounts helped to liven up the front page which were on foreign happenings.
"In those days the best things about the papers were the editorials. In fact that age of personal journalism was still to be found in the country field" Wiggins wrote.
Some of the earliest Journal information available came from the Lake Providence, July 14, 1877 issue of the Carroll Conservative. "Bradfield of the Madison Journal is not satisfied with the watermelons, He wants peach cobblers also. He will be asking for nectar grapes, pomegranates and several other good things before the season is over. The Madison Journal has the veteran Towne doing up its pencilings; he knows how, but the weather is too warm for him. Wake up Ezra; let's hear from you.
The Blue Grass Editor of the Madison Journal is gone to Missouri to get watermelons."
According to W. M. Murphy, attorney and author of the "Notes on the History of Madison Parish," said "that gossip around town was that Towne had served on the New 'York Tribune under Horace Greeley. "
Wiggins' research uncovered the following information about the Journal and its shaky foundation in the 1880's: It is not known how long The Madison Journal continued to appear in Delta. In 1883 Tallulah became the third and last capital of Madison Parish. In time it moved to Tallulah, which was at first called New Richmond.
"Then the age of factionalism appeared in journalism in the parish. It was a fight between the newspapers (politically active persons) they set up as their organs.
"Several years Tallulah became ' the parish seat, on Saturday February 18, 1884, the Madison Times appeared as a political sheet. All five volumes, the first issue excepted, are in the possession of Mason Spencer of Tallulah, whose father at one time edited The Madison Journal.
R. C. Weightman was editor and proprietor during its existence. It supported Governor S. D. McEnery and printed the following extract of his acceptance speech in the second issue:
I belong to no ring, except that which has encircled Itself around your coast and kept away pestilence when it was making efforts to pass through the gateway of commerce. I belong to no monopoly, except the exclusive exercise of state government according to my own judgment, while I am solely responsible under the laws for its benefits or its wrongs. I belong to no lottery except that which had the great prize, which you are tendered from the hearts of the people. -Gov. S. D. McEnery, on accepting the nomination.
According to the Madison Times, the Journal was started mainly to further the interests of certain politicians, and was a partisan political, organ as evidenced by this editorial.
The contest against Gov. McEnery is plainly not ended when such uncivilized plans for his obliteration on are seriously proposed. It has been said that in all great emergencies there are great men to be found equal to the occasion, and there is an instance of the truth of the saying... Another of the political editorials was entitled, "A Desperate Resort," and follows in part:
... let no McEnery man be deluded by the plea that the State question is settled, and only the local battle is to be fought. The State officers include the legislature, and until they are elected the fight still goes bravely on. Don't be induced to give a divided support. Let your adherence to the McEnery faction be entire and thorough. Listen to no promises that involved the least weakening of the McEnery strength. Stick together and the fight is won all along the line.
Editorials like these heightened tensions and provide insight into what was probably the bitterest political battle the parish has ever known. And it wasn't until 1888 that the two factions ceased the verbal battle when the other two parish publications, the Madison Times and The Item ceased publication.
Wiggins pointed out in his thesis that what we now consider big news back then was often taken lightly and not played up with big headlines.
"Thursday night about 12 o’clock the levee on the Biggs place, four miles below Delta, broke. The break is 400 feet wide and the water is through it 3 feet deep. Heed the admonition of the Times and watch the levees".
In the 1884 issue of the Times, the front and back pages were printed locally. Four of the 14 columns of local printing contained advertisements with plenty of white space between the display lines. Advertisements were small, none of them being more than one column wide.
By examining closely the last page of the second issue, the key of the patented printing was located. It was 'St. I.n.u. No. 240’, meaning that It was printed in St. Louis by the Newspaper Union and that particular number was 240, which was a file the Union collected for the advertisements.
A large number of patent medicine advertisements were carried on the last page. Some were printed with cutoff rules as the practice is today and some were found in the reading matter", Wiggins said. Sample advertisements were: High tax, or low tax, there will always be enough money in the country for sufferers with coughs and colds to buy a bottle of Coussens Honey or Tar for 50 cents. Speedy and permanent relief is experienced by those who use it for coughs, colds and diseases of the throat and lungs. White’s Cream Verifuge, the best worm killer.
During the war, Dr. Loyd of Ohio, from exposure contracted consumption. He says: I have no hesitation in saying that It was by the use of Allen’s Lung Balsam that I am now alive and enjoying perfect health. Don’t experiment with new and untried medicines. If you have a cold or cough, take at once Allen's Lung Balsam.
Not a drink, not sold in barrooms, but a reliable, nonalcoholic tonic, medicine, useful at all times, and in all seasons is Brown's Bitters.
Wiggins noted that advertisers often started their advertisements with facts that catch the eye of the reader the cleverly, yet deceivingly, tied in sales message.
The following are reprints from other papers that make references to journalism in Madison Parish: We are in receipt of the first number of the Madison Times, a new journalistic enterprise just started at Tallulah, LA, by R. C. Weightman, Esq. Mr. Weightman makes no concealment of the objects of the enterprise, to wit: "to make a living for himself and all over possible" wields a graceful Faber and withal, is rather humorous. The Times is a neat seven-column paper offered at $2 per year. If we had had the christening the Times we should have it differently for there is too much similarity In name of its contemporary, The Madison Journal. But the child is born and its head red and it can’t be helped. "What’s in a name anyhow?" – Ouachita Telegraph.
The Madison Times is a new journalistic venture in our neighboring parish, published at Tallulah, with R. C. Weightman as editor and proprietor. It is a good sized, neatly printed paper, and Weightman is a good writer. It strikes us that there are more papers than are supported as they should be, but there is always room at the top of the ladder. – Richland Beacon.
Mr. R. C. Weightman, formerly of The Times Democrat’s staff but for some years a resident of Madison Parish, has introduced a new paper to the Louisiana public. It is issued at Tallulah, contains 4 pages of 7 columns each, and evidences journalistic skill and ability in its management. The Madison Times is the name of the new candidate for popular flavor. --The Times-Democrat of New Orleans, La.
After the Times got on its feet and became engaged in local politics, it and the Journal were soon on a collision course in philosophy.
The Journal was quoted in the Times as follows: "Nor do we believe he (Judge Delony) is the choice of the Bar of this parish" – Madison Journal
Then the Times replied to the editorial: "Well hardly, The Bar of Madison Parish is composed of seven resident lawyers in active practice. Out of seven in the late division, three were for McEnery and four for Ogden. Of the three McEnery men, one is a candidate for judgeship himself. There are thus only two who by any possibility could be for Delony. The four Ogden men are necessarily opposed to him. Of the four Ogden men one is a candidate for Judge, and one a candidate for the Legislature. They will have to be on a ticket opposed to the one, which will be Judge Delony, provided he secured the nomination, and so the charge of the Bar of this parish is simply trifling with the intelligence of the people of Madison, and treating them as though they did not have the sense of a ten-year-old child. Such a charge is too ridiculous for further comment. Who is the choice of the Madison Bar? Trot him out."
And the Journal continued the dispute:
"Until now we have made no reply to the political effusions of our new neighbor the Madison Times, from the fact that It starts out in its first issue stirring up issues that are passed, and in which it is hoped the people feel no further interest and in which we believe the majority of them desire be dropped and forgotten." -- Madison Journal.
Apparently the Journal was contending that factional feeling should not be cultivated while that was the very thing on which the Times was existing since it, was a factional sheet.
"With the election over, the Times' candidates won and the Madison Journal was suffering badly from loss of political patronage such as the parish printing and official notices that went to the Times along with its victory. "In time the financial condition of the Madison Journal was such that it had to discontinue publication," Wiggins wrote.
The Times reported the temporary death of the Journal this way:
"With the Issue of June 14, 1894, the Madison Journal suspended publication. It was one of the oldest papers in the state, having been established more than forty years ago. It was clearly impossible for two papers to exist in this parish without charity. There is, as a matter of fact, no more than a bare living for one. Knowing this editor of the Times endeavored to buy the Journal before the Times was started, but the Journal was not for sale."
The Times then started, and the struggle began. It is not necessary to go into the struggle, it was told plainly enough during the campaign, anyone who could not understand it then, is beyond understanding anything.
The Times is not disposed to blow trumpets ever the affair. While of glad that it was the Journal instead of the Times that was forced to retire, beyond that there is no feeling but sympathy and this occasion is taken to say that the personal relations of the proprietors of the two papers have not been disturbed either during the campaign or since.
After the Times eliminated the Journal as a competitor and become heavy with advertisements, a measure of financial success, another newspaper appeared on the scene and the bickering began at once between the two new rivals. The newcomer as called the Item, its complete name is unknown, and there are no known issues held for scrutiny.
The Item appeared on the scene in November 1886, the same year P. W. Hickey, who later was a partner of J. B. Snyder on the Journal after it was later revived, took over as publisher of the Times. Weightman remained as editor of the Times.
The Times referred to the Item, in this editorial entitled - Facts.
"In newspapering, facts are considered adjuncts to the make up of a newspaper. The Item does not appear to realize this. It stated that one of the ring bosses came from a distance and had an attack on the Item, and added: this we know to be a fact. This has been disproved, and as a fact the article inspired, as alleged by the ring boss, was written before the ring boss came to Tallulah, and consequently before it could have been inspired by that boss anyhow."
"In the last issue of the Item, it says: "We have more than ten times the number of advertisements that the Times had when it had running the same length of time." This statement Is made in No. 7 Vol. 1 of the Item, which Issue contained exactly19 advertisements. Vol. 1, No. 7 of the Times, contained 16 advertisements and three or four legal advertisements. Comment is unnecessary."
The Morehouse Sentinel commented on the intense rivalry between the two newspapers with the following observation: "Brother Weightman of the Madison Times wants to get Bro. James of the Item by the ears. We think he can get a good hold."
And the Times added to the statement the following sentence: "Yes! The material for a good hold is there."
The Times, also wrote about the Item: "The Item asserts that the best people in the parish would not subscribe for the Times. Just who the best people are is a little cloudy, but there is one thing dead sure, and that is that no man who blows his nose on his napkin can set the pattern for the Times crowd."
But as fate would have it, the Times who had become strong enough to run the Journal out of business for its wise selection of political candidates (those who won) was eventually put out to pasture by the same means.
"In the race for re-election as sheriff of the parish, Captain Holmes lost and McClellan, who was of the opposition and supported by the Item. McClellan won by seven votes. The way the voting took place in the Democratic primary was by the voters meeting in a mass gathering in Tallulah where the votes would be cast in accordance with the official list. When the Times candidates lost it lamented in an issue, 'It was simply astonishing to witness the gullibility of a great many of the people of Madison, during the recent campaign,' Wiggins reported.
And as the Journal had been forced out of business due to the loss of political office, likewise, the Times felt it mandatory to cease publication with the loss of public printing to the Item. So on July 21, 1888, the Times had occasion to write its own obituary, but not without speaking its mind on its losing position and defending itself to the death: This issue closed the career of the Madison Times. It ought to be possible for a good paper to keep right on here in Madison whether the men it supported won or not, but the factional bitterness is so great in this parish, and so much that is impossible is demanded of a paper, that It cannot keep friends, unless It suits everyone, which is impossible.
The Times supported what its editor believed to be the best men for the general good of the parish. That opinion is unchanged. Had the men, who started in to support the candidates advocated by the Times, have done so with the earnestness and "stick to it" that they should have exhibited, there would be a different story to tell. The failure was not due to the lack of good cause, but the weak, vacillating unresponsive support of those of whom at least, steady and unwavering support should have been expected. That faction will never have such another champion as the Times, and they richly deserve that they should not. They will have to tussle along in the future as best they may.
"The Times is perfectly satisfied with its position, and has nothing to be ashamed of. It has always been ready and anxious to fight the fight of Madison Parish but the people of this parish have let that fact go for nothing, as against antagonizing of some false political ideas. Some of the best friends of the parish have been defrauded of their just rewards and treated with contumely, but the party they have served so long and so well. A new convert is better than an old and tried friend every time, and always will be, except when the old friend is badly needed. The cause of Mr. Thurman is pertinent. He was ignored until his help was needed and then he suddenly became Immensely popular. But the battle's over and the Times is among the vanquished, and all that remains is to say "good-bye" to former friends, many of whom are now bitter enemies, but such enemies are something to be proud of. Good bye, Gentlemen, may you all get your just dues."
The late Jeff B. Snyder, former district attorney of the Sixth Judicial District, provided invaluable information about the rebirth of the Madison Journal to Wiggins. Snyder said he wrote an editorial to contribute to the Item. The owner was out of town, and its Editor, Sam H. James, said he couldn't allow the editorial to be printed without the owner's permission. And during the conversation, James said that if Snyder owned the newspaper it wouldn't be a problem. Consequently, Snyder entered into the newspaper business with P. W. Hickey, a printer, former publisher of the Times, and their publication resumed the name, The Madison Journal.
So for the second time the Madison Journal ceased publication for a lengthy period and was revived each time. Volume 1, No. 37 was dated April 13, 1889, so it can be said that it was reestablished in August 1888.
Wiggins wrote: "George Spencer became editor around 1900 and continued as editor until 1913. Spencer did not publish a paper during the yellow fever in 1905, but went north.
Floods and fevers were two of the things that played an important part in the history of the parish. Important to the extent that they left their marks but they were not constructive ones. Tragic tolls of lives were taken during the epidemics in 1866, 1874, 1878 and 1905. It was not until the visitation in 1905 that the world realized that it was the mosquito that carried the germs. Madison contains many low places in its vast swamplands that served as a breeding place for mosquitoes.
The populace thought that the germs were in the air. So with papers that could be found, holes in the walls were filled and fumigation processes took place. So desperate was the attempt of the residents to fight the disease that the files of the Madison Journal were destroyed by the battle. It was a useless fight in the manner that it was carried on. Conditions became so serious during those epidemics that no doubt the paper suspended publication several times.
Josiah Scott, editor and publisher of the Tensas Gazette in St. Joseph, purchased the Journal in 1912. George Spencer remained as editor and Percy Rountree, son of J. L. Rountree, editor of the Concordia Sentinel came to manage the operation of the Journal.
One year Iater, William L. Rountree, also one of J. L. Rountree's sons, came to Tallulah to manage the Journal and his brother, Percy, returned home to work on the Concordia Sentinel. William's arrival at the Journal In 1913 was the beginning of his control of this publication that lasted more than 50 years. Young Rountree had received formal education at Louisiana State University in mechanical engineering, but had obtained invaluable experience as a newsman in the shop of his fathers' newspaper.
Since the Journal had not had a uniform volume number in 1912, Rountree initiated a "New Series," beginning with Volume 1, No. 1 which was continued to: Vol. 57 when Rountree died in 1968. Wiggins said, "A typesetting machine was added to existing newspaper equipment to update the Journal’s printing capabilities in 1917."
On April 8, 1918, Rountree was married to Rosalie Baird of Natchez, Mississippi. Since her marriage to the editor Mrs. Rountree has served as society editor. (She remained in that capacity until Rountree’s death in 1968). Three months after his marriage, he was drafted, into the United States Army, previously on trying he had been rejected because of his eyesight. At Camp Hancock in Georgia he served as physical instructor. After six months in the service he was discharged, returning to his newspaper duties. During his absence the paper was run by printers, his wife having gone to Augusta, Ga., where she was in the circulation department of the Chronicle.
In 1919 members of the Arkansas Press Association stopped in Tallulah while on a visit to the Military Park In Vicksburg. They visited the plant of the Journal, commenting that the Washington hand press and the modern typesetting machine were an unusual combination. The hand press was replaced with a cylinder press in 1921.
A unique event in the history of the Journal is that of the flood in the spring of 1927. The levee broke on May 3, but the Journal like the entire town was prepared. Two weeks before the workers, including this writer, had placed the machinery four feet off the floor of the building and the entire equipment, job presses excepted, had been placed on heavy timbers in preparation for the flood. The only reason for leaving the presses on the floor was that there would be no job work if the town was inundated.
Unlike other papers whom plants were flooded, the Journal was issued each week of the six that the Mississippi River was fifty miles wide north of the town, stretching over a large area in North Louisiana and into the State of Mississippi, which was suffering also from floods.
Only three persons took part in the printing of the paper while the majority of the population had departed. The publisher remained, the writer who learned how to operate the linotype machine since there was plenty of time to set the little news that there was, and Miss Hazel Powell who aided in getting out the mail.
Employees of, the printing plant worked about two days getting out the publication. They arrived at the plant in boats, which were usually run inside of the door and tied to the platform on which the machine was resting. From there planks were laid to the type cases, the makeup stones, the cylinder press which had been, elevated from its concrete base and leveled with considerable accuracy so that the bed of the press would not cause undue pull on the motors. The power plant had a habit of cutting the electricity off in the afternoon since there was little used because of the scarcity of people. But special arrangements were made on Thursday for the paper had to go to press, flood or no flood. The paper stock was stored near the ceiling. Motor boats passing would send waves through the windows and doors, at first causing the workers to become slightly dizzy while passing over the network of planks several feet above the muddy waters of the Mississippi River.
Because of the unique feat, the Associated Press carried a dispatch about the Journal being published with 'water three feet deep in the building' and letters were received from many parts of the country (especially the North) by those who read the short story. No other paper is known to have continued publication with water in the plant.
Several weeks before the levee gave way, a new machine had arrived to replace the first one installed. But the publisher was afraid that the break would come while the machine was being taken down and the other being put up, thus leaving him without either machine in operation. As it turned out, the new machine was stored in a warehouse and remained there until September when it was set up.
During the prosperous years of 1928 and 1929, the Journal frequently printed eight pages an issue, and for special editions it had 16 pages. Occasionally it prints six pages today, but usually only contains four pages. Unlike the early copies it carries three advertisements of local firms on the front page. Two years ago, the largest of the three front-page ads was that of a Vicksburg concern. But also unlike the early issues it is today entirely home print and contains local news stories on the front and back pages.
The Society page is perhaps the most complete part of the publication. It covers Tallulah and the towns within the parish. Andrews and Mound notes are printed on the society page.
Several years ago the Journal publisher had a brick building erected for the plant. The floor of the mechanical department is five feet off the ground, which will enable the plant to operate during the next flood, should there be one without experiencing any of the difficulties of the past. The editorial and business office is in the front of the building and is not elevated. The cellar was created because of the highness of the mechanical department is used for storage.
The equipment is thoroughly modern, the cylinder press excepted, and compares favorably with that of other state weeklies. The plant has a large choice of typefaces and sizes, has four makeup stones, a metal saw, casting bos, paper cutter, small bindery equipment, linotype, cylinder press, job presses, and space for keeping the paper stock. The job department is large enough to supply most of the needs of the parish.
"The Journal took an active part in the village getting a good price for the power plant which, was sold to Louisiana Power & Light Co. The money was used in constructing a sewage system which it did not have until1928. It has stood for clean state government and is conservative in its views. It supported Riley J. Wilson for governor in1928 and Guion in 1932, and has opposed Huey P. Long. In local politics, it takes no part," Wiggins wrote in his 1934 term paper.
Regarding changes made sit the Journal while Rountree was editor, 1934 seems to have been the most innovative, year.
The first issue of 1934 included parish news on the front page, a space that had traditionally been reserved for state and national news. Then on June 29, 1934, without fanfare or mention of a new policy, the Journal discontinued the practice of running advertisements on the front page. For years, it had been customary for the Journal to advertise in this manner and the July 6, 1934 issue was the first Journal issue void of Advertisers on page one.
© 1999 Richard P. Sevier (firstname.lastname@example.org)