THE PRESS OF WABASHA
"HISTORY OF WABASHA COUNTY"
Compiled by Dr. L. H. Bunnell
Published Chicago by H. H. Hill, Publishers, 1884
Republished Currently by Higginson Books
On Christmas day, December 25, 1858, Burleson issued No. 1 of the Minnesota "Patriot," which was made the official paper of the city May 3, 1859. It died a natural death some time during the summer. Burleson was a lawyer of fair ability, but at a later date studied theology, and became, and still is, an Episcopal minister.
October 29, 1859, H. C. Simpson commenced the publication of the Wabasha "Weekly Journal," a six-column quarto, republican in politics. On November 23 of that year the newspaper was made the official organ of the city. In the spring of 1860 one G. W. Marsh bought an interest with Simpson, and the paper was published by Simpson & Marsh. The old residents of the county will remember that this was the year of the first contest between Wabasha and Lake City for the county seat. Simpson and Marsh were both reputed to be commercial gentlemen, and some Lake City gentlemen made some investments in them, which did not prove to pay largely; but the Wabasha people were unreasonable enough to be very angry when they got wind of the matter, and the two newspaper men came very near being drowned in the Mississippi. Wabasha about this time was not a good field for the "Journal," and it subsided here December 8, 1860, and started again at Lake City, January 3, 1861. Simpson soon after enlisted in the 2d regt. Minn. Vols., and passed from sight of his Wabasha friends, though "to their memory dear." Marsh went to Wisconsin, and at a later date was crippled by an accidental gunshot. These early papers were of use in their time, but their influence died with them, and they have long since been almost forgotten, even by those who used to read them week by week. The only paper ever published in Wabasha that has had much influence in molding public sentiment is the "Herald," and a sketch of its career is really about all that is of especial interest in connection with the subject of this article.
In the early spring of 1857 the late Mr. McMaster, a north of Ireland Presbyterian, and a man of high character and indomitable energy, settled at Read's Landing, with his wife and a large family of children, several of whom were already young men. Two of the sons, T. A. and W. C., were printers, and they either brought with them, or soon obtained, a press and material, and made arrangements to publish a newspaper. It was at that time proposed to call the village of Read's Waumadee, and the newspaper was named the Waumadee "Herald," and the first number was published during the first week in May. On the twelfth day of that month the Messrs. McMaster were drowned in the Mississippi by the accidental upsetting of a skiff in which they were crossing the river, and with them died the Waumadee "Herald." Norman E. Stevens, a young printer from Illinois, arrived at Read's some two months after the death of the McMasters, and with the assistance of the business men of the village, especially T. B. Wilson and F. S. Richards, made arrangements to purchase the office from Mr. McMasters senior, and on June 27, 1857, he published the first number of the Wabasha county "Herald." More than twenty-six years have passed, and the little seven-column sheet then started has never for a single week failed to greet its readers, and not a few of its original subscribers are still on its list, and have received and read every number. Mr. Stevens was an eager Republican, and the paper was devoted to the advocacy of the principles of that party; an though it changed owners repeatedly it remained true to the office until April, 1881, when it ceased to be a party paper.
Mr. Stevens was a thorough printer and a fair writer, and the "Herald," under his control, was fully up to the average of country papers at the time in point of ability, and was exceptionally well printed.
In the fall of 1860 the people of Wabasha, dissatisfied with the course taken by the publishers of the "Journal," determined to have a paper that could be trusted to assist in the development of their town instead of their rival Lake City, and such arrangements were made with Mr. Stevens, that in December he moved his material to Wabasha, and on the 12th day of that month the paper appeared, with Wabasha and Reads at its head as joint places of publication, and it was so published until the spring of 1863, when the name Read's Landing disappeared from its head.
Some time during the year 1861 the issue of a semi-weekly edition was commenced; the exact date cannot now be fixed, as no complete file even of the weekly exists, and not a single copy of the semi-weekly can be found here. It was, however, continued until the close of 1862, and was a very bright, newsy sheet. During the close of 1862, U. B. Shaver, now the publisher of the Dodge county "Republican," was sole publisher for a few weeks, and Stevens started a paper at Plainview, but it was not a success and he returned, and Shaver and Stevens were joint proprietors up to about April 1, 1864, when Stevens sold his interest to his partner Shaver and moved to Paxton, Illinois, where he has ever since resided. He was highly esteemed here as an honest, upright man, and was thoroughly identified with the interests of the town and county. In 1863 he was an alderman from the first ward and was a useful member of the city council.
Under Shaver's management the paper failed to maintain the standing given it by Stevens, and the addition, for a few weeks in the summer of 1864, of R. H. Copeland, familiarly known as "Dick," did not improve matters. August 3, 1865, Shaver sold out to two young men of character and ability, E. W. Gurley and Frank E. Daggett. Both were eager republicans and had served in the Union army, and Daggett had won a lieutenant's commission by gallant service. Gurley was a pleasant writer and did most of the editorial work during the short time he remained connected with the paper, and Daggett, who was an excellent printer, attended to the mechanical department. Mr. Gurley was not in good health and soon retired, and at a later date went south, and is now a resident of North Carolina. Henry W. Rose, the purchaser of Gurley's interest, was a writer of very much more than ordinary ability. Under his editorial management the "Herald" was at its best, and was generally regarded as the ablest country paper in Minnesota. About January 1, 1868, Daggett became ambitious of a larger field, and, disposing of his share in the Herald to Rose, went to La Crosse and purchased an interest with Lute Taylor in the "Republican and Leader," of that city. The "Herald" remained under the sole management of Mr. Rose from this time until his death, in April of the same year.
Henry W. Rose was a native of Wyoming county, New York, and was about thirty years old at the time of his death. He had been carefully educated, was a man of fine literary ability, and developed a rare talent for journalism. There was in him the making of a great editor if he had lived. For a few weeks during Rose's illness, and after his death, J. K. Arnold had charge of the office; but Daggett, whose La Crosse enterprise had not proved a success, soon returned and purchased the office from Lorenz Ginthner, administrator of Rose's estate, and was sole proprietor until the summer of 1870, when he sold to Amasa T. Sharpe and Willis D. Palmer.
At a later date he started the Litchfield "Ledger," and continued its publication until his death in 1880. Frank Daggett was no ordinary man; with no education except that acquired in the common school, supplemented by the knowledge picked up at a compositor's case, he was yet a very intelligent man, and could, and did, write pithy, pungent English. Long editorial articles were not in his line, but in short paragraphs he was thoroughly at home. He was gifted with a rare fund of wit and humor, and was the life of any company. Though sorely afflicted with increasing obesity (he was only five feet six inches in height, and weighed very nearly two hundred and fifty pounds when a resident here) he was a great worker, accomplishing far more than many men of ordinary size. He was a zealous republican, and an eager, though not always, or even generally, a prudent politician, and made the "Herald" red-hot in all political campaigns. In the county-seat contest of 1867 he rendered so valuable services to Wabasha, that after the election he was presented with a valuable gold-headed cane by the citizens as a token of regard; he was very proud of the cane, and always carried it to the day of this death. Mr. Sharpe, the senior member of the new firm, was a democrat, as became the son of that old wheel-horse of the party, Gen. A. T. Sharpe, and had been appointed mail agent by favor of Senator Daniel S. Norton after he followed Andrew Johnson into the democratic ranks; but Wabasha was still a republican county, and as most of the subscribers to the "herald" were republicans, he did not thing it prudent to change its political course. Palmer was a printer, and had charge of the office; Sharpe was neither printer nor writer, but he was a shrewd, keen businessman, and soon became an excellent newspaper manager. The leading editorials during the two years following were furnished by John N. Murdoch, a well-known lawyer of Wabasha, and a Republican of the straightest sect, and he did not allow the "Herald" to become lukewarm in its politics. Later, in the autumn of 1872, Sharpe and Palmer left Wabasha for Ottawa, Kansas, where they established the Ottawa "Republican," which is still conducted as a daily and weekly paper by Mr. Sharpe, who has become a prominent leader in republican circles, and has been very successful in making money. For years past he has been a member of the Kansas State Board of Charities, and he is always prominent in county and state conventions. Palmer remained with him less than a year and then drifted to the Pacific coast. W. S. Walton, the next proprietor of the "Herald," was and is a thoroughly wide-awake man, an educated gentleman, trained to literary work, and under his jurisdiction the paper was kept fully up to its mark, and in some respects surpassed it. Though he is still a resident here, it is not improper to say that he made the "Herald" a better local paper than it had ever been before. It became more than ever an eager advocate of everything which, in the judgment of its editor, could tend in the slightest degree to increase the prosperity of Wabasha. It was filled week after week with articles urging the development of the surrounding country, and never ceased to impress upon the people of Wabasha and the Zumbro valley the importance of ta railroad from Wabasha westward; nor was it in the paper alone that Mr. Walton worked for a railroad up the Zumbro valley; for that object he used up reams almost of paper and boxes of envelopes, and his postage bills were enormous; for it he traveled far and near, and never rested until his efforts were crowned with success.
To the "Herald" and its then editor and proprietor Wabasha is really indebted for inaugurating and putting in motion the movement which resulted in building the Midland railroad from Wabasha to Zumbrota. It was his work almost alone, and, as is the fate of most public benefactors, he got more kicks and curses than coppers out of it. During a part of the time his brother, Mr. H. H. Walton, was associated with him in the paper, and June 1, 1878, W. L. Lewark, who for several months had been foreman in the office, bought a third interest in the establishment, which he has ever since retained, with charge of the mechanical department, and the job office. April 1, 1879, Mr. Walton took to the road again in his old business of publisher's agent, W. H. H. Matteson having bought his two-thirds interest in the "Herald." Matteson and Lewark ran the paper not very successfully for just two years, or until April 1, 1881, when O. F. Collier purchased from Matteson and assumed the business management, with Mr. Lewark controlling the types and presses. Under their management the "Herald" has been a paying property, and there is no present reason to expect any other changes. Though "O. F. Collier & Co., Editors and Proprietors," appears at the head of the paper, it is understood that the main editorial work for the last three years has been done by John N. Murdoch. The "Herald" has had for ten years past a circulation varying from seven to twelve hundred, the latter being about the present figure. It has always been a good property, and never better than now. There would seem to be no good reason why it may not continue to furnish the weekly news to the grandchildren of many of its present subscribers. Perhaps it would not be right to close this sketch without noticing the "Federal Constitution," a Democratic journal published for a few weeks in the summer of 1864, by Dr. F. H. Milligan and John W. Tyson; it was short-lived, had no office, and was printed on the Herald press. Wabasha has not been fortunate in democratic papers, but there is one more to notice. In the summer of 1879 one Sigler commenced the publication of the "Bulletin," a paper which under his control devoted its main energies to abusing the best citizens of Wabasha. Sigler had a little type, a poor press, no money and no credit; his paper had a circulation of perhaps two hundred and was a failure form the start. In the latter part of 1880 it passed into the hands of J. R. Pennington, an ex-preacher of the Hardshell Baptist persuasion, and became less vulgar and more dull. Later C. J. Haines ran it for awhile, but grew tired of the up hill job and left for Dakota, where he is doing well as one of the proprietors of the Pierre "Signal."