CHAPTER EIGHT

Beeville Gets Newspapers

During the year 1886 two enterprises came to Bee County and began a transitory process that eventually elevated Beeville and the rural com­munities from the statuses of village and settlements to a modern small city surrounded by independent and progressive towns.

These enterprises exercised more influence for constructive change than any other two projects have done since the Irish colonists arrived to claim their headrights on the Poesta in the 1830s. And they came simultaneously —in May and June 1886 . . . The Beeville Bee weekly newspaper in May and the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad in June. (The coming of the railroad was told in the preceding chapter.)

William Oscar McCurdy, a native of Clairborne, Jasper County, Miss., arrived in Beeville in the spring of 1886 for a visit with his uncle and aunt, Dr. and Mrs. C. S. Phillips. He was a printer and editor, and after he had spent several days in Beeville he liked the town so well that he decided to start a newspaper here and become a citizen of the village. Dr. Phillips, a practicing dental surgeon, encouraged him in this plan and loaned him some money to help get the project started before the railroad came through Bee County.

The youthful writer had just passed the twenty-year mark, having been born May 10, 1866, but he was mature far beyond the average youth who has lived only two decades.

Equipment for a printing office in those days could be purchased for a few hundred dollars. Mr. McCurdy bought a George Washington hand press, a small job press for commercial printing (which was propelled by a treadle, requiring four pedal movements to print one sheet of paper, or two thousand movements for a ream of letterheads), and two cases of type.

Captain A. C. Jones and Sheriff D. A. T. Walton helped the young man acquire a subscription list.

The shop was set up in the loft of a building adjoining the livery stable on the east side of St. Mary’s Street, about where the Houston Natural Gas Corporation office now stands. It was said that the quarters were so small that the publisher could stand in the center of the room and reach almost anything he needed.

Later the office was moved to a building on the north side of the Public Square, next to the lot where Henry Eissler’s store is presently located. The second move was to a lot Mr. McCurdy purchased lust west of the Commercial National Bank, where he built a frame structure, which in the early 1900s was replaced with a concrete block building.

Gradually more equipment was added, including a Potter cylinder press powered by a steam engine. And there was a Blickensderfer typewriter which Mr. McCurdy learned to operate by the “hunt and peck two-finger system.” Chauncey Powell and Milton Tinney were two of the printers during the 1890s, and occasionally a tramp printer would “blow in’ for a few days work. As a rule, when he received his pay he would get drunk and “blow town.” But the home boys were reliable and stayed on the job. However, in 1898, Milton Tinney developed the “Cuban Fever” and joined the United States Navy to take part in the Spanish-American War.

Mr. McCurdy was a colorful and forceful writer, and with his persuasive words his philosophy wielded a beneficent influence upon the community during the twenty-seven years he published the Bee.

W. 0. McCurdy was a son of William and Mary (McDonald) McCurdy. His father served as a captain in the Confederate Army during the four years of the War Between the States. At the age of 16, William McCurdy and Henry S. Hill became partners to publish the Weekly Review at Heidelburg, Miss. Shortly afterward, Mr. McCurdy purchased the interest of his partner, but he sold the newspaper in 1885 and came to Texas.

Upon reaching Victoria he became editor of the Victoria Advocate. After six months he went to Goliad, where he was employed in a store. A little later he came to Beeville for a visit with his uncle and aunt.

The young editor soon gained recognition over the state as a talented writer, and the Bee under his leadership fostered many progressive projects.

Mr. McCurdy was married to Miss Elizabeth Wood, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John C. Wood of Beeville, on October 12, 1904. Born to this union were three daughters, Mary (Mrs. Raymond Welder), Martha (Mrs. William Long), and Mrs. Elizabeth Helvenston; and a son, William 0. McCurdy Jr. Mr. McCurdy was a director in the Commercial National Bank, a member of the City Commission, chairman of the Bee County Democratic Executive Committee, and was perhaps the most successful small-town newspaperman in Texas.

His widowed mother came to Beeville and made her home with Mr. and Mrs. McCurdy until the death of her son on June 19, 1913. Shortly afterward she returned to Mississippi.

Following the death of Mr. McCurdy, his widow sold the newspaper to R. W. (Whizzie) Barry, a reporter on the Bee for several months, who pub­lished the periodical until 1924 when he sold it I-o Arthur Shannon of Wharton. Mr. Barry worked for several months with the San Antonio Express, then assumed charge of the Associated Press office at Austin, and later became managing editor of the Phoenix (Ariz.) Gazette, a position he held until he retired a few years ago. He now resides in Panama City, FIa.

Mr. Shannon published the Bee until May 31, 1928, when George H. Atkins, the then publisher of the Picayune, organized the Beeville Publishing Co., Inc., purchased the Bee, and consolidated the two newspapers under the name of Beeville Bee-Picayune. (After chronicling the history of the Picayune I will continue the annals of the Bee-Picayune.)

At the end of four years of railroad transportation and newspaper boosting, together with the spiritual influence of the teachings of the various churches and the integrity of the people, by the year 1890 the town had grown from a population of 250 to around three thousand, and the foregoing conditions brought to Beeville a repeat order of the bill that was filled in I 886—another railroad and another newspaper!

The Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific Railroad, a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific, rolled into this little city on July 26, 1889, affording a direct outlet to the east. And early in 1890 two brothers, Carl and M. M. McFarland of New Orleans, established the Beeville Daily Picayune. (The detailed story of the coming of the railroads was told in Chapter Seven.)

The McFarland brothers had worked on the famous New Orleans Picayune and decided to name their newspaper here in honor of one of the South’s most renowned periodicals.

The Daily Picayune had a short life—only a few weeks. The publishers realized that the town was not large enough to support a six-day news­paper, and dropped back to a weekly.

After a few years, they sold the Picayune to J. K. Street and moved to Victoria. One of the men later became a State Representative from that district in the Texas Legislature.

Mr. Street sold the business to Thomas R. Atkins, father of George H. Atkins, in 1894. In July 1903 T. R. Atkins sold it to W. C. Wright and Frank Shannon. The following year Mr. Wright purchased Mr. Shannon’s interest and employed George Atkins as editor, printer and pressman. In 1906 George Atkins launched the Normanna Nugget weekly newspaper, but after a year he suspended publication, and in 1907 he purchased the Picayune. In 1908 he sold half interest in the business to his brother-in-law, Russell W. Barron of Dallas, one of the best commercial printers in the state.

In 1919 Mr. Barron sold his half to Fred C. Weber, who remained with Mr. Atkins until 1924, when he sold his part to Mr. Atkins and retired from newspaper work.

On May 31, 1928, a corporation was formed under the name of Bee­ville Publishing Co. Inc. and both newspapers were purchased, consolidating them into one, called the Beeville Bee-Picayune. Mr. Atkins was named president and publisher. Several years later,’ in 1948, Mr. and Mrs. Atkins purchased all of the outstanding stock of the company, and since that time it has been owned by the Atkins family.

On November 10, 1921, Mr. Atkins was married to Miss Julia Schilling, who had come to Beeville from San Antonio to teach expression in the Beeville public school. One daughter, Joyce, was born to this union. Joyce graduated from Jones High School and the University of Texas, then went to Washington, D.C., to work during the last two years of World War II. Later she worked in Houston before deciding to return to her home town and take an interest in the Bee-Picayune. On October 3, 1953, she was married to Fred C. Latcham Jr., of Denver, Cob., a project en­gineer with Brown & Root Co.

Under Mr. Atkins’ management (and continuing through Fred Latchams management following Mr. Atkins’ death) the Bee-Picayune was awarded many trophies by Texas press associations. In 1939 and again in 1946, the local periodical was named the Best All-Around Weekly Newspaper in the state by the Texas Press Association, and in 1962 the National Edi­torial Association gave the Bee-Picayune second place in the nation. First-place trophies in all other categories have been given the Bee-Picayune through the years by the Texas, South Texas, and Texas Gulf Coast Press Associations.

George Atkins, from his advent as a publisher in 1907 until his death in November 959, was a fearless writer and espoused many constructive projects that helped Beeville develop into a small city. There were hundreds of voters in Bee County who waited for Mr. Atkins’ editorials before going to the polls to vote on an issue on which they had not been able to make up their minds as to which side to favor. They respected his judgment because he was fair and based his decisions on the Golden Rule.

In 1910, the Board of Trustees of Beeville Independent School District, feeling forced to provide more classrooms for the students, decided that it would be more economical to erect an addition to the public school building than to build a separate structure. They ordered a bond election for this purpose.

But George Atkins knew that Beeville needed a new high school building, and he fought the bond issue with strong editorials in the Picayune. The measure was defeated. This was the only school bond election that George Atkins ever opposed.

The president of the board, realizing that the school system must have additional classrooms, came to the editor and said: “George, we lost; what do you want? We’ve got to make room for the students.”

“I want a high school building,’ Mr. Atkins replied.

“Well, let’s call another election. We’ll go along with your proposition,” the president said.

An election was called and the Picayune strongly endorsed the issue. It carried by a safe majority, and the first A. C. Jones High School building was erected in 1910-1911. The land on which it was located was donated by the widow of Captain A. C. Jones. (In 1957 when the new high school complex was completed on North Adams Street it was given the name of A. C. Jones High School and the first high school building became the Thomas Jefferson Junior High School. Later this structure was razed and a larger building was erected for junior high school work.)

I started working as a “printer’s devil” (newspaper parlance for a com­posing room apprentice) for George Atkins on January 17, 1911. I worked a total of forty years for the Atkins family, twenty-seven years (from 1945 to 1972) as editor of the Bee-Picayune. I also worked on a number of weekly and daily newspapers over the country, but George Atkins, familiarly known around the office as “The Boss,” taught me more about operating a live weekly newspaper than any of the other fine teachers under whom I studied.

After the death of Mr. Atkins, his son-in-law, Fred C. Latcham Jr., who had been associated with the newspaper several years, became the publisher. Mr. Latcham followed the path that his wife’s father had made and used his editorial persuasion to help Beeville grow. It was he who first got behind the idea of establishing a state junior college here, and when the proposal became lethargic for a time, Fred Latcham never gave up but kept plugging for the college until it became a reality in 1965. He also worked hard for the establishment of the Bee County Memorial Hospital in 1962.

Mr. Latcham was elected president of the college Board of Trustees and held that position until 972, when he asked to be relieved of the presidency, but he remained a member of the board. He is a past-president of the Beeville Rotary Club, a past-president of the Bee County Chamber of Commerce, a two-term president of the Beeville Council of the Navy League of the United States, a past-chairman of the Board of Stewards of First United Methodist Church, a past-president of the South Texas Press Association, and a past-director of the Texas Press Association. He graduated from East Denver High School and the Uni­versity of Colorado.

The Latchams have two, sons, Frederick Charles Latcham Ill and George Geoffrey Latcham, who plan to join the publishing firm after they com­plete their college work. Frederick, popularly known as “Chip,” is a senior student in Jones High School, and “Jeff” is a freshman.

The present owners and officers of the Beeville Publishing Co. Inc. are:

Mrs. Julia Atkins, president; Fred C. Latcham Jr., vice president and pub­lisher, and Mrs. Joyce Latcham, secretary-treasurer.

E. B. (Elmer) Hathaway was one of the original officers and stockholders of the Beeville Publishing Co. Inc. He was first secretary-treasurer of the company, and served as advertising manager for a number of years. He is now retired and he and his wife, the former Margaret (Teeny) Tucker, reside in Fredericksburg. Mrs. Elizabeth McCurdy, widow of the late W. 0. McCurdy, was vice president. J. C. Burrows was a director.

Two old-time employees of the Bee and Picayune are still with the company. Irvin McWhorter, who started with the Picayune in 1920, is in charge of the makeup department and his brother, Bernard McWhorter, who began his newspaper work with the Bee in 1922, is plant superintendent.

On October 16, 958, the Bee-Picayune issued a classic historical edition—eighty-eight pages—as a prelude to the Bee County Centennial Celebration which was held during the week of October 20-25. It contained a concise history of the county from the time of the arrival of the Irish colonists up to the day the paper went to press with the edition. There were many writers who had parts in the work of recording the annals of the area, but the heaviest contributor was the late Gentry Dugat, oil editor and staff writer of the Bee-Picayune, who was my pal from the time we were in the eighth grade together until his death in February 1968. I have seen many historical editions issued by other newspapers, both weekly and daily, but, in my judgment, the Bee-Picayune’s was by far the greatest of all. It was a classic!

Yielding to the wishes of Beeville merchants and many readers of the paper, the Bee-Picayune became a semi-weekly on October 13, 1969. My column, Memories of Old Bee County, and the Seventy-five Years Ago column (which I write from the files of the Bee), are features on the editorial page of the Monday issue. When I retired, I agreed to continue writing those features.

Periodicals in Bee County throughout the years that had short lives include: El Grito Del Pueblo, established in 1888 by P. & P. Gonzales; El Amigo de los Hombres, by I. R. Rodriguez in the I890s; the Young Reporter, edited and published by Mac, Chauncey, and Tom Powell; Bee County Banner, a monthly publication edited and printed by Hugh Marr, a well-known printer and editor of the olden days (he was a brother-in-law of George Atkins); Southland Queen, a bee journal published by Will Atchley, a local bee man, during the I 890s; the American Citizen, a political weekly in 1924; Bee County News, a throw-away weekly by Fred Strong in the 1950s; the Skidmore Pioneer, published by T. R. Atkins in 1891; the Normanna Nugget, by George Atkins in 1906; the Skidmore Signal, Charles Blanton’s weekly newspaper, 1907-1915; the Skidmore Breeze, 1907-1908; and the Pettus News, a free distribution weekly pub­lished by Alf Schroeter of Runge in the late 1950s.

El Exito, a political bilingual weekly newspaper that was started in 1970 and is still being issued, is published by Fred Chapa.