The Willow Springs Democrat
Wed, 03/22/2023 - 1:40pm admin
While researching my files, I came across two copies of a Willow Springs newspaper I was unfamiliar with. "The Willow Springs Democrat" existed for only a year in its first life and not much longer in its second.
The practice of a newspaper declaring a party affiliation predated the Civil War. Legal notices and government printing jobs in Missouri counties were usually awarded to one newspaper based on their political allegiance. Howell has been known since the Civil War as being primarily Republican. But, there were years when the Democrats won substantial victories, most often carried by the presidential election when voters crossed over to vote for a popular candidate.
As an interesting side note, the Missouri Republican, published in St. Louis during the Civil War, was a Democratic newspaper. The Missouri Democrat, also published in St. Louis, was a Republican paper.
In February 1914, the Howell County Gazette announced that "the Willow Springs Independent has given place to the Willow Springs Democrat, with T.W. Rackley as editor." I haven't ascertained how long the "Independent" existed, if it ever did. Perhaps he was referring to the "Index." According to a history from the 1917 Willamizzou, "In 1885 T.W. Maby and Clem Randall published the Willow Springs Index, the first paper, and in 1890, B.C. Stanley arrived with an old Washington press and a barrel of type and started the (Willow Springs) Republican.”
The Willow Springs Democrat is absent in the Missouri State Archives newspaper microfilm collections. I'd be curious to hear of anyone else having copies. Regarding the Independent/Index, the article stated, "Mr. C.A. Hagan, former editor of the Independent, retires after several months' strenuous work." The previous editor was a man named Comley. The motto of the old Index paper was "A live paper for the benefit of the people who pay for it." The Index was a Democratically-oriented newspaper.
Mills Williams of West Plains Quill fame also briefly owned the Willow Springs Index, and in 1903 his Quill was the first paper in Howell County to publish daily.
A year later, the Gazette told its readers, "T.W. Rackley has traded the Willow Springs Democrat outfit to Walt Pyles for some residence property on Center Street in Willow Springs. Mr. Pyles will move the plant to Colorado soon and start a newspaper in a thriving new town. Pyles is known as a Chautauqua attraction. He is a cartoonist and draws wonderful sketches. In the wintertime, when there is no demand for such attractions as he puts on, he works in printing offices. He will hereafter devote his entire time to the newspaper he expects to establish. As he is a hustler and a good printer, success should crown his efforts." And just like that, Willow Springs Democrats lost their voice, and it would be two decades before the newspaper revived.
"The Willow Springs Republican," representing the opposing political party, was run in 1915 by H. F. Slusser (brother of well-known school teacher Lottie Slusser.) It had been in existence since 1889 when founded by B.C. Stanley had been sold two times before Stanley took over to G.A. Easby and M.W. Woods. In 1905 the Republican was owned by Judge H.P. Dawes and his daughter Lina, who served as the paper manager.
Newspapers liked reporting on each other. On a slow news day, just insert a story about the competition. For example, the West Plains Journal wrote in August 1939, "The Willow Springs Democrat thinks it remarkable that this paper, being Republican, should be able to find anything commendable in the present administration. We hope we never will become so blindly partisan as to be unable to see the good things in the opposition or claim that all that is excellent is within our own party."
Sometimes editors poked a little fun at their community. The Willow Springs Republican, as early as 1909, printed, "A Springfield paper tells of a man losing the wrapper off a package he was carrying while waiting for a train at the Frisco depot. The package proved to be a quart of wet goods (whiskey.) That man wasn't from Willow Springs. A Willow Springs man would have had a two-gallon jug."
Editor J.C. Kerby of the Howell County Gazette and Doctor H.P. Dawes, editor of the Willow Springs Republican, got into a bit of ink-slinging over politics in December 1898. Kerby wrote, "In last week's issue of that miserably printed, detestably edited and illy-gotten up, in general principles, Willow Springs Republican, there are several dirty, insinuating articles and untruthful statements, supposedly written by the would-be-editor, one H.P. Dawes-who he is or what he is, we know not, neither do we care-concerning and about our honorable Circuit Judge W.N. Evans." Kerby wasn't keeping up with Willow Springs because he should have known Dawes, who had served as Willow Springs's Mayor.
Typesetting machines appeared locally in the early 1900s. Before this and for several years until the automated machines appeared, all type was set by hand, which entailed lining up individual letters in trays placed on a plate. Each paper sheet was printed individually. It was a very labor-intensive process and physically demanding.
My two copies of the Willow Springs Democrat were printed on a single oversized sheet and folded to make a four-page newspaper. The May 14, 1914 issue detailed graduating exercises held at the Opera House in Willow Springs. The local power plant is advertising they will pay $2.25 cash for fifty cords of wood delivered to their steam engine. In addition, the Democrat has local columns for the Noblett and Pine Creek communities and a "Local Notes" column for Willow Springs residents.
The May 24, 1905 edition had an ad for the Protiva, Horak & Company and its horse-drawn haying equipment for the upcoming season. The paper is about half ads and appears to be doing well. John N. Wicks, the owner of the city power plant, has an ad seeking subscriptions to sponsor a woodworking plant in Willow Springs. The interior page gets down to business. Editor Rackley wrote, "A change in the administration of county affairs will mean more improvements and lower taxes, and a good time for the taxpayers to try the change is at the November election. Your politics does not buy your groceries or school your children, so vote for the best interest of yourself, your family, and your pocketbook. The greatest present public need in Howell County is the defeat of the Republican ticket in November by a good, clean set of Democratic boys." In their ad, the Warren Allen general merchandise store in Willow Springs is giving away a piano to a home, church, or group based on the number of votes cast at their store.
In 1924 Walter B. Cissna founded a new paper, the "Willow Springs Advocate," which carried the front-page byline "So Much the Better Newspaper." I have a copy from June 1928, which includes four pages. It describes a torrential rainstorm that forced some Willow Springs residents to leave their homes the night before. "The rain was nothing much short of a cloudburst, and the streets were flooded with the water, and the ditches were unable to carry the water as fast as it fell. People living across the Frisco tracks suffered from the high water, and the water became dangerously high on lower Pine Street. Much damage was done to crops and gardens, and washing out of culverts and bridges. In many streets, the roads washed badly. It is feared that many farms along the creeks suffered severely from the crops washing out. The water flooded the homes of Claud Ferguson, Fred L. Green, Carl Ferguson, and J.M. Waggoner and became dangerously high on other premises. Part of the bridge by the creamery building was washed out, and it is said that over two miles of the Frisco tracks between here and Hutton Valley are washed out. As we go to press, it is still raining, and with the water that has fallen in the past two weeks, the creeks are all out of their banks, and many people are isolated from the town."
The Advocate published until 1931 when the Willow Springs News took over where the Advocate left off and printed until 2002. In the 1930s and 40s, Glenn Hensley was the editor. The Willow Springs Republican also ceased operations in 1931.
With the Great Depression, many Republican candidates in Howell County faced strong contenders, and the Willow Springs Democrat was revived for the occasion and published until the Second World War. It appears most of those papers were not saved, as none exist in the state collection.
Life as a country editor in a small town isn't always easy. Complaints invariably come from both sides of an issue, and on contentious subjects, nothing pleases everyone. Before the Internet, newspapers informed their communities of world, national, and local events, such as who is visiting their relatives in town or whether the frost ruined the peaches this year. There is a balance between factually reporting the news and promoting the community. An editor will get complaints for reporting an event and moments later get chewed out for not telling enough. The balance between pleasing advertisers and readers is one of the tightropes an editor walks, along with the rush to write, print and distribute a paper each week.
This article was intended to cover the historic publishing of all of Howell County, but I quickly found the subject more extensive than I thought. Did you know there were two newspapers in Pomona and one in Trask? Mountain View had several papers, including the Standard, Postman, and the Mountain View X-Ray (1906). Even Siloam Springs had a paper briefly. It will take another article to tell the story of the West Plains newspapers, including the "Type of the Times," published in West Plains in 1869.
As a historical writer, I cannot fail to mention the value of these historic newspapers. Instead, they give information in a contemporary setting that cannot be found elsewhere. For example, during the Civil War, the soldiers stationed in the Ozarks wrote home and their local papers describing what they saw. Unfortunately, we have no other sources that describe West Plains during the war like these letters found in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, and Nebraska newspapers.
I also read a lot of these papers for entertainment. J.C. Kerby, the editor of the Howell County Gazette, is one of my favorite writers as he often has fun in his reporting. A considerable case was moved to West Plains on a change of venue from Oregon County, and Kerby was obligated to report on it because of the large number of witnesses. He filed this report dated February 3rd, 1899: "Up At the courthouse yesterday, they had just twenty-four Oregon County representatives in the witness room at one time. Maybe you think they didn't have a time. First, someone proposed a smoke, and the question arouse as to who should provide it. Finally, they made a list of the weight of each one and adding all altogether and struck an average, and the one whose weight came nearest the average was the fated provider.
Then someone was spotted to provide the eatables, and a bunch of bananas was brought in. So hilarious became the crowd that the judge was compelled to give them a talk, and they attempted to pacify him with a supply of bananas. In the afternoon, our townsman Doctor George Turner was sent for and, when he arrived, was placed on the stand and made the object of a severe cross-examination. The result can be imagined.
The Oregon County boys are a fine lot of fellows, and we are glad to see them come up."