Allamakee co. IAGenWeb

Chapter 13
Past & Present of Allamakee County, 1913

The County Press, Journalistic Adventures of the Late T.C. Medary Recounted by Himself, in 1890, Local Affairs -- A Digression, The Craft Again, Off to the Front and After, Conclusion, Another Country Editor - Jas. T. Metcalf, Others of the Fraternity.



No calling or profession has had a more important part in shaping and preserving the history of the county than that of “the art preservative of all arts.” Unfortunately no complete files of the early publications have survived the destructiveness of time – and fires. But much information contained in stray copies of the pioneer papers has been collated in the various chapters, adding much to the value of this volume. Indeed, a systematic search through the files now existing would furnish the most complete history of the county obtainable, and the editor has drawn heavily from these sources, as fully as the time and space allotted would permit. No detailed history of the press of the county is here attempted, as it would fill a volume of itself. But a brief account of the local press will be found in the respective chapters devoted to the four newspaper towns.

It seems appropriate here to recount the personal experiences of two of our veteran publishers, which have heretofore, in part at least, been given to the public, viz.: Thomas C. Medary and James T. Metcalf: the former twenty years ago passed to his long home, and the latter still living at Washington, retired from high official position and devoting the declining years of his long and useful life to affairs connected with his first love, the printer’s art.

The following narrative of Mr. Medary was written in 1890, but a few years before his death, while editing the Waukon Democrat, and contains much of interest relating to members of the craft throughout this region, and hence is entitled to the place of honor in this chapter.

Journalistic Adventures of the Late T.C. Medary Recounted by Himself, in 1890.

Thirty years ago, as the old year of 1859 was in its closing hours, the editor of this paper passed through the then little village of Waukon, by stage, on his way to Lansing to take a situation that had previously been secured on the old Lansing Mirror, then published by H.R. Chatterton, one of the ablest editors ever connected with the press of this county. We made our pilgrimage by stage from McGregor to Lansing around by the way of Decorah by the old M.O. Walker stage line, with Tom Tokes, the half-breed Indian so well known in those days, as driver between McGregor and Decorah, and Dave Telford guided the raw-boned steeds between Decorah and Lansing, and will be remembered by the old residents of Waukon and Lansing. Tom H. McElroy, a Milwaukee printer, was then publishing the Waukon Transcript, having purchased the office a few months before. The material of the then Transcript office had previously been owned by Frank Belfoy, who started the first paper in Waukon, in 1859 [1857 – Ed.] under the name of Waukon Journal, but in a few months quit its publication and went to Decorah and took charge of the old Republic, now Republican office, succeeding the Tuppers, father and son. Belfoy, however, did not last long in Decorah, either, although the field was a good one, for the reason principally that he was more fond of sitting hour after hour and day after day in “Hank” Geddes’ saloon and feasting on crackers, cheese and beer, than he was of attending to his newspaper duties, and as a consequence the paper “busted” in the fall of 1859.

We, with James Zbornik and Dan. Burt, were in Belfoy’s employ when the paper suspended, and were left without any means whatever to get out of town. However, a happy thought meandered into the brain of one of the trio of penniless printers who was somewhat poetically inclined, and that was to inflict upon the public a poem – so-called – which we would sell around town and thereby try to raise enough money to get away with. The little screed took well, each one of the impecunious printers selling the slips about town and realizing funds sufficient for the purpose desired. With our portion of the wealth thus acquired we paid our stage fare to McGregor, where we applied to that good old soul, Col. A.P. Richardson of the Times, for work, but his office was then supplied with more help than he really needed. He advised us, however, to go over to Prairie du Chien, where he thought we might find temporary employment. We acted on his suggestion and the following morning we footed it across the river on the ice to the Prairie, and stating how badly reduced our surplus had become to Mr. William Merrill, the then and now proprietor of the Courier, that gentleman set us at work immediately, kindly informing us that we could remain until we obtained a permanent situation elsewhere. And from that day to this he has been a warm personal friend of the writer, and for whom we entertain the warmest regard.

We began at once to make written application to the offices in the surrounding towns for work. Finally, a reply came from H.R. Chatterton of the Lansing Mirror, offering us a place in his office. The next morning we set out for McGregor bright and early, again walking across the river on the ice and reaching McGregor in time to take the morning stage for Decorah on our way to Lansing, our object in going by Decorah being to see if we could not get some of our “back salary” due from Belfoy, but in which we did not succeed, as Frank was in a really worse financial strait than we were, for he had a family on his hands to provide for. We shall never forget our midwinter’s ride from McGregor to Decorah. Our seat was on the outside with driver Tokes, the inside of the coach being filled with other passengers, and as we were without an overcoat, and perhaps no underclothing, and as the weather was intensely cold, we suffered terribly from the piercing blasts of one of Iowa’s old-fashioned winters. On the 31st of December we started for Lansing from Decorah stopping at the old Dunlap House, now the Mason House, of this city, for dinner. This brings us back again to McElroy and the old Transcript office, for while in town at that time we called at the office and became acquainted with “Mac”. Frank Pease, who had conducted the office for a few months just prior to McElroy’s taking possession, was at work for him. And, by the way, Frank was a dandy – dude, he would be called in these days – a regular ladies’ man, as it were. In this connection we may state that he was not unknown in and about the old Dunlap House. Indeed, so familiar was he with the premises that when Dunlap would go gunning for him with a pepper-box revolver, Frank knew just which door or window to scoot out of the quickest in order to escape the visitation of Dunlap’s wrath, which was often wrought up to its highest pitch, it is said, because Frank frequently courted the smiles of Mrs. D. Frank always dressed in the height of fashion, if he did not make a cent, and we remember how stunning he used to look in that blue broad-cloth, brass buttoned, swallow-tailed coat, white vest, black pants, low cut shoes, white stockings, and topped off with a black silk hat. He was indeed a regular masher. But the last time we saw Frank there was a striking contrast in his appearance from the above. It was at Hot Strings, Arkansas, about sixteen years ago. He was city clerk at that place, and had been connected with the press there in one capacity and another ever since the close of the war. He had aged very fast, and dissipation was plainly visible in his features and in his negligent dress. Not the dandy and neat looking Frank of former years by any means. What has become of him in these later years we do not know. We may mention that prior to his enlistment in the army, after leaving newspaper work here, he was editorially connected with the Lansing Mirror and the McGregor Times, a few months in each place.

We arrived in Lansing on New Year’s eve, stopping at the Bates Hotel. The Masonic fraternity were having a sociable that evening, and as Mr. Chatterton was one of the guests, we were unable to report to him that night for duty. However, we went down to the office, which was then situated in a little frame building adjoining James I. Gilbert’s office or brick building, now occupied by Mrs. Harbauer, and we found one of the worst dilapidated print shops we had ever been into. The old Decorah Republic was bad enough, but this was ten times worse. Neither had it improved any in appearance when we went into it again the next morning, and we felt blue enough at the prospect before us, for we saw every evidence of bad management and “a screw loose” somewhere. In a few days we found out that the loose screw was “budge.” The employes of the office at this time were two boys named John VanEmberg and Aaron Marshall, both of whom have been dead for many years. The material was all old, with nothing but a hand press to do all classes of work, and on that old press, one card at a time, did we print thousands of those grain tickets then in use in those days. This material had been brought up from the Gazette office in Galena, Ill., owned by Horace H. Houghton, brother of Rev. H.W. Houghton, now of Lansing, who sold this outfit to W.H. Sumner and from which emanated the Lansing Intelligencer in November, 1852. As printers Mr. Sumner brought with him to Lansing Tom Butler and Joe Taylor, the latter a negro, who in a short time went to La Crosse, and in after years became an attache of Brick Pomeroy’s office, remaining with Brick for many years through his ups and down in newspaper life. Joe finally became the owner of an office over in the interior of Wisconsin, but died a few years ago, having accumulated wealth enough to place him in easy circumstances. Tom Butler got homesick, went back to Galena and died there. Mr. Sumner, being in poor health was obliged in about a year to give up the paper, and it passed into the control of Chatterton, whom Mr. H.H. Houghton had induced to take hold of it. Mr. Sumner soon died and his remains lie in an unkept grave by the roadside a short distance below DeSoto, the picket fence surrounding it being in a rotten and tumbledown condition when we last saw it a few years ago.

We will now go back to the old Mirror office at Lansing and pick up Mr. Chatterton from the rickety old lounge on which he would frequently recline after his almost daily but fruitless efforts to reduce the surplus beverages of various kinds that were on tap in the several saloons about town. That was the only failing that the gentleman had, but it was master of him to such an extent that it sadly interfered with his business, and the affairs of the office were at sixes and sevens all the time, the issuing of the paper depending almost wholly upon the boys in his employ, while the limited income went into the saloon tills, and the boys seldom got enough of the revenue to pay their wash bills. Speaking of the financial transactions reminds us of an incident that occurred one day. One of the patrons of the paper came in to pay his subscription, handing Mr. Chatterton a five-dollar gold piece, which he coolly dropped into his pocket, informing the gentleman that he did not have change enough for it that day, but the next time he came he would have the necessary change ready for him! We don’t know whether that change was ever made or not, but the event made an impression on us boys, for we each thought there might be some prospects for getting a little of the gold piece. We believe we didn’t, however.

The office was often without wood, and as it was necessary to have a fire the boys had to skirmish around to get the material for it, but as wood piles were not very far between we managed to keep the room reasonably warm except on very cold days, when we would pull our case stands close up to the stove. We used to feel a little guilty, though, when some one would come in from that vicinity and remak that he thought he recognized his wood piled up by the stove! Of course under such adverse circumstances the life of the paper was only a question of time. The editor would have spasms of bracing up occasionally and matters would run along more smoothly for a few weeks, but the first we would know “Chat” would be “in the soup” again, to use a vulgar phrase of today.


In those days, just on the eve of the outbreak of the rebellion, political excitement ran high, and the politicians used to gather in the office to discuss the issues. Colonel Spooner, Mrs. L.E. Howe's faher, would drop in occasionally for a chat, and old father Bentley and father Brownell, of Village Creek, old gentleman Haney, and other old settlers of the town and country, would come and make the political pot boil in their efforts to settle the grave questions then pending between the North and South, while us boys wished the statesmen there assembled were removed out of our hearing where they would not disturb our typesetting and burn out the wood we had been obliged to rustle around the neighborhod for.

The embryo local republican statesmen in those days were Homer Hemenway, Doctor Taylor, John Haney, John (*) Shaw, John (*) Berry and some lesser lights, while the stars of great magnitude on the democratic side were G.W. Gray, S.H. Kinne, G.W. Hays, George Kemble, W.H. Burford, George W. Camp, James Palmer, John Farrell and others whose names we do not now recall; but when these opposing forces, or any of them, met to chew each others' tobacco around the store stoves, they would often make "Rome howl," so to speak, especially Homer Hemenway, who could talk a barn door off its hinges in five minutes, and can do it yet if necessary. Mr. A.W. Purdy was the postmaster then, and his two sons, Edward, our present county recorder, and George, were his clerks. When the administration changed, however, and Lincoln became president, Mr. Purdy was promptly fired out and Homer Hemenway was appointed to the place as a reward, no doubt, for that rapidity of speech above referred to in political arguements.

In those days Columbus and Lafayette were quite busy little villages, and all steamboats landed at those points, receiving and discharging considerable freight at each. There were two stores, quite a large hotel and a steam saw mill at Columbus, and a store and saw and gristmill at Lafayette. The store at Lafayette was kept by John Tierney, and he did quite a flourishing business, accumulating considerable property, but lost it all in after years in Lansing when Lafayette and Colombus dwindled away as trading points. For some years afterward, however, Michael Brophy maintained a rach at Lafayette, the character of which was announced by this somewhat singular sign attached to the corner of the house:

Whiskey, Beef and Beer For Sale
by M. Brophy

Harper's Ferry was also a flourishing town and David Harper did a large business in merchandising, buying and shipping produce, etc. He was considered one of the leading and influential men of the county. The steamboats nearly all passed through the Harper channel, then, except in low water stages, and the Ferry was quite a rival of Lansing as a grain market. But even before the advent of the railroad the town began to lose its prestige.

Village Creek or Milton was then known as Jesse Rose's town, he being the owner of the flouring mills there and possessor of considerable village property. There were two stores and they enjoyed a fair trade from the immediate vicinity. It was always a good milling point and for many years flour has been shipped from there to various markets along the river.

In those days Lansing's manufacturing industries consisted of the steam saw mill owned by the Woods and Shaws, the Morgan pork packing house and the brewery then operated by Julius Kerndt and Jacob Haas; James I. Gilbert was runninng a lumberyard and dealing in grain. The Mill Co., W.D. Morgan & Co., G.W. Gray, George W. Hays, Battles & Day, Kerndt Bros., Nielander, Shierholz & Co. , and perhaps one or two others also bought and stored grain. Farmers then from away out on the Wapsie and Cedar rivers used to market their wheat in Lansing and buy lumber there, but it was not until years afterwards that the town became known far and wide as one of the very best wheat markets on the river. Thousands of bushels would be stored by the farmers to await higher prices, they paying for the storage privileges, and it would very often happen that they would be oblidged to sell for a much less price than had been offered them early in the season, and pay a very large storage fee besides.

-*transcribers note: the copy was very poor & the middle initial could be I, L or J


Now we will get back to newspaper matters again. Through the summer of 1860 the Mirror continued to eke out a sickly existence, occasionally missing a week's issue for want of the necessary paper. It being all home print, the publishing of patent outsides and insides not having come into existence in those days. The circulation of the Mirror was only about 350 copies, yet it was impossible for the publisher to keep even enough stock on hand for that number and he frequently had to buy or borrow a few quires at a time from the offices at McGregor, Prairie du Chien or Decorah. During the fall and early part of the winter Frank Pease was engaged on the paper and used to set type and do most of the writing when the editor would have his tired spells. Finally, Frank went to the Times office at McGregor and towards spring Stephen W. Smith, a printer, came over from Bad Axe, Wisconsin, and went to work in the office, and he, too, did most of the writing. Charley Smith, a carpenter by trade, who had been at work in the sawmill, concluded to take up typesetting, and as "Chat" would give any one a place who asked him, old Charley was employed.

In the meantime the writer had become acquainted with a certain red-haired girl in town and by his persistency finally induced her to commit the giddy act of marrying him, which she probably regrets to this day. This marriage took place in November 1860. That winter the Mirror petered out entirely, and we (wife and I) took a stage ride, on the ice most of the way, to Winona, stopping for a day or two in La Crosse seeking work there. At Winona we got a situation in the Tri-Weekly Democrat office, published by Charles Cottam, remaining there until along in April, when that paper, too, ceased publication for the same reason, principally, that the Mirror had. We returned to Lansing and for a short time got work with McElroy & Parker, who had moved the old Transcript office from Waukon and charged the name to the Democrat. The first issue of the paper was in February 1861, and it contained the longest tax list ever published in the county, amounting, if we remember correctly to about $800. We know they bought about 300 pounds of new long primer type to set the list up in. The firm of McElroy & Parker did not hang together, however, more than a few months. Doctor Parker, who was a former resident of McGregor, was not a printer, neither was he much of a writer, and most of the work, both mechanical and editorial, devolved upon "Mac," and he was not too fond of work either, and would rather sit around Sims & Burgess' shoe shop hour after hour than to put in the time at his office. Doctor Parker withdrew from the concern, and in the winter of '61-2 McElroy threw up the sponge and returned to Milwaukee, where he re-entered the composing room of the Daily News, which he had left to go to Waukon. He afterwards enlisted in the Twenty-fourth Wisconsin and the last we ever saw of him was in camp at Milwaukee with that regiment just before leaving for the war. The office was taken possession of by S. H. Kinne, who had claims against it for himself and other democrat's in town who had advanced money to aid McElroy in moving from Waukon to Lansing.

Meanwhile, Rev. H. W. Houghton had taken possession of the old Mirror outfit for his brother Horace, of Galena, who had a mortgage on it, and the material was stored away upstairs in the old stone warehouse. This left Lansing for a few months without any paper. During the spring of 1862, however, a German printer named Christian Lomann came down from Fountain City, Wisconsin and succeeded in getting possession of the McElroy office, and began the publication of a democratic paper called the Argus; but Lomann was an erratic cuss with an uncontrollable appetite for strong drink, of which his not very loving and affectionate wife endeavored to cure him by drugging his coffee, from which we have seen the poor devil so sick that death would undoubtedly have been a great relief to him. We worked several weeks in the office, but the woman's fiery temper and her interference in the business affairs of the office were too much for our weak (?) nerves and we quit, going thence to the Daily Sentinel office in Milwaukee. Shortly before this, however, the building which Lomann occupied as a residence and little huckster shop on the south side of Main street, about where Ruth's clothing store is now, caught fire one night very mysteriously and burned out the entire row of buildings, incurring a heavy loss. Lomann had his personal effects pretty well insured in a company represented by W. F. Bentley, and after considerable delay he got his money from the company, and from that, by a strategy agreed upon between Mr. Bentley and our self, we managed to get the balance due us for our work, some $28, we believe. The insurance money was to be paid over on a certain day and was to go into Mrs. Lomann's hands, as her husband, she considered, could not be trusted with it. We were to be present when the payment was made and Mr. Bentley was to count out the amount due us, but to do it apparently as if he were running it all off for Mrs. L., and when he named our amount we were to snatch the pile, and we did, too, with "neatness and dispatch." About the maddest woman on earth for a little while was right there at that time, and her cussing of Mr. Bentley and our self made the atmosphere turn fairly blue.

The life of the Argus extended over a few months only, when Mr. Lomann, between the setting of the sun one evening and the rising of the same the next morning, loaded the office onto two or three wagons and run it over into Wisconsin, by the way of McGregor, and located the outfit at Boscobel. Thus the old Waukon Transcript office disposed of.


During these several ups and downs of the papers the rebellion had broken out and the feeling of patriotism that prevailed among printers everywhere spread to those in Lansing, and the old Mirror turned out a pretty fair list of those who had been employed on it in one capacity or another, from editor down to the youngest "devil," the latter being Tommy Orr, who, without doubt, was the most youthful soldier who went to the war from Iowa. At the time Tommy went out he was not quite fourteen years old. The following is a list of those from the office who entered the country's service:

H. R. Chatterton, editor   Charles Smith, compositor
S. Smith, associate editor   T. C. Medary, compositor
Frank Pease, associate editor   -, -, Miller, devil Sr.
A. B. Marshall, compositor   Tom G. Orr, devil Jr.

In this connection we may state that we had a singular experience in our efforts to get into the army. Our first enlistment was to the 16th Regulars, Company B, which was recruited at Lansing, but when the time came for sending the boys forward to the regiment at Columbus, Captain Stanton concluded we were not in a physical condition to make a good soldier, and we were left at home. Our next effort was at Milwaukee, where we tried to get into the 24th Wisconsin, but the examining surgeon stood us to one side. Our next trial was to Warren, Ohio, in the 105th Ohio, but here, too, we couldn't pass muster. We did, however, manage to get into a company of home guards at Canfield, Ohio, in the spring of 1864, and went down "to the front" in Columbiana county, to assist in capturing John Morgan and his troops when they made their famous raid into Ohio, and our force got within six miles of Scroggs' church the morning Morgan was captured there. But in October, 1864, after our return from Ohio to Lansing, when the Government had got over being so darned particular about what kind of men they took to make soldiers of, we did manage to make an enlistment in the 27th Iowa that stuck, and we got right into active service, so, right from the word go, and saw more real ware down in the enemy's country than many men who put in a three or four years' enlistment.

This left Lansing without a paper again for a short time, until Charles G. Cole, in the year of '62-3, moved the North Iowa Journal from Waukon to Lansing and began the publication of a democratic paper. Cole was in poor health and died a short time after commencing the publication of the paper, and it was suspended for a few weeks, when it passed into the hands of John G. Armstrong, who issued his first paper on the 18th day of June 1863. Armstrong was a versatile and witty writer and made his paper immensely popular. He was not a practical printer and the mechanical department was looked after by an excellent printer named Charles Keeseeker, of Dubuque, who is now a compositor in the Telegraph office in that city. No paper ever published in the county, before or since that time, made the money that the Journal did. Armstrong had full control of the county printing and advertising and blank book work, and county warrants running away up into the hundreds of dollars were issued to him at each session of the board, and John ought to have grown rich; but his generous social qualities were a bar to his retention of the wealth that came into his possession.

In the fall of 1863 George Haislet bought the old Mirror outfit and began the publication of a republican paper called the Union. Thus each party had a representative organ, and the music they used to make was pleasing to a certain class of their readers, as is usually the case; but Armstrong's volubility and wit were a little too much for the Union man, and he generally kept pretty well under cover. Haislet continued the publication of the paper until February 1866, when our self and brother-in-law, F. P. Price bought out the concern and at once changed the name back to the Mirror. After several months Mr. Price retired from the firm and we continued its publication until the summer of 1870, when he sold the office to James T. Metcalf and his cousin, John Metcalf, the latter of Viroqua, Wisconsin. J. T. had been a clerk in the Surgeon-General's office at Washington, D.C. ever since the close of the war, but tired of the monotonous work, and being a practical printer, decided to engage in the newspaper business and through negotiations made by his cousin John he came to Lansing. We paid Haislet $300 for the old office, made many additions to it in the way of new material and also increased its subscription list largely, thereby increasing its value to $1,200, the price paid us by the Metcalf's. Mr. J. T. Metcalf was a thoroughly methodical businessman and a good writer, and he succeeded well in the publication of the paper and in gaining the confidence and esteem of the citizens of Lansing, which he continues to hold, although t he has been out of the business for several years. He became sole owner of the office in 1874, and in 1881 he turned the business over to his brother George and E. M. Woodward, and the former is now the proprietor of the paper.

Lansing never was known as an extraordinarily good town for advertising and the columns of the papers published there today bear evidence that it still keeps up its reputation in that direction, and in the earlier days the newspaper business was almost continued from hand to mouth struggle, although there has been some improvement in later ears and the publishers have managed to get ahead a little, yet they have hardly done as well as they might have done perhaps with the same amount of capital invested in some other business. We know that it was a hard pull with us while running the Mirror, and good butter and pie and cake occasionally were luxuries on our table. We had but a small share of the county printing, and what little we did get was paid for in county warrants, which we were obliged to dispose of at from forty to sixty cents on the dollar. In some respects, therefore, the publishers there now have bonanzas compared to the business years ago. However, when Lansing started on its boom, which was kept up for several years, the printing business improved somewhat and has been much better ever since.


After selling out the old Mirror to the Metcalfs in 1870 we went back to our old home in Ohio for a brief visit, but arrived there just in time to get right into the editorial harness again for a short time, Messrs. Saxton & Hartzell, of the Repository and Republican, wanted to issue a daily morning paper during that time (referring to a convention lasting a week or two), and as there was no one about their concern who had ever had any experience in the daily paper business they immediately put us in charge of that project. Our youngest brother was in their employ as local reporter for their weekly paper. By the way, the Saxton we speak of, Thomas by name, and son of father Saxton, the oldest and most widely known newspaper publisher in Ohio, was a brother-in-law of Congressman William McKinley, the father of the present tariff bill now under discussion in Congress (later President McKinley). Thomas died several years ago, and his sister, Mrs. McKinley, and her husband now occupy the old Saxton homestead at Canton. This was the first daily newspaper venture in that city. A year or so after that Messrs. Saxton & Hartzell began the permanent publication of a daily.

Returning to Lansing in a few weeks, we learned that the DeSoto, Wisconsin, folks were anxious to have a paper started in their village. We concluded arrangements with them to that end and soon had the DeSoto Republican under way, agreeing on our part to keep the craft sailing at least a year, and if the prospects were favorable we would continue the enterprise. At the end of the year, however, the outlook for the future was not very encouraging and we concluded to retire from the field, packed up our outfit, removed it to Lansing and began the publication of a new paper called the Iowa North-East. The Sherburns, father and son, were running the Allamakee Democrat, having a few months before bought the office of R. V. Sharly. When we started in the business again they became discouraged and after a few weeks they made very favorable propositions for a consolidation of our business, which we accepted, but retaining our material, which we sold to T. C. Ankeny, who removed it to Viroqua and began the publication of a new paper which subsequently went into the hands of Bryan J. Castle, who is known to some of our citizens. We will remark here that in this deal we made a clear $1,000 for our year's stay in DeSoto, which was more than could be said of several other parties who afterwards struggled with newspaper enterprises in that classic village.

Our copartnership with the Sherburnes not being wholly satisfactory, we made a proposition to buy out their interest, which they accepted, and we became sole proprietor. We then changed the name of the paper to the Lansing Journal and continued its publication until December, 1879, when we became imbued with the idea that a removal of our office to Mason City would enhance our financial condition to a marvelous extent, having been led to this conclusion from representations made to us by parties in whom we had implicit confidence. We therefore went there, remained a year, lost all the wealth, nearly, that we had accumulated in the previous several years, got discouraged and sold out to parties who moved the office to Chamberlain, Dakota, where the material is still doing good service in printing a paper, the Register by name.

Frank Hatton, who was then editor-in-chief of the Burlington Hawkeye, gave us the city editorship on that paper, but as we were in very poor health we had to relinquish the position after several months. Our family returned from Mason City to the old home in Lansing, around which our love still lingered, and does yet for that matters. Shortly after leaving the Hawkeye we went on the Dubuque Herald, doing editorial work and soliciting and corresponding on the road. It was while in this capacity that we made the deal with Mr. Hinchon for the purchase of the Democrat, of which we took possession in July, 1882, and here we are today, after the trials and tribulations incident to country journalism in all its various forms, with a fair business, a well equipped office in its own home, and still possessed of a will to try to keep up with the newspaper procession in Northeastern Iowa.

But a few months after the publication of the foregoing reminiscences Mr. Medary passed from this life, his death occurring on June 21, 1893, in his fifty-fourth year. He had on his fiftieth anniversary prepared a most entertaining sketch of his boyhood days, which is too lengthy to insert here. In substance the record of his early life is as follows:

Thomas Corwin Medary was born at Champion, Trumbull County, Ohio, April 29, 1840, but his early home was Deerfield, Portage county. His parents died while he was a boy and his early life was one of hardships. As he himself said, all his relatives took a hand in managing him, and as a natural consequence he was "numerously managed to his sorrow." He was a mail carrier, a canal boy, worked on the railroad, drove stage while yet in his teens, and compelled to make a living the best way he could. He learned the printer's trade, and removing with relatives to Iowa in 1856 worked a while at his trade in Indianola. The first two winters he chopped logs and worked in a lath mill in Mithcell and Winneshiek counties, and took the last of his little schooling, at Otranto. During the summers worked at farm work. He then had employment in the old Decorah Hotel of "Uncle John Mason," and next secured work in the Decorah Republic office. From this time on his "Journalistic Adventures," as heretofore quoted, fills out the account of his somewhat checkered but finally successful career.

In 1860 Mr. Medary was married to Miss Ellen Price, of Lansing, who is still a resident of Waukon. At his death his eldest son, George C., took up the management of the Democrat, but survived his father but a few weeks, when the management passed to the second son, Edgar F., who inherits the qualifications of a good practical printer and ready paragrapher.

In 1887 President Cleveland commissioned him postmaster at Waukon, which position he filled acceptably until the political vicissitudes of 1889. He was a member of the Masonic, A.O.U.W.K. of P., and I.O.O.F. fraternities, and of the G.A.R. The remains were deposited in Oakland Cemetery, with Masonic ceremonies conducted by Dr. J. C. Crawford, W. M.


At the request of the editor of this volume Mr. Metcalf furnishes the data for the following sketch under date of Washington, D. C., April 12, 1913. No apology is needed for the presentation of matter largely persona, because the life of every man of action is full of incidents of interest to those who come after him. Mr. Metcalf's prominence among the editorial fraternity in northeastern Iowa while conducting the Lansing Mirror, is well remembered. And his reminiscences of "men and affairs of Lansing," in our chapter devoted to that city, will be found very entertaining.

James Thomas Metcalf was born in St. Clairsville, Ohio, February 25, 1845. Printing offices attracted him from childhood, and he importuned his father so much that the latter reluctantly consented to his becoming the "devil' in the office of the Belmont Chronicle, in 1857. There he remained three years. In 1860 he went to Wisconsin, worked in various places, and returned to Ohio in 1861. Only his youth prevented enlistment in the three months service, in April; but in August he joined Co. E, 15th Ohio Regiment. Of this he writes:

"I was the youngest in my company, and perhaps in the regiment. We were organized at Mansfield. When my turn came to step forward from the ranks, to approach a stern-looking army officer, who passed upon the recruits, my knees shook, and I trembled violently, but tried to appear as old as possible. I felt sure he would reject me, but, after scanning me from head to foot, (it seemed an age) he nodded acceptance, and ordered me to return to the ranks."

His first experience with printed blanks, which led to that which became almost his life work, was as "company clerk," in making up the pay roll, etc. .... [there is a line or two missing from this photocopy] ....tucky, and he was sent to Louisville hospital. December 31, 1862, he was promoted to be a sergeant of ordinance (hospital steward) in the regular army and served as such three years. Upon his discharged is written by the commanding officer: "The best officer in every respect I have ever known; he is competent, honest, faithful, trusty and industrious."

After filling many positions of trust, he was appointed a clerk in the War Department, at Washington, in April, 1866. December 31, 1867, he was married at Florida, Ohio, to Miss Lavinia M. Cook, whose death occurred May 9, 1906. Four children were born to them, all of whom are living.

While residing in Washington he had a visit from his cousin, John T. Metcalf, then on his way to his home at Viroqua, Wisconsin, and it was agreed that the latter should look over the newspaper field in the west, and they would become partners if a suitable location were found.

John T. Metcalf, born February 9, 1842, in Ohio, was an apprentice in the office of the Circleville. Watchman, went to Wisconsin, and while at Portage enlisted April 19, 1861, in the Second Wisconsin Regiment. He was transferred to the Fifth U. S. Cavalry in 1862. He participated in no less than forty-five engagements during his six years' service. Few soldiers have a record more honorable; he was never sick a day while in the service, nor was he injured in battle, although several horses wee shot from under him, and his musket blown out of his hands at Bull Run. He is in failing health, and resides at the Soldiers' Home in Washington.

A year after the visit referred to John T. Wrote that he had learned of the office of the Lansing Mirror being for sale, visited the town, was favorably impressed with the outlook for business, and advised that the partnership arrangement be carried out. At once the bargain was made, and July 23, 1870, they became owners of the Mirror, paying therefore $1200 to T. C. Medary, who soon afterward returned to his former home in Ohio.

The initials of the owners being alike, the firm name of 'Metcalf & Co." was used and continued until July 17, 1874, when John decided to join relatives in Kansas, and his interest was purchased by James, who retained the ownership until the fall of 1891.

Of later events he writes:
"For the three years I served as an apprentice I received respectively $20, $25 and $30, a fact not without interest as compared with the wages paid nowadays. From that day in 1857 when I began the printing business I have made my own way in the world. My career as a printer remains one of the happiest memories of my life. While other activities had my attention in after years, I have never ceased to be intensely interested in and have kept in close touch with every branch of printing and publishing. The printing art is a real educator, and I known of no occupation which opens up so diversified a field for after-life employment in other directions. The composing-room became my high school and the world my university."

"It is the proverbial inclination of old age to regard the past with an appreciation it cannot accord the present. In the winter of life we do not find the bloom and aroma that we perceived in its spring and summer. We are more inclined to admit the errors of younger manhood, and to feel that at least in some directions we have gained wisdom through experience. There are some things which the country editor is prone to indulge in, and of which I too plead guilty with regret. If I should again become an editor, I would not use my paper to asperse a contemporary, albeit he might be a horse thief, and I could prove it! I would not indiscriminately 'puff' Tom, Dick, and Harry, as is the tendency nowadays, nor would I use my columns to dun delinquents."

The local papers of the period named were certainly creditable to the community, and stood well throughout the state.

February 9, 1880, he was appointed Supervisor of Census for the Second Iowa District. The appointment was made upon the unanimous recommendation of the Iowa delegation in Congress. At the conclusion of the work the Superintendent wrote that "it was the best of the state, and completed the first." It is worthy of note that three such appointments fell to Allamakee county; the others being George. H. Markley and David W. Reed.

Of his connection with the postal service he writes:
"Having had such an attack of the ague as used me up for a time, I decided to temporarily quit business. I leased the Mirror office to Woodward & Metcalf - the first named, Earl M. Woodward, a young lawyer, who came from New York state; the latter my brother, George W., who had been with me several years in the office. I went to Kansas, and was so much benefited by a few months' change that I concluded to engage in other business. My merest accident happened to hear of a vacancy in the postal service, and within a few days thereafter, merely by writing a single letter (February 2, 1882), I was appointed a post office inspector. I was graduated from a business college in 1866; from childhood I had a love of figures, and of details connected with the. There was a fascination about accounts, and this natural trait, developed by practical familiarity with printed matter and blanks, served me so well in after years that I have always regarded my scholarship in the college as the best investment I ever made. It was pleasing to be assigned by the post office department to the money order branch of that service, and I was directly connected with it for the next five years. My experience in the service, then and afterward, covered travel in every state and territory, Canada, Mexico and Newfoundland, and I was by President Cleveland appointed as a representative of the government to visit Norway, but this trip was later found not to be necessary."

"I might write at great length of the life I led during these years, of the privations and perils I was subjected to, and of many thrilling events in which I took some part, covering my duty. From delinquent postmasters I collected very large sums of money, often at great personal risk, in localities far from home, and amidst circumstances not without personal danger, but I never met with any mishap."

"I had widest authority and discretion, but it is a source of satisfaction, now that I am on the downhill of life, to know that I exercised no undue harshness toward the hundreds of weak, misguided men with whom I had to do; with others, my heart always prompted mercy, and I never failed to show kindness and compassion toward those who were the subjects of misfortune and unwise enough to use the funds which they were entrusted with. I have seen such keenness of suffering, even suicide, following in the near wake of gambling, liquor, evil associations, and kindred wrong-doing, as few men perhaps have any knowledge of, and, were I to recall these events, the chapter would disclose many circumstances which might well appear to be imaginary rather than facts."

"September 27, 1885, I was made inspector in charge of the division headquarters at Chicago, with twenty five others under my direction; the duty of training newly appointed inspectors was assigned me, and I filled this position until September 14, 1887, when tiring of the service, and desiring to be with my family, I voluntarily resigned to become secretary of the Lansing Lumber Company, and I at once entered upon a business entirely new to me, but very pleasant because of being at my home."

"One day in April, 1889, I received a telegram from Washington, "Will you accept position chief clerk money order system?" and I was surprised beyond measure, not knowing of such a vacancy, and not expecting to ever return to Washington. I held the matter under advisement for a day, and was then undecided, but finally answered, "Will be in Washington (naming a day)," thus leaving the matter open for consideration. On reaching the city I found two positions open for me. If I desired to accept them and, after much thought, decided to take that of chief clerk of office of first assistant postmaster general, temporarily, which was followed by appointment as chief clerk of the money order system. May 31st, in which position I served until promoted to be superintendent, September 16, 1897."

"It was my privilege to serve under eleven postmasters general. The war with Spain brought about conditions never before known in the governmental service, and there were no precedents to guide the officers of the department in meeting conditions which arose immediately. It became my duty to devise methods whereby funds might be sent home by solders in the field, as well as remittances made them; when the army reached Cuba conditions were wholly changed, as the currency there in use was not only depreciated but not current in the States. The greater obstacle was the use there of a foreign language, and this was of an especially trying nature when the Philippines were annexed. In like manner, different conditions had to be met in Porto Rico and Hawaii. The banks in Cuba were unable to meet conditions of trade, and as a consequence many millions of dollars accruing from sales of money orders were sent to New York, in the shape of depreciated Spanish coins, and the annoyance and vexation which resulted may well be imagined but not described. I may be pardoned for claiming some credit for the successful operation of this vast business, without any serious losses, and for the establishment, through my own personal labor, of systems which proved to be highly successful and permanent. It was upon my recommendation that eventually the government exchanged all the Spanish and other coins in Cuba for our own currency; if this had been done at the time it was suggested a vast amount of trouble and loss might have been avoided."

"It was my aim to negotiate with Russia and Mexico arrangements for exchange of business upon the basis followed with other countries, efforts of others in that direction having failed. I personally visited Mexico, and successfully made the arrangements; with Russia a convention was also made, upon favorable terms, and so much to the satisfaction of that government (there was no money order system in Russia before that time) that the emperor was gracious enough to confer upon me the decoration and medal of honor granted only to those "who have served the state with distinction."

"I might write at great length upon matters of interest connected with my public service, but already these personal reminiscences have taken too much space. I can look back only with pride upon every act, and can point to results in evidence of an intense interest and unfailing industry in seeking to perform my duty. Of these things others however might better state the facts."

As to the facts indirectly alluded to in Mr. Metcalf's closing paragraph it is enough to say that in our own judgment, and that of his old acquaintance hereabout who knew him so long and well, he stands fully justified of an aspersions cast upon his official integrity by those envious of his well earned success in the department which he so ably and faithfully served. - Editor.


It appears upon good authority that the Lansing Intelligencer, established by H. H. Houghton, November 23, 1852, was the first paper in Iowa north of Dubuque, preceding the Clayton County Herald (at Guttenberg) by only a few weeks. Mr. Houghton was at the time conducting a paper at Galena, Illinois, being indeed a veteran in the profession, apprenticed to the trade in 1824, in Vermont. Becoming interested in the welfare of the town, of which he was one of the founders, he brought this press to Lansing and placed W. H. Sumner in charge, from all evidence a man of considerable ability whose early death was a loss to the community, as well as to the craft. He was succeeded by H. R. Chatterton likewise an able editor, of whose peculiarities Mr. Medary tells in his recollections. A sketch of Mr. Houghton's remarkable career appears in the Lansing chapter. Considering the Lansing Mirror as a continuation of the Intelligencer, the Waukon Journal became the second paper established in Allamakee county, free soil like its contemporary, and first issued in the spring of 1857, by Frank Belfoy, who soon disposed of it to Frank Pease who changed both its name and its politics, but his Herald was discontinued in '59. After a few months T. H. McElroy came on the stage of action with the Transcript. All three of these erratic stars are recalled in Medary's entertaining paper.

These were followed by some individuals of greater strength of character and greater merit. E. L. Babbitt and W. H. Merrill came from New York state, where they had published the Wyoming County Mirror, and in May, 1860, established the North-Iowa Journal at Waukon, republican in politics and ably edited. Mr. Babbitt was appointed postmaster by President Lincoln, but he was in poor health, and disposing of the paper late in '61 both he and Merrill returned to Wyoming county, where Babbitt died in 1863. Mr. Merrill, born in Chautauqua county, New York, in 1840, entered the Wyoming County Mirror office at Warsaw in 1855, and became one of the proprietors and editors. After returning from Waukon to Warsaw he conducted the Western New Yorker until 1875, when he went to Boston and became editor of the Golden Rule, in company with Rev. W. H. H. Murray, of "Adirondack" fame. He was called to New York in 1886 and for fifteen years was chief editor of the New York World. Returning to Boston in 1905 he became associate editor of the Boston Herald, and died at Bingham, Massachusetts, September 6, 1907, in his sixty-seventh year.

Of the next proprietors of the Waukon Journal the writer has but little recollection, further than they were both lawyers and not practical printers, hence unqualified for the successful conduct of a country paper; and no record of their subsequent careers is at hand. Goodwin sold his interest to Calkins who became postmaster upon the resignation of Babbitt in 1862 and turned over his interest in the paper to his printer partner Chas. B. Cole, who took the plant to Lansing and made it democratic.

George W. Haislet published the Lansing Union from 1863 to '66, but he was so widely known throughout northeastern Iowa for his newspaper ventures that no extended mention is due here. His activities were chiefly in Winneshiek and Howard counties. He published the Decorah Radical from 1876 until his death in 1881.

Charles W. McDonald, who established the Waukon Standard in January 1868, was an excellent printer who had been publishing the Blairstown, Iowa, Gazette, previous to this venture, which had endured and thrived for over forty years. No question existed as to where Mr. McDonald stood politically, as from the very start he displayed at the head of his Standard the line, "For President, Schuyler Colfax, subject to the decision of the Republican National Convention." At the end of three months Mr. McDonald availed himself of a favorable opportunity to sell out, to R. L. Hayward & Co, and went east, first, and then west, continuing in the same avocation until 1882, when he was superintendent of schools of Aurora county, South Dakota.

Of A. M. May, who then became the editor of the Standard and so continued for a generation, this writer may be unable to speak with unbiased judgment, having been first an employee and later business associate for fourteen years. During this period the institution saw some pretty close times, encountered occasional problems of both financial and editorial management, built a brick building in which the Standard is still housed and developed a stability and a character that have become a valuable asset to the concern to this day. Not always did we agree in these various matters; but however we differed the writer does not recall an instance in which he doubted the sincerity of the other's convictions or his honesty of purpose. As an editor Mr. May was a logical reasoner, a trained thinker, a ready and forceful writer, and put up a good tight for whatever cause he championed, winning or losing. And perhaps he is still capable of it today though retired a decade from the editorial chair. It occurs to us in looking back through the old Standard files for history material that, though mistakes were made, on the whole the editorial services of those thirty years for republican principles were never properly appreciated. In these latter days, there is not one-tenth of the editorial labor devoted to public questions as was given by such writers as A. K. Bailey, A. M. May, or W. N. Burdick, in their prime. Doubtless it does not pay - and never did, financially 0 but there seemed to be a satisfaction which they enjoyed in laboring for a principle.

W. N. Burdick who conducted the Postville Review for twenty-six years, from 1875 until his death in 1901, was born in New York in 1837, his parents emigrating to Kane county, Illinois, in 1839. With them he went to West Union, Iowa, In 1852, where he worked on the farm until 1856, when he engaged in a printing office at Decorah, and subsequently at Cresco for a short time. He then resumed farming for two years, after which he entered the mercantile business. For nearly seven years he was postmaster at Cresco. In 1873 he became a partner with G. W. Haislet in the Winneshiek Register at Decorah, soon after purchasing the entire interest. In 1875 he sold out and purchased the Review, at Postville, which he continued to publish until his death. He wielded a facile pen writing in an entertaining manner on almost any subject and not without a poetic vein. His political argument was insistent and plausible, if not always orthodox. It was a pleasure to read his articles, as we are reminded by a recent research in some local files of the seventies, at a time when the N. E. Iowa Editorial Association was holding semi-annual sessions. Mr. Burdick's and Mr. Shannon's poetic effusions on these occasions, while perhaps not exactly epic, were greatly appreciated by the (for the time being) epicures, assembled; and the banquet addresses by A. K. Bailey of the Decorah Republican, C. H. Talmadge of the West Union Gazette, H. l. Rann of the Manchester Press, J. W. Shannon of the Elkader Journal, Judge Toman of the Independence Bulletin, and Hofer of the McGregor News, indicated a lot of keen intellects among the district press.

At the present day the newspapers of Allamakee county comprise the following: Lansing - Mirror by Geo. W. Metcalf; Journal by John J. and Thos. F. Dunlevy (Waukon branch); Waukon - Standard by John H. DeWild; Republican by A. P. Bock; Democrat by Ed. F. Medary; Postville - Review by the Burdicks and Bert E. Tuttle; Volksblatt by Paul Ronnenberger; and New Albin - News by Ludwig Schubbert; all in the hands of good practical printers and experienced newspaper men and all apparently flourishing.

~transcribed by Lisa Henry and Sharyl Ferrall

Return to 1913 Index