IAGenWeb Project

Shelby County


1915 History Index


Apparently the first newspaper issued in Shelby county was the New Idea, started by Samuel Dewell, afterwards county superintendent of schools. This paper began its existence at the now vanished village of Somida (usually called Simoda). The first issue of the New Idea came from the press soon after the village was platted, in 1858, and was known later as the Gazette. This newspaper soon ceased to exist. It was followed by another pioneer paper, known as the Shelby County Record, the first issue of which was dated March 5, 1859. It was Democratic in politics, edited by Major P. Bull and advocated the removal of the county seat from Shelbyville, in what is now Grove township, to Somida. It waged a bitter personal warfare against County Judge Tarkington and the people of Harlan.

The first newspaper in Harlan was the Shelby County Courier, which began its existence January 30, 1859. Its editor and proprietor was J. B. Besack. Its career, like that of the Somida papers, was brief.

The next newspaper to be founded was The Shelby County Record, established at Harlan by R. H. Eaton in July, 1870. It was owned successively by a number of different editors and publishers, including Messrs. H. L. Wood (a hard-hitting, somewhat vitriolic editor), and R. W. Robins. In 1876 George D. Ross, then the editor of the Harlan Herald, bought the Shelby County Record, and merged it with the Herald, which he conducted until July 16, 1877, when he sold the office and real estate to R. W. Robins. B. I. Kinsey, yet a resident of Harlan, was at one time local editor of The Shelby County Record. Mr. Kinsey tells me that the first office of the Record was built of ordinary “barn boards.” About February 12, 1874, R. W. Robins sold the Shelby County Record to Holcomb & Bennett.

On December 18, 1874, another Harlan paper, known as the Herald, was established by Campbell & Musgrave. This paper was Republican in politics. It was edited by a number of men, including F. H. McIntosh and George D. Ross (a present resident of Harlan), who took charge of the paper in December, 1875.

On July 17, 1879, Robert W. Robins became proprietor of the paper, with John L. Long interested in the publication of it. On January 22, 1880, a half interest in the Herald was sold to C. R. Pratt, of Connecticut, whereupon the firm publishing the paper became known as the Herald Printing Company. In November, 1880, C. R. Pratt sold to C. R. Parmelee. January 5, 1882, Parmelee sold a half interest in the Herald to S. K. Pratt, the firm name then becoming Pratt Brothers, who conducted the paper until July 12, 1883, when they sold to W. W. Girton, at one time county superintendent of schools, who soon after took as a partner W. M. Oungst, who has attained much celebrity as a writer. Messrs. Girton & Oungst had been connected with the Harlan Hub, a Republican paper established by W. M. Oungst, December 9, 1880, which especially advocated the passage of the prohibitory constitutional amendment. The Harlan Hub, in July, 1883, was merged into the Herald, and the Herald, in turn, in July, 1886, became the Shelby County Republican, on which date W. W. Girton sold it to C. W. Rhinesmith, a versatile and able newspaper man, now proprietor of the Charles City Intelligencer.

The Republican was then published by Oungst & Rhinesmith until 1889, when Oungst sold his interest to P. B. Brown, whereupon the paper was edited and published by Rhinesmith & Brown until 1903, when Rhinesmith sold his interest to Mr. Brown.

When Mr. Brown purchased the interest of Mr. Oungst, in 1889, the Republican had a circulation of but six hundred and fifty, which, largely through the efforts of Mr. Brown, has been increased to many times that number of subscribers, an increase made possible by many trips over Shelby county and inducing of heads of families to feel that they should have a county paper in the home. After purchasing the interest of Mr. Rhinesmith, in 1903, Mr. Brown had as partners, for short periods of time, W. D. Meek, now a resident of Des Moines and manager of the Iowa Success Linotype Company, and H. M. Guy, who is now owner of a paper in Clarion, Iowa. Mr. Brown put in a junior linotype as part of his equipment in 1908, and a standard linotype in 1910. He equipped the plant with a new improved press in 1906. The fine new building in which the Republican is now housed is one of the best in Iowa, in cities of the size of Harlan. The dimensions of the building are twenty-two by one hundred feet. It has outer walls of vitrified brick and the interior has a hardwood finish. The building is well heated, well lighted and properly ventilated. The linotype and presses are run by means of electric power. Associated with Mr. Brown in the management of the Republican is his son, D. K. Brown, a graduate of the Iowa State College at Ames. Harry E. Blair and A. P. Albright are employed in the mechanical department of the business.

The Harlan Tribune, the only Democratic paper in the county, was established June 11, 1879, by A. D. Tinsley and U. S. Brown. On February 18, 1880, Tinsley purchased Brown’s interest and operated the paper until May 10, 1882, when he sold it to E. T. Best. December 19, 1883, the paper was sold by Best to G. W. Cullison and A. D. Walker, who continued as partners until February 27, 1884, when Cullison sold his interest to Walker, who conducted the paper alone until January 1, 1885, when it was purchased by W. C. Campbell, who has continued in charge until the present time. Its editor, W. C. Campbell, has had extensive experience in a great many newspaper offices, including those of the Nebraska City Journal, the Plattsmouth Press, the Omaha Bee, the Omaha World-Herald, the Council Bluffs Nonpareil, the Council Bluffs Globe, the Atlantic Daily Telegraph and the Des Moines Register.

For about six months, about 1877, Mr. Campbell, together with Mr. Harris, under the firm name of Campbell & Harris, published The Guthrian, at Guthrie Center, Iowa, and about a year later helped found the first newspaper in Audubon, the Times. Audubon, at that time, was a real pioneer town, containing about three hundred men and two women. Mr. Campbell came to Harlan in March, 1879, and took the position on the Harlan Herald that had been previously filled by “Hib” Ashton, now a court reporter residing at Guthrie Center. George D. Ross was then editor of the Herald. In June, 1879, Mr. Campbell assisted in founding the Harlan Tribune, of which he became foreman, and afterwards manager, until January 1, 1885, when he bought the property from J. D. Walker and G. W. Cullison. He put in a linotype in May, 1910, and in 1911 put in a new job and cylinder press and a folder. His fine new building, one of the best found in Iowa cities of the size of Harlan, was erected in 1913. It has a front of thirty by thirty-two feet, and a workroom seventy feet long. The machinery is run by electric power. The present office force consists of W. C. Campbell, editor, and his son, Hal. W. Campbell, publisher. Walter McCoy is foreman of the plant. Miss Blanche Kinsey, a daughter of B. I. Kinsey, is employed as a reporter.

The Industrial American was established July 16, 1887, by A. T. Cox and his brother, M. B. Cox. In April, 1888, H. C. Hanson bought the interest of M. B. Cox, and the firm name became Cox & Hanson. Subsequently the paper was owned and published by H. V. Battey, now an attorney of Council Bluffs, Iowa, and was purchased by Hansen & Stauning, the former being Hon. Albert Hansen, who subsequently represented Shelby county in the General Assembly of Iowa, and A. K. Stauning, who later went to Minnesota. Afterwards the paper was owned and edited by Ransom B. Hall and by Hall & McCoy (Walter McCoy), who sold it to a man, who at once sold it in turn to the proprietors of the Shelby County Republican and of the Tribune, who discontinued its publication in 1910, the last issue of this paper being Friday, September 2, 1910.The business men thought that two newspapers were enough for Harlan, and encouraged this consolidation.

The Shelby News was established March 22, 1877: Its founder was Ed. L. Heath, who owned and conducted it until April 8, 1880, when it became the property of John Pomeroy, who is yet a resident of Shelby township and who edited and published it successfully for many years. Later the paper was published by Evert Stewart. At present the paper is owned and published by C. O. Wayne, who makes it interesting to the community which it serves.

The Defiance Argus was established June 10, 1882, at Defiance, Iowa, when the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad was being constructed through the town. Its founder was F. Bangs. Subsequently the newspaper of Defiance came to be known as the Enterprise, and was edited and published by S. E. Zollinger. He sold to the Manilla Times. Defiance had no paper for some months, but later O. E. Kelso established a new Enterprise, which he is now editing and publishing with success.

The Vaegteren, a religious journal of wide circulation in the United States, Canada, and even in Denmark, the organ of the Danish Baptist church in America, is published at Harlan. This journal dates its history from January, 1877. It was started by private persons to meet a keen-felt want in the scattered members and little churches for a religious paper. The name of the paper was first Oliebladet. Rev. H. A. Reichenbach and Prof. N. O. Jensen were the first publishers and editors. In 1880 it was turned over to a newly organized Book and Tract Society, with headquarters in Chicago. The name was later changed to this present name, Vaegteren (being translated, The Watchman). In course of a few years it was turned over to S. C. Nielson, who, in the year 1897, moved the printing outfit and the paper to Harlan, while the book concern remained in Chicago.

When the Danish Baptist conference of America came into existence the paper and the old machinery was turned over to this organization, which has its headquarters here in Harlan. This change of hands took place in September, 1910. The board of trustees of the conference then leased the paper and the good will of subscribers to J. C. Lunn, who now has the honor of being the editor and publisher. He has been connected with it in the capacity of contributor, field editor, secretary, one form or the other, for seventeen years or ever since it was moved to Harlan, where it in all probability will have its permanent home. It now has a fine International type-setting machine and besides publishing the paper, the printing house with its present capacity is able to take care of a good deal of job printing.

In the late seventies the general advertising in the newspapers informed the general reader of the desirability of having in the house Vick’s Floral Guide, Harper’s Weekly and Harper’s Bazaar. Before the railroad came in the Harlan newspapers contained a great deal of Avoca advertising, with occasional advertising from other towns, including Council Bluffs, Dunlap, Woodbine, etc.

The literary style of the early newspapers was at time very direct, not to say pungent. For instance, one of the papers speaks of its contemporary in the following language: “Last week’s Hub gave a practical demonstration of the inmate cussedness of the hypocritical and pernurious soul that is incompetent to do justice because of personal spleen. The Harlan Dramatic Association need have no fears of such insults. The people know the motive and the calibre of the editors of the above sheet.” Just what the Hub editor had said about the “actors and actresses” is not known.

Note also this gem from the Shelby County Record of January 23, 1873: “We are about to publish a lexicon to accompany each issue of the Record, in order that any obscure passage may be elucidated by those in doubt as to its meaning.”

See also this, from the Shelby County Record of November 19, 1874: “The freedom of the press is being torn from us in Shelby county. We are being extinguished, as it were. We can’t, in the geniality and frankness of our nature, indite a simple little joke of four lines, dedicated to our own domestic joys and sorrows, without some big, burly ruffian sees a ten thousand dollar slander on his character and prances around on one foot, and plunges out wildly with his sledgehammer fists, and bugs his eyes out, and swears he will be the cause of an editorial funeral, or some other equally foolish and impossible feat. We can’t even speak of chickens and clothes lines being exposed to the cold weather, without some one pants for the blood of an editor. If we happen to write an ordinary business local—and they are as scarce as hen’s teeth in this suburbs of a graveyard—the man we have complimented will come around in a hurried, constrained sort of a manner, and throw out hints on the negative side of the question of our longevity.”

The editor of the Shelby County Record, on March 6, 1874, in the following gentle words suggested an accounting of some quasi-public funds: “Some time since a subscription was raised to purchase a thirty dollar bell for the school house. Time elapsed and a twelve dollar bell arrived in dignified silence, which it has maintained so far. One of the subscribers naturally enough desires to know what disposition was made of the balance of the bell funds.” Let it be known that a satisfactory accounting was soon rendered.

We think sometimes that our local partisan politics as reflected in the newspapers is a little rough on the individual but it strikes the author that we are not accustomed to anything quite like the following copied from the Shelby County Record, of October 1, 1874: “Allegorically speaking, Shelby county has laid down like a sick horse or cow, and ------- the county auditor, and the board of supervisors, are hovering over her, awaiting dissolution that they may satiate their own uncanny appetites. And their presence throws a gloom over the spirits of the patient, and hastens the end. Shall they be allowed to prey on the vitals of the county until they have stripped it of everything, and left it a withering carcass? Or will the people unite with us in driving them out, and by giving the proper care and restoratives try to effect a cure? These five carrion-eating birds have flown to and fro over this county quite long enough and unless they are very soon disposed of will have given it such a name that all good people will shun it as they would a den of rattlesnakes. If we are not greatly mistaken, the few kernels of corn which we have lately thrown out as a bait, and which had strings fastened to them held by us, have been swallowed, and in trying to scratch them out, they will scratch their own heads off.”

This is the way the wedding of two prominent young people was written up by the editor offering congratulations to the bride and groom, who, by the way, are now living and prominent in Shelby county: “This was the announcement in conjunction with the wedding cards, which the mails brought to us, yesterday. Thus it is with them all. We never have a friend, whom we single out for a good natured old bachelor, but that, at some unexpected moment, he jumps to the full realization of all that makes life seem bright. Having been for a long time numbered among the friends of the groom, we know that he is one of the happy dispositions that were never destined to be warped and shriveled by a lonely and desolate contact with the cares of life, and that the charming young bride may rest securely and blissfully in the arms of her new found happiness. ------- has passed the majority of his days among the beautiful prairies of western Iowa and Shelby county, and besides being well and favorably known by most of our citizens, has, by his superior business qualifications, succeeded in amassing such a snug little property about him, that Miss ------- that was, need never feel the cold breath of poverty. In the person of his accomplished bride, Mr. --------- has secured one whose many lovely attributes will be to him a treasure more precious than the wealth of Ophir, and one which he will shield from every care. The happy couple have the unadulterated wish of the Record that their future may never be one whit less bright than it now is, and that their hymeneal compact may be strengthened by many little bonds.”

One of the editors who very much disliked the county auditor who in addition to other duties acted as the clerk of the board of supervisors, ran this simple local in his paper, “-----, county auditor, will be in session next Monday. The board of supervisors will be there as usual.”

Occasionally the editor seemed to take delight in giving the ordinary reader a local literary touch like this: “It has already become so warm and spring-like in Tennessee that every poetaster has now commenced to tickle his spavined Pegasus into a Napoleonic canter.”

Irwin had for some time a paper conducted by Theo. Palmer called the Spoke.

Earling for a number of years had a paper called the Monitor and later another paper called the Observer. L. L. Dickerson for some time edited the Monitor, and R. A. Kirkpatrick the Observer.

Harry Blair, now of Harlan, for some time conducted a paper at Panama known as the Herald. He also ran a newspaper at Kirkman, Iowa, for some time known as the Herald. Portsmouth also had two papers, one known as the Leader, and the other as the Gazette. Most of these latter fields, however, were too small to justify the publication of a successful paper, and the papers were short lived.

One of the Harlan papers of the year 1877 gives a fair idea of what was happening in the county by the large number of notices of the condemnation proceedings to secure land for school houses and for public roads. There were a good many estray notices, for stock was at this time running much more at large than it was at a later date. There were a good many sheriff’s sales, indicating that a number of men had been so unfortunate as to lose their holdings.

The press of Shelby county has done much to promote its progress. In its infancy, it brought many a settler hither to break the prairie sod. It has stood for a new court house, for better public schools, better roads, for the building of railroads, for the establishment of electric lights, waterworks and sewerage in our towns, for lecture courses, public libraries, the chautauqua, the church and the Sunday school. And much of this able and courageous work has been done without hope of reward save the personal satisfaction of duty well performed.

  Transcribed by Denise Wurner, November 2013 from the Past and Present of Shelby County, Iowa, by Edward S. White, P.A., LL. B.,Volume 1, Indianapolis: B. F. Bowen & Co., 1915, pp. 501-508.


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