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“Early Oklahoma Newspapers”, another review

I’m coming at you all with another book review, this time relating to the Ada rodeo only somewhat but still interesting none the less. I chose to read University of Oklahoma Bulletin, Early Oklahoma Newspapers: History and Description of Publications from Earliest Beginnings to 1889, by Grace Ernestine Ray, Instructor in Journalism, University of Oklahoma School of Journalism. Also published June 15th, 1928. While that may sound like a mouthful, it lives up to its lengthy name by having an abundance of information about publications in the Oklahoma and Indian Territory. The reason I chose this in relation to the Ada rodeo is because of the importance the Ada Evening News newspaper has been to me during my research. You can view my images of the sections that I looked through of the Ada Evening News through the link on my Resources & Images tab. Otherwise, there will be a blog post about my trip and discoveries while in Ada (again!) coming soon! But for now, let us jump into these older publications, shall we?

As I began reading the book, I found it was surprisingly easy to read for a book about very old newspapers. When I say very old, I mean before Oklahoma was Oklahoma, mid-1800’s “but we’re not sure because a lot of older records are likely to have been lost” kind of old. And yet I was reading through it like a warm knife through room-temperature butter. But the reason I use the term warm instead of hot for the knife description is because, even though it was easy to read, the content of the book is just… dull. I apologize to anyone who truly loves this kind of documentation stuff, but it’s not quite for me. Granted, it was super interesting to hear about certain early publications. Two that really made me stop and think was The Beaver Herald and The Cheyenne Transporter.

The Beaver Herald stood out to me for a number of reasons. First, it “not only holds a priority record in this state [Oklahoma], but in the United States” (Ray, 13), which is impressive on its own. The big kicker that made me go “whoa” was the fact that, as far as the records we currently have shown, “it has the distinction … of being the first and only newspaper ever published outside of the pale of established law of any character” (Ray, 13). To unpack that comment, the date of publication is vital. For a brief history lesson, do you know when the Panhandle portion of Oklahoma was added to the actual state? The quick answer is after 1890 when it was known as “No-Man’s Land”. This area was not subject to any form of government due to it laying outside any officially controlled areas. It’s quite interesting and I would recommend looking into it further if you’re curious. That means this publication is quite special in its origin outside of the law, and also shows the dedication of the people who were producing it.

The Cheyenne Transporter is also interesting due to its relation within time and place. It is the first newspaper that was started in the Oklahoma Territory, not the Indian Territory. Some of you may be thinking, “wait, Blair, but that’s the same area. There’s no difference, you’re just trying to make it sound cool”. That statement would be false but you are correct that it technically is the “same” area. But the importance of this is that the Indian Territory had become the state of Oklahoma, thus entered into jurisdiction under the United States of America federal government, which departs from the idea of an area just for Native peoples. This was a major shift for the area and changed the lives of many people in the years to come. But back to the Cheyenne Transporter, it was “notable also for having set an advanced style — that of publication in a tent” (Ray, 13). This method became more popular in Oklahoma due to the “manner in which the Territory was opened to homesteaders, and was the natural outgrowth of the hurried settlement” (Ray, 13).

The reason I wanted to bring these two publications to light, in particular, was because they struck me as interesting and made me want to go look up more about my state’s history. This was just 13 pages in, which surprised me, and was why I continued to be surprised at how easy the book was to read, even being monotonous at parts. It was as if the writer was not intentionally trying to add in spicy bits of history to keep the reader going but it was just happening naturally due to the winding nature of the publication history of Oklahoma and the Indian Territory. This was something I really appreciated as I read on. True, these anecdotes might have sparked me as interesting simply due to the fact that I am already interested in history and how things get their start, but I honestly think these small stories could ignite a small interest in anyone who has a connection to this area.

Outside of the way I felt while reading Early Oklahoma Newspapers, it was very well documented. This was to be expected by the publishers, our very own *cough* other *cough* University of Oklahoma. I jest because of the OSU/OU relationship, but I was glad to see sources and footnotes while reading through the book. I love me some footnotes, mhm. This would allow me to continue research on specific quotes or publications if I wanted to with ease, unlike the Ada Rodeo’s book I reviewed previously. There were well-placed illustrations that depicted the newspapers of the time, which I gleaned comparison from the Ada Evening Newspapers I looked at (which you will hear about soon!) and also portraits of some of the people related to the newspapers. The inclusion of the original publication pictures was really helpful in understanding the difference of newspapers from then to now, seeing as they were formatted and written quite differently. There was an odd thing in relations to the portraits, though, and I’m not sure if this was just for my edition or not. Each portrait had the person’s name (all men, just to note) and their title beneath their picture, but some had a sticker placed above the old text with a different name and title underneath. This was manually done from the way it was applied and made me curious if this was how they fixed miss prints, and if they had to do this for each one they misprinted… I would feel very sorry for the intern who came into work that day and they said, “hey so we uh… we messed up a thing or two and need you to print off a bunch of small labels, cut them out, and meticulously put them into all of these [gestures to mile high stacks of misprinted books].

Otherwise, I could write endlessly on the content of the book. I found it very interesting that publications were often used as propaganda by the Native Nations and by the incoming Oklahoma Settlers on who should be in charge of these lands. A mister McPherson was persistent in his views that the Indian Territory was in desperate need of the national government along with the establishments of courts, he states in his editorial titled Give us a Government, “if the members of Congress knew the true state of affairs … they would see the urgent necessity of establishing courts in the territory, and of making us competent jurors and placing us on an equal footing with all other inhabitants of the United states” (42-43). This kind of back and forth attitude of whether or not to bring the US government into the Indian affairs was frequented often within these early newspapers. This along with the struggle felt by many newspapers to stay afloat, as seen with the Benton County Banner in Benton, OK, 1888. It was moved by creator E. L. Gay to Beaver City to become the Beaver City Tribune in 1889. One of the closing ads in the paper was advertising the city of Benton, “Gem City of the Neutral Strip,” that being No-Man’s Land. As best said by author Grace Ray, “the futility of this advertisement is best realized at the present time, as there is nothing but waving prairie grass on the location where the town of Benton once flourished with its loyal citizens and its ‘home-town boosting’ newspaper” (Ray, 119). This made me quite sad to hear that the town was no more just in 1928 and is definitely not searchable on something like Google Maps today. And after doing some digging, it’s practically impossible to find on older maps too, since Benton was the eastern part of the Beaver county but since it vanished sometime soon after the 1890s, according to a Ghost Town website (it’s actually pretty interesting), it wouldn’t have been included in many Oklahoma Territory maps since it was in No-Man’s Land but was gone by the time No-Man’s Land was added and mapped properly. The note on the Ghost Town website that says “remains: none” really shook me that a once thriving for its time town is now literally all gone… Not even a broken house, stone something, sign, or anything. Makes it odd to think about something that does not physically exist yet we can look at a paper that indicated at one time there were people living there, reading and buying a newspaper also printed there, showing signs of life. I dunno, slight tangent, but food for thought.

The only issues I had were mostly minor. The book was written in 1928, and I assume this to be a product of the time, but occasionally the wording seems somewhat intolerant towards the Native American tribes and peoples. I must take into account that I am reading this nearly 90 years after Grace Ray wrote this and my views on these subjects are going to be entirely different than those of her time, and I must be aware of that before I start slinging around that people are being racist. But the wording was just something I noticed while I was reading. Although this one doesn’t relate directly to the content, the book I was using is rather frail and falling apart, as were the other copies at the OSU Library, which made me a bit nervous on handling the book or tearing more pages. Only a cosmetic thing.

Overall I rather enjoyed the history that is being taught in this book. There were lots of bits about murder and side drama of towns, which is always a way to keep things interesting. Plus, it started to create a new way to view older newspapers and publications, especially in Oklahoma, and how things like the Ada Evening News might have been influenced by these earlier papers. In the end, it’s a surprisingly good read (but you might need a little caffeine part way through as a pick me up, or read through multiple days).

RATING: ★★★½

Featured Image courtesy of:

The Beaver herald. (Beaver, O.T. [Okla.]), 14 Feb. 1895. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn93066071/1895-02-14/ed-1/seq-1/>

PS. That image is high quality and you can view it up close through that link. I read the piece on the poor valentines day man and it’s a bit funny if I do say so myself.

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