Oklahoma Centennial: Newspapers Played Leading Roles In Early Oklahoma

Sunday, February 11th 2007, 2:19 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Nearly every town and city in Oklahoma and Indian Territories had its own newspaper.

Some had as many as five papers, each owned by printers who came here hoping to make their living in the new territory from their craft of printing.

Trays of hand set type, some sort of press turned by manpower crank (there was no electricity), steel page forms, wooden blocks to add space where needed, type assembly sticks, quoin keys and other tools of the 1890s print shops.

A few pre-statehood newspaper owners didn't bother with printing one. They sent copy up to Kansas where they had arranged with a printer there to print their new newspaper and get bundles of it on the next train to the Oklahoma Territory.

Nearly every printer put out a small news sheet, paid for by ads of the new merchants. They did it to make a living, develop some influence and help the political faction they supported for the next election.

If their candidates lost they tried to align themselves with the winner. Some moved on. But papers on the side of election winners got the government printing and public notices. That's how idealism worked in those days.

In the early part of the 20th Century, 1900s plus, idealistic editors wrote colorful word pictures boosting their town to be a city. They gave support to civic leaders and reported on violations of the laws of those frontier days.

One of the earliest editors was Milton W. Reynolds who came from Kansas to establish the Edmond Sun in 1889. He was such a good friend of the Indians they honored him with the name ``Kicking Bird.''

The first newspaper was in far northeastern Oklahoma, then Indian Territory. In 1844 it was brought to near Tahlequah by the Cherokee Tribe. Named The Cherokee Advocate, it used a syllabary developed by Sequoyah.

Some say its 86-character alphabet was easier to learn than English because it used syllables instead of 26 characters in the English alphabet.

The Indian Territory Press Association was formed at Muskogee in 1888.

In 1890 the Oklahoma Territory Press Association was organized at Purcell.

The two merged at Shawnee in 1906 _ a year before statehood. It became the Oklahoma Press Association which exists to this day.

Editor Frank Greer of the Guthrie Daily State Capital constantly criticized the first legislature and early state leaders.

The legislature, Gov. Charles Haskell and others got so fed up with Greer's editorials that one night they took the state seal and moved the seat of state government from Guthrie to Oklahoma city.

That's how the beautiful state capitol building in Guthrie was abandoned. Voters approved the move in 1910.

Over the century, more than 500 Oklahoma weekly and daily newspapers were started, some lasted only a few issues.

Today Oklahoma boasts a large number of newspapers for its size. There are 236 newspapers in Oklahoma; 46 dalies, 190 weeklies. Ten have been published for more than 100 years.

Some editors had a big influence on both their community and the state. The list is long but must include Ferguson of Watonga, Gaylord, Sullivant and Dungee of Oklahoma City, Lorton, Jones and Goodwin of Tulsa, Shepler of Lawton, Garber and Taylor of Enid, Milt and Tom Phillips of Seminole and Holdenville, Mayo of Sallisaw, the Livermores, Engleman, Muchmores, Bellattis, Reids, Cains, John Stone of Muskogee, Pate of Madill, Nance of Purcell, McBride of Anadarko and many other strong personalities.

They put out quality newspapers and wrote aggressive editorials hoping to influence readers and government. Chain ownership began in the 1930s and is extensive today. Most weeklies are still family owned as are 13 of the 46 dailies.

For more information on Oklahoman's newspapers, see ``The Story of Oklahoma Newspapers'' by Dr. Ed Carter.