Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.
This week is National Newspaper Appreciation Week, and continuing on last weeks Out of the Morgue, we’ll look back at how papers of the past impacted life in Great Bend. By 1894, the number of newspapers being printed in Barton County grew. In Great Bend, there were four papers printed, and each had a slightly different take on politics and business in the city.
The Great Bend Register was a weekly paper that ran on Saturdays. It was aligned with the Republican party. Great Bend business, politics, and society were the main focus of the paper, but attention was paid to outlying areas inasmuch as the goings on there affected Great Bend. In 1894, Joe H. Borders was the editor and proprietor. It cost $2 a year to subscribe.
The Barton County Democrat was a weekly printed and delivered on Thursdays. It’s no surprise it was aligned with the Democrat party. W. E. Stoke was the proprietor. The annual subscription was $1.50. It had a good number of illustrations, and even political cartoons.
The Great Bend Evening News came out in the evenings, Monday through Friday. The paper was only about one quarter the size of its weekly counterparts, and consisted of only four pages, half of which were timely advertisements for local retailers. No publisher’s box is present, so it’s unknown how much a subscription was, or who was responsible for it’s existence. It was a handy way of keeping up with the latest happenings, as they happened, much like we use social media today.
The Barton Beacon was a Thursday weekly and an Independent paper. D.T. Armstrong was the publisher that called itself, “The official organ of the Barton County Alliance.” It cost $1 per year, and was sent by mail, second class, from the Great Bend Post Office.
Mr. L. Baldwin, born in Pennsylvania, educated back east and having served the Union Army in the Civil War, moved to Great Bend with his young wife, Martha (Gunn) Baldwin in the 1870s. Instead of taking up law, as he had planned, he threw himself into education and he and wife “Mattie” taught and administered at local schools.
According to historical documents brought to our attention by the Barton County Historical Society, Mr. Baldwin, “is given credit for having been one of the first to agitate the subject of irrigation of the arid lands of the west in the 1890s and wrote a great deal on the subject of irrigation for some of the leading newspapers of the country.”
“Saturday was irrigation day in Great Bend,” the Register reported. “The announcement that an exhibition of the pumping process would be given east of town was the means of bringing hundreds of people to the city, bad as was the weather. The exhibition in the country was interesting, but the pumps were not in good working order until after the storm had driven the people to town. It was a cold day, and the wind blew vociferously, thus doing away with outdoor meetings. The vast crowd took possession of the courthouse and the old walls rang with enthusiastic speeches for irrigation. The interest manifested is evidence that our people are being drawn to the idea that artificial moisture will be the salvation of this country. The extraordinary interest shown means that in the near future hundreds of Barton county farms will be dotted with pumps and reservoirs and when the time comes there will be peace and plenty for those who add such improvements.”
In a related story, discussion of the newest technology for extracting water, “The Wonder Pump,” made a record of 500 gallons per minute for four and a half hours at an earlier test that week.
The Barton Democrat added it’s two cents worth on Oct. 11. “Water means wealth,” it editorialized. “We want both. Let us work for irrigation as industriously as we work for our political parties and we will make this great Arkansas valley to blossom like the rose. The people are awake, let no man be permitted to go to sleep.”
Today the state is looking for solutions to the problem of an increasingly diminishing supply of water. While the irrigation of 1894 spelled prosperity for farmers and those who depended on their success, it was a mistake to assume it would continue on forever.
Interestingly, as Mr. Baldwin’s quest to bring irrigation to Barton County got off the ground in a big way, and advertisement for a private girls school appeared in The Register. The Select School, with Mattie G. Baldwin as Principal, would teach all common branches, algebra and Latin, and special attention given to elocution, all for a cost of $2 per month.
In the Great Bend Evening News on Tuesday, Oct. 9, ran a story, Great Bend Seminary!
“Mrs. Baldwin desires to announce that she has opened up a school for girls and young ladies in the Morrison building. She has an arrangement with the proprietors whereby she can rent out to students the rooms at a small sum per month. Then she proposes to have some arrangements for cheap boarding in order to enable students to either board themselves or club together and furnish their own provisions. This will give a chance to girls and young ladies to attend a school that will furnish peculiar advantages.”
The Morrison building was also the Morrison Hotel, which is where J.C. Penney currently sits, according to historians at the BCHS museum. No further information was found to verify if Baldwin’s school was a success, but we know that the nearly 50-year-old teacher was much loved and admired for her love of books and education, according to her obituary that appeared in an April edition of the Great Bend Daily Tribune in 1925.
“Both M. and Ms. Baldwin were active and prominent in the school activities of the early days in this city. Mrs. B being one time principal of the high school.”
Only weeks from the November election, politics was at the forefront of news reports and on the tongues of most if not all of the citizens of Great Bend. News of top politicians arriving within a reasonable distance was big news.
“The greatest audience ever gathered to hear a political speech in Kansas outside of Topeka assembled at Hutchinson Wednesday to listen to Governor McKinley of Ohio,” it was reported in the Oct. 6, 1894 edition of the Great Bend Register. “The attendance is estimated at 35,000. It was impossible to find out the number of people present. You could only count them by the nose. Men, women and children for hundreds of miles came by regular and special means on a half dozen roads and the country roads in Reno county were (?) all day long. The city was a bee hive from early morn ‘til midnight.”
McKinley (Republican) talked in favor of his McKinley Tariff Act that had become law in 1890. It raised the average duty on imports nearly 50 percent in some instances, and was hotly contested by Democrats and supported by Republicans. However, in 1894, it was replaced with the Wilson-Gorman (Democrats)Tariff act that lowered tariffs and imposed a two-percent income tax. The tax didn’t last long, struck down by the United States Supreme Court the next year. It was a volatile period as the country struggled to come up with a way to trade with foreign countries and protect U.S. interests at the same time.
The Barton Democrat avoided mention of McKinley’s travels, and chose instead to run editorialized comments by the Ellinwood Advocate and the La Cross Chieftain addressing the problems caused by McKinley’s tariff instead.
On Wednesday, Oct. 10, The Great Bend Evening News reported, “Governor McKinley is to open the Republican campaign in New York, at Buffalo, Thursday. The trouble is that McKinley cannot talk to all the people of the world at once. No man has ever had the ovations in this country that he is receiving everywhere. The Democrats way the tariff is not the question, but as McKinley talks of nothing else, it looks as though the people differed with Democrats.”
On Thursday, Oct. 4, The Barton Beacon reported on McKinley’s visit to Kansas City on Oct. 2 and 3, 1894.
“Gov. William McKinley, of Ohio, addressed an immense crowd at the Auditorium in this city at 2.30 this afternoon. Fully 4,000 people crowded into the building, while the streets outside were packed with men and women eager to gain admission... At night, he viewed the Priests of Pallas parade from the balcony of Bullene, Moore, Emery and Co.’s store.”
McKinley would go on to be elected as the 25th U.S. President in 1896, and served until he was assassinated in 1901.
News and politics are two legs of a three legged stool that supports local newspapers. The other is community events, (with advertising sitting on top of the stool). Those community events offer a taste of what day-to-day was like.
“Sunday will be a big day in Barton County among the Germans,” it was reported in the Great Bend Register. “It will be the 211th anniversary of the landing of the first German colony on American shores, and it will be celebrated in this county at Fred Zutavern’s grove, east of town. The first celebration of this important event in Kansas was held in Barton County in 1889 and regularly thereafter. The event is called Pastorius Day in honor of the German founder of Germantown. Fred Zutavern is the orator of the day and a grand good time is in store for all who participate. Messrs Zutavern and Brueser tell us that an invitation is extended to everyone who will comport themselves as gentlemen and ladies and are invited to share in the day’s festivities.”
In the Monday, Oct. 8, 1894 edition of the Great Bend Evening News, it was reported, “As advertised, the Germans and their friends met yesterday in Zutavern’s park out of town and celebrated the landing of the first German emigrants to this country. Though the weather was unfavorable, a good crowd was present and enjoyed the occasion immensely.”
After searching the internet, we could find no other mention of Pastorius Day being celebrated officially, so we can only assume this was a local holiday and a wonderful excuse for a party. Fred Zutavern was a Great Bend businessman and philanthropist. It is unknown how many more years Pastorius day was celebrated at the Zutavern orchard.
The four papers worked together to shape views on politics, promoted important new technologies, and provided a place for people to find out what was happening or had happened to their neighbors and friends. And much of the impact these papers had over a century ago still ripples forward to today.