Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Gordon Weekly Courier: A Historical Look at an Early Day Rural Texas Newspaper

When the Texas & Pacific Railway made its way to the southern Palo Pinto County town of Gordon in mid 1880, the community swiftly sprang into prominence. In the early days, Gordon served as the western terminus of the rail, with daily stage coach services to all parts north, south, and west. The town quickly grew into a shipping center for area cotton, cattle and coal.  With that growth came the immediate need for a news outlet.

One of the first publications to stick in town was called the Gordon Cross-Eye. This newspaper, with its off-the-wall name was run by a man named Ben Butler. There is not much that remains as far as what kind of paper this was other than a couple of references tying them to a list of pioneers of the Texas Press Association.

The Cross-Eye was a short lived endeavor, and made way for one of Gordon's most prominent publications, the Gordon Weekly Courier. An August 14, 1884 piece in the Galveston Daily News states: 
"The Gordon Courier, a new paper started at Gordon, Palo Pinto County, reached The News yesterday. It says: The citizens of Gordon have made up their minds to have published in their town a newspaper worthy of patronage and one that will study the interests of Palo Pinto County, and Gordon in particular, have purchased the press and material formerly known as the Gordon Cross-Eye, and have secured the services of a gentleman competent and steady in his habits to run it." 
The Galveston newspaper went on to comment: 
"This looks like an intimation that the paper with the Ben Butler eye was not run by a man of such habits and the publisher of the Courier. Even men of steady habits may edit lively papers: Mirth makes them not mad, Nor sobriety sad. Watch and be sober, says St. Paul." 
The publisher of the Courier felt the need to give advice in getting out the first number in saying: "We are old in the business as a printer, and as an editor, and have gotten out a weekly paper many times under difficulties, but never, never have we in the course of human events, labored under as many difficulties as we have during the past week, trying to get out the Courier, of which we are manager, editor and devil, all in one."

The Gordon Weekly Courier began its life under the ownership of a group known as the Courier Publishing Company. Using volume backdating, its first published paper would have been printed on Friday August 8, 1884. The Courier would continue to be published every Friday as a weekly paper for the next thirty years and would gain notoriety as a prominent Texas newspaper, as referenced in various papers across the state.

In May of 1885, the Courier was purchased by 39 year old Rev. Christopher Columbus "C.C." Parrack and wife Mary. Missouri born Rev. Parrack was a Baptist preacher, and had lived in various communities in the area including Coleman County prior to landing in Gordon. The couple would share the duties of editor with C.C. noted as publisher.

One of the earliest references to the paper under Parrack was a snippet from the July 4, 1885 Wise County Messenger that read: 
"The Farmers' Alliance has purchased a lot and will begin at once to build. The lot is located on the east side of Lamar street, opposite the Pierson building. It has 75 feet front and 100 feet back, and there will be three buildings of 25 feet front each. - Gordon Courier."
The Gordon Coal Mines, later known as Coalville, located northeast of town, were not left out of the regional reporting picked up from the Courier. The Wise County Messenger of October 10, 1885 noted the Courier's boasting that the Gordon Coal Mines were producing 375 to 400 tons of coal per day. Gordon's Coalville, which was arguably the first boom town in Texas, rose to notoriety quickly in the early 1880s and would be the first Texas coal to be used by the railroad. Its demise came nearly as quickly as the high sulfur grade of coal was eventually determined unsuitable for long term use. 

It was just as much true then as it is now, political views were not without criticism. A February 4, 1886 edition of the Austin Weekly Statesman included the Courier's political opinions in a piece writing, "The Gordon Courier is hard to please. It will accept neither Swain, Ross, nor Gibbs for governor. It thinks there is a good-sized bug under all these chips and it talks harshly about boomers, rings, local cliques, and such expressive adjectives. The editor is a Christian minister, and of course has facts to sustain his attacks on the corrupt methods he has discovered."


The oldest copy of the Gordon Courier in the archives is a May 20, 1887 edition, which was well into the Parrack's reign over the paper. The front page of that paper was primarily covered with intricate and detailed advertising for local businesses including S.J Oden's Dry Goods and Grocery Store, G.W. Gentry & Co. General Merchandise, and J.P. Browder Furniture and Undertakers' Goods. Along with the ads was a rather lengthy article written on moral suasion. Page two of the edition was a good bit more informative as it had bits from across the state. Included was a report on a recent massive earthquake in Arizona that was felt in west Texas, and notes on the ongoing prohibition movement from both sides of the argument. A train departure schedule also appeared on page two, with the Number 4 train leaving Gordon to the east at 4:45 PM, and the Number 3 heading west at 11:55 AM.

Page three of the paper dealt mainly with local matters. The page included a long account of a recent community picnic, along with separate humorous accounts of the event that poked fun at several of Gordon's residents, "We heard a young lady say she loved barbecued dog, but we are not going to tell who she is because some young man might rise up and slay some of the favorite curs in Gordon (which are so necessary to our rest nights)." The page also included notes from area businesses including: Fresh butter and soda pop on ice at the T&P Express office, A car load of corn just received in sacks at M.W. Thompson's,  A nice stock of oranges, lemons, bananas, and sauerkraut at J.M. Bilton's, and a note to call the courier office and get a bargain on a clock. The last page of the paper almost entirely consisted of proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution.

Sadly, just three years later Mr. Parrack would pass away at 44 years of age. He was buried at the Old Gordon Cemetery where a tall pillar-like headstone was placed. The Fort Worth Daily Gazette published the following obituary:
"Late Editor of the Gordon Courier and Highly Respected Citizen, Dies at GordonRev C.C. Parrack, late editor of the Gordon Courier, died at his residence in Gordon, Tex on the 17th. Mr. Parrack's death is a sad blow to the people of Gordon, for he was ever ready to lend a helping hand in time of need and was always found in the front ranks in the support of any public enterprise that tended to the advancement of the interests of the town and county. He conducted the Courier upon such a high plane of integrity and sincerity that its voice of warning was heard by old and young. He was a minister of the gospel of the Baptist faith, and a zealous Christian. The funeral services were conducted by Rev Mr. McGhee, of Cisco, at the Methodist church at Gordon at 4 o'clock pm, after which he was laid to rest in the Gordon cemetery, a burial place that he had done more than any one to improve and beautify. He leaves a wife."
It appears that Mrs. Parrack continued to run the paper through the end of 1890. The Fort Worth Daily Gazette of September 7, 1890 says "The Gordon Courier has just commenced its seventh volume, and in its first number appears a display advertisement for the sale of the entire plant. There lies a chance for some aspiring journalist to win fame and fortune."

In the fall of 1890 a man by the name of Lewis Albert "L.A." McCollister came to Gordon to work in the Courier's print shop. Mr. McCollister was born in Leavenworth, Indiana on June 18, 1870, with his family relocating to Ida County, Oklahoma just four years later. In 1886 he got his start in the newspaper business working as an apprentice for the Battle Creek Times. By the time he arrived in Gordon, he was well versed in the business and was looking to run a paper of his own.

With the Courier up for sale, McCollister seized on the opportunity and purchased the paper on March 1, 1891. He swiftly began to bring the paper into the modern era expanding its columns and filling it with his own brand of politics and self penned anecdotes. His political opinions and sharp wit on the problems of the day would bolster his articles onto the statewide stage.

The Galveston Daily News quoted McCollister as he took the reigns of the Courier, "More confidence in our state and less disposition to just "camp here until I get a stake" and then go somewhere else. Too many people who have made all they have here do not do anything to help the community in which they live, but put their money out of sight and do not have confidence enough to spend $1 to see $10 come back."

On April 30, 1891 Fort Worth Daily Gazette took notice of the changes at the Courier  stating, "The Gordon Courier has come out with an entire new dress, and made some marked improvements in its general make-up."

A quip from the Courier made the May 25, 1891 Fort Worth Daily Gazette, "While Mrs. Mack Spaulding was cutting up a chicken last Monday preparatory to cooking, she found a 16 penny nail in the chicken's stomach."

One of the common occurrences in Texas newspapers of the day was local weather and crop notes. A May 12, 1893 Galveston Daily News stated, "L.A. McCollister of the Gordon Courier reports fine rains in Palo Pinto county and says the prospects for corn, oats and cotton are first-rate. He was yesterday elected a member of the Texas Press Association."

Feud with the Texas Miner

Thurber's Texas Miner newspaper, which was company owned and operated and was in the business of protecting the interests of the Texas and Pacific Coal company, had quite the feud with McCollister's Courier. T&P Coal preferred its workers and residents to never leave the confines of Thurber. They wanted all money earned to be spent in company stores and all trading to be done in house. Gordon, as well as other area non company owned towns, offered more opportunities in trading. There are many reports of Thurber folks trading in Gordon and smuggling their goods back into to town, as it was highly frowned upon by the company. Because of the company's belief, they were very quick to protect their image in every way. McCollister, opinionated and unafraid to fire shots when he deemed necessary, fueled several reactions from the Miner.

 One of the first examples of this feud can be found in a February 3, 1894 edition of the Texas Miner. In a response piece the paper states,  "The Gordon Courier of last week said 'We understand the Thurber mines are working on half time now.' Bless your soul, Mac, that shot from jealous Gordon flew wide of the mark - in fact, you never touched us. Why, say, there hasn't been but a slight let-up, and that was because of the fact the railroad companies could not furnish empty cars. Fire another one, Mac, but be sure to use facts for wadding." Fifteen days later the Miner stated, "Because we accused Gordon of being jealous of Thurber's prosperity, the Gordon Courier says we are off our base. All right, Mac - but we'll make a home-run, even though we are forced to do the 'Slide, Kelly, slide' act. By the way, come over some day and watch the game, it'll interest you." The "act" mentioned in their piece refers to old baseball song "Slide, Kelly, Slide" published in 1889 "Slide, Kelly, Slide!, Your running's a disgrace!, Slide, Kelly, Slide!, Stay there, hold your base!, If some one doesn't steal you, And your batting doesn't fail you, They'll take you to Australia!, Slide, Kelly, Slide!" 

A month passed and McCollister, flanked by W.K Bell of Gordon, did pay the Miner a visit. The March 17, 1894 edition of the Miner noted that the two had visited their office and that Mr. Bell had made some extensive purchases in town and was "tickled to death" over the cheapness of the goods he wanted and their excellent quality.

Barbs between the two papers seemed to die down over the next few months.

On June 5, 1895, Mr. McCollister married Munsey Carlock at the Methodist church in Gordon by Parson Hightower. Thurber's Miner reported the announcement: 
"Cards are out announcing the coming nuptials of Miss Munsey Carlock and Mr. L.A. McCollister, the interesting event to occur at the Methodist church, Gordon, Wednesday, June 5, at 2 p.m. These young people are among Gordon's most popular, and this announcement is greeted with many happy expressions by a large circle of friends at home and elsewhere. Mr. McCollister is quite well known throughout the State as a rising young journalist, being editor and proprietor of the sprightly paper, the Gordon Courier. 'Mac' The Miner sends a hearty 'God bless you,' and will take advantage of the first opportunity to personally congratulate you upon your success in winning the prize which is soon to be yours." 
Word of McCollister's wedding appeared in several papers across the state.

February 25, 1896 Fort Worth Gazette published a poem McCollister had penned and published in the Courier with the title of "He's All Right". "There is a man in our town who wears the best of shoes, If there's anything he delights in, its the reading of the news; It does not matter what the friends may say, He reads the newspapers every day; There are two papers at which he takes a dead set, and they are the Commercial-Appeal and the Fort Worth Gazette; Yet there is another that seems to be no drag. And it is the American Baptist Flag. From reading the news he will not refrain, although his wife may howl with pain; And sometimes he hears his children crying around, Yet he will not lay his papers down."

The Houston Daily Post of February 5, 1900 cited the Gordon Courier in their "Industrial Texas" section, "The building committee of the Methodist Episcopal church has closed a contract to build a brick church."

A March 9, 1900 edition of the Abilene Reporter noted that the Gordon Courier reported that the town of Gordon was "coming to the front in buildings, with brick edifices going up."

In June of 1900 McCollister was appointed U.S. Census Enumerator (census taker)  for Gordon's precinct. This was an excellent way to get up-to-date on all the latest news and gossip as he went door to door collecting government information. Years later he was quoted as saying he still had in his possession the check for 15 cents the government sent him in payment for his services.

The November 4, 1904 Canyon City News quoted the Gordon Courier, "Never growl because a newspaper man fails to give every scrap of news so long as you take no pains to give the editor information. We have seen readers who are awfully put out at times because we have made no note of the arrival or departure of a friend visiting them, or the heaven-sent babies that visit their homes over night. The average newspaper man isn't a medium or mind reader, but gets most of his news the same way the milkman gets his milk - by pumping." This piece appeared in several other papers across the state.

McCollister sold the Courier to Arthur Speer in 1906 and moved his family to Mangum, Oklahoma where he went on to be a successful businessman in the banking business. He and his wife had two children (Gladys and Landon) born during their years in Gordon. McCollister eventually became a stockholder in a local bank and lumber yard there.

Son of Daniel Witten "DeWitt" Speer, Arthur and his family had moved to the Gordon area prior to 1880 and after school he initially worked locally as a school teacher. He taught at nearby Coalville during a time when the school was recorded as the largest in the county. By 1900 he was a local attorney, an occupation he would maintain while running the Courier. He was serving as Gordon School Board President when he took control of the paper at 48 years of age with wife Lilla and daughter Eva at his side.

With Speer at the helm, snippets of the Courier that appeared in papers statewide were generally more political in nature, with fewer anecdotal pieces.

The Brownsville Daily Herald published a piece from the Courier on January 29, 1907 titled "The Truth of the Matter."
"Good resolutions and isolated actions, though good, do not make good character. Pure thoughts, refined language and good deeds must, by our continuous course through life, be so woven into habits as to become our very nature."
Speer never seemed to be too shy to state his opinions on state matters. A December 15, 1909 San Antonio Daily Express cited Gordon Courier's controversial commentary on the state of prison administration in Texas.

The Courier broke several statewide stories of the day over the next couple of years. Along with the political laced banter there were a couple of local murders, robberies, accidental deaths, and the occasional oddity that made state headlines.

Included in the September 28, 1911 edition of the Bryan Daily Eagle:
"Karl Teichman killed three rattlesnakes last week in his cotton patch. On Wednesday he killed two. One had ten rattles and the other eleven. On Thursday morning he killed the largest rattlesnake he ever saw, but some of the rattles had been broken off, leaving only six. The snakes have been coming into the cotton fields. - Gordon Courier"
A note on the Courier's editor came in a March 8, 1913 edition of the Weatherford Daily Herald, "A. Speer, editor of the Gordon Courier, was in the city Saturday morning on his way home from Palo Pinto county. Mr. Speer, while editing his paper, takes time to practice law."

While there was plenty of seriousness to Speer's paper, there was always a little bit of humor sprinkled in as seen in an August 6, 1913 Houston Post, "The Gordon Courier is reminded that while twenty-pound parcel post packages will greatly extend the scope of service, it will not enable anybody to send a Texas watermelon by mail."
  
A report on local matters appears in a September 9, 1913 Weatherford Daily Herald:
"Men Quit Work at Thurber - To make bricks, fire must be burning under the kilns, consequently the fire must be constantly attended. The men upon whom this duty devolved wanted to attend the labor celebration; but, as the company could not excuse them from work without incurring great damage, permission to take part in the festivities was refused. However, acting upon the advice, it is said, of one of the Socialistic speakers, the men abandoned their work and took part in the celebration. For thus quitting their work and damaging the company, the men were discharged, where upon the brick makers union declared a strike. The company then concluded to cease operations. After this conclusion had been reached, the men expressed a willingness to resume work, but that the company closed the plant. About 250 men are thus thrown out of work. - Gordon Courier"

The latest edition of the Courier found in the archives is from August 7, 1914, noted as number 42 of volume 30. The paper appears in a six column form. The left side of the front page included a couple of articles on the coming 1914 State Fair of Texas. The remainder of the page involves the coming and going of local residents and local news quips. Among the local tidbits included, "I am prepared to furnish ice and deliver it to you anywhere in town at the rate of 40 cents per hundred. - J.W. McCoy.", "The poles on which to hang the cable for the electric lights in Gordon have been loaded on the cars and are due to arrive here soon.", and "The Holiness meeting will begin today at the tabernacle one mile north of town."

The second page of the 1914 Courier edition included several lengthy articles including pieces on fire prevention tips, a take on a movement on better roads in the state, and industrial notes and developments from various cities across the state. Also appearing on the page is a Southwestern Tel & Tel Co (Southwestern Telegraph and Telephone Company, early name for Southwestern Bell) ad that promoted the idea that having telephones on the farm could make it easier to call for help when needed.  A Dr. Wilbar, a Gordon dentist, ad lists prices for specific dental work, standard filling $1, gold filling $2 to $3, gold crown $5 to $6, and a set of teeth for $20. Rounding out the second page is an ad for round trip tickets from Gordon to El Paso for $15 to attend the Democratic State Convention.

The last two pages of the edition were almost entirely taken up by a weekly serial the paper printed. This particular one was the first part in a series titled "The Impossible Boy" written by Nina Wilcox Putnam.

The August 7th edition is the last reference to the paper found in current newspaper archives. Based on the fact that up to this date the paper was heavily referenced in area and statewide papers, it can be derived that the Courier was discontinued around this time. Mr. Speer, a man in his late 50's wearing two hats in the community as a lawyer and newspaper editor, may have elected to hang up the news for his more profitable profession.

Arthur Speer died February 8, 1918 in Gordon and was buried in the New Gordon Cemetery. Sadly, the Gordon Weekly Courier died with him.

The Courier was a very important piece in the history of Gordon, Texas. In it's thirty year run the Courier reported on its fair share of community ups and downs. It was led by three different pillars of the community that put Gordon first and even used the paper to fight for their community at times. Like with so many small towns of the day, this small town paper helped to keep Gordon on the map while providing a service to its citizens and at times citizens across the state. 

Sources referenced for this article include: newspaperarchive.com, texashistory.unt.edu, ancestry.com

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