Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Holiday Author Fair December 1

I will join approximately 80 other Hoosier writers at the Indiana Historical Society's annual Holiday Author Fair from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, December 1, at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, 450 West Ohio Street, Indianapolis. The Author Fair is free with paid admission to the Indiana Experience and for IHS members.

At the Author Fair I will be signing copies of my new book, The People's Choice: Congressman Jim Jontz of Indiana, as well as copies of my previous books on Indiana history. Other notable Indiana authors scheduled to be at the Fair include Dan Wakefield, Dick Wolfsie, Nelson Price, Helen Frost, Mike Mullin, Rabbi Sandy Sasso, Norbert Krapf, Michael Martone, Barbara Shoup, David Hoppe, and James Alexander Thom and Dark Rain Thom.

Gift wrapping (and caroling) will be provided by members of the Butler University Chorale.

The Author Fair is presented by Lorene Burkhart and an anonymous donor in memory of Margot Lacy Eccles.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Jim Jontz Biography Now Available

On the eve of Election Day in November 1974, a lonely figure trudged down the road in Monticello, Indiana. Jim Jontz, a young, first-time candidate for the Indiana House of Representatives, was finishing up a long day of campaigning. Offered a ride by a local Democratic Party volunteer at whose house he had been staying, Jontz answered: “No, it’s late, but there’s a laundromat up there that’s still open I think I’ll go hit before I quit for the night.”

The next day Jontz, a twenty-two-year-old Indiana University graduate with an unpaid job as a caretaker for a local nature preserve, defeated his heavily favored Republican opponent, John M. “Jack” Guy, Indiana House Majority Leader by a razor-thin two-vote margin. “One more vote than I needed to win!” he later exclaimed. The unexpected result stunned election officials, with one deputy clerk in Warren County marveling, “I never before realized just how important that one vote can be.”

Now available from the Indiana Historical Society Press, The People's Choice: Congressman Jim Jontz of Indiana, is the first-ever biography of Jontz and examines his remarkable long shot political career and lifetime involvement in local, state, and national environmental issues. As a liberal Democrat (he preferred the terms progressive or populist) usually running in conservative districts, Jontz had political pundits predicting his defeat in every election only to see him celebrating another victory with his happy supporters, always clad in a scruffy plaid jacket with a hood from high school that he wore for good luck. “I always hope for the best and fight for the worst,” said Jontz. He won five terms as state representative for the Twentieth District (Benton, Newton, Warren, and White Counties), served two years in the Indiana Senate, and captured three terms in the U.S. Congress representing the sprawling Fifth Congressional District in northwestern Indiana that stretched from Lake County in the north to Grant County in the south. Jontz told a reporter that his political career had always “been based on my willingness and role as a spokesman for the average citizen.” 

From his first campaign for elective office until his death from colon cancer in 2007, Jontz had an abiding passion for protecting the environment. A dam project that threatened to destroy the scenic Fall Creek Gorge area in Warren County inspired Jontz to enter the political fray, and he continued his conservation efforts in Washington, D.C., sponsoring legislation to help protect old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest—an attempt that made him a hero to many environmentalists, but enraged timber-industry supporters and fellow congressmen. Although it might sound too grandiose to say that Jontz wanted to save the planet, his former wife, Elaine Caldwell Emmi, noted “that was his ultimate goal, to be a spokesman for those that couldn’t speak—the trees, the animals, the air, the water.”

Defeated in his try for a fourth term representing the Fifth District in 1992, Jontz, two years later, made his final try for political office, failing in an attempt to unseat U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, a fellow Eagle Scout. After his defeat, Jontz left Indiana to work on behalf of a number of progressive causes in an attempt to forge coalitions among labor and environmental groups. He led an unsuccessful campaign to stop the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the Citizens Trade Campaign, helped protect the Endangered Species Act when it was under attack in the 1990s as director of the Endangered Species Coalition, campaigned to save old-growth forests as executive director of the Western Ancient Forest Campaign, and tried to foster progressive causes as president of the Americans for Democratic Action.

According to environmental activist Brock Evans, Jontz’s most enduring legacy is his constant reminder that “even seeming hopeless causes can be won. All we need is the right kind of leader, a person of high spirit and sunny optimism, and, above all, a large and courageous heart.”

The hardbound book with photographs costs $24.95 and is available for purchase through the IHS's Basile History Market or at Amazon.com.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Preview of Jontz Biography at ADA Convention

I will be offering a sneak peak of my new book, The People's Choice: Congressman Jim Jontz of Indiana, as part of the sixty-third annual Americans for Democratic Action convention on Saturday, June 16, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, 750 South Halsted, Chicago.

I will be part of the session "Working Families Win and Jim Jontz" from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Joining me will be Don Kusler, Executive Director of Americans for Democratic Action and Project Director of Working Families Win. In my presentation, I will be concentraing on Jontz's early life growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he developed his commitment to the environment and progressive values. I will explore his work on behalf of the environment while a student at Indiana University in Bloomington, his effort to stop a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dam and reservoir project in Warren County, his long shot run for office as a state representative, and his subsequent career in the Indiana General Assembly.

My biography of Jontz will be released in early fall 2012 by the Indiana Historical Society Press. The hardback book with numerous black-and-white photographs of Jontz during his lifetime will cost $24.95.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Programs in Rockville, Indiana

I will be in Rockville, Indiana, on Thursday, May 17, for two programs on the life and times of journalist and writer Juliet V. Strauss. Known as the "Country Contributor," Strauss wrote a regular column for her hometown Rockville Tribune newspaper, as well as a weekly column in the Indianapolis News and a monthly column in the Ladies' Home Journal. In addition to her writing career, Strauss played a key role in saving the Turkey Run area from destruction by timber interests and seeing it developed into Indiana's second state park.

At 2 p.m. I will lead a discussion about my biography of Strauss, The Country Contributor: The Life and Times of Juliet V. Strauss, at the Old Jail Coffee House, 123 South Jefferson Street. At 6 p.m. I will be at the Rockville Public Library, 106 North Market Street, for a program on Strauss's life and influence. Both programs are free and open to the public.

Edward Bok, longtime Journal editor, said that Strauss's contributions were “more widely read and . . . are more popular than the writings of any single contributor to the magazine.” Strauss’s writing found—in addition to its frequent hardships and struggles—joy, beauty, and art in a homemaker’s daily life. Her efforts at glorifying homemaking struck a chord with her female readers across the country who grew, through long association, to consider the Rockville housewife “as friend and counselor,” the Indianapolis News commented upon Strauss’s death on May 22, 1918. She offered through her essays,the newspaper noted, a sound philosophy: “a love of simplicity and genuineness,an earnest and honest faith, a hatred of sham and pretense, and a belief in the home and family as the great educators.”

During her career Strauss came to be considered as one of the most widely read female writers in America. Indiana historian Jacob Piatt Dunn, Jr., who noted that Strauss’s writing possessed the Hoosier characteristic of “optimism and wholesomeness,” claimed that the Rockville writer was “more widely read than any American essayist has ever been.” In the history of the world, Dunn went onto say of Strauss, “nobody ever wrote so much about the common things of everyday life, and held their readers.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Gathering of Posey

On June 30, 1886,approximately sixty men and women interested in the writing profession gathered in the auditorium of Indianapolis’s Plymouth Church. Reporting on the meeting,the Indianapolis Journal noted that “instead of being food for laughter,” the gathering of these would-be poets and novelists turned out to be “a very practical and business-like body.” The Western Association of Writers had been born.

In its approximately twenty-year existence, the W.A.W.—variously referred to as the “Literary Gravel Pit Association,” “The Writer's Singing Bee,” “a literary house party,” “an effort to get up a corner in Spring poetry and fix the price of manuscript stories at so much per year,”and other less than flattering terms by its critics—attracted to its colors such literary stars as Maurice Thompson (who was elected the group’s first president), James Whitcomb Riley, Sarah Bolton, John Clark Ridpath, William Dudley Foulke, Meredith Nicholson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Booth Tarkington, Will Cumback, Mary H. Catherwood, and Benjamin Parker.

The association’s annual week-long conventions at Spring Fountain Park on the shores of Eagle Lake near Warsaw, Indiana, brought together in one spot poets,novelists, short story writers, historians, and others interested in belles lettres. “In the writer’s view, the point of interest lay not so much in the actual literary standards of the organization as in the fact that all kinds of authors who were moved by the literary impulse, flocked together so insistently year after year,” noted Indiana historian George S. Cottman, a longtime W.A.W.member. “It was the gravitating to each other of kindred spirits who in their daily environments, found scant appreciation of the fugitive fancies that haunted them.”

Inspired by the success enjoyed by such Indiana authors as Riley and Thompson, Hoosiers of all types following the Civil War were trying their hand at writing, especially poetry. “There was a time in Indiana when it was difficult to forecast who would next turn poet,” observed Meredith Nicholson in his book, The Hoosiers. One Indianapolis journalist declared that “there had appeared in the community a peculiar crooking of the right elbow and a furtive sliding of the hand into the left inside pocket,which was an unfailing preliminary to the reading of a poem.” Various literary organizations sprang up to minister to those afflicted with the writing bug:the Indianapolis Literary Club in 1877, the Terre Haute Literary Club in 1881,and the Ouiatenon Club (Crawfordsville) in 1883. It was the W. A. W., however,that became, as one historian put it, “intimately connected with the spirit which produced the Golden Age of Indiana literature.”

A Hoosier-dominated institution from its inception, the association’s guiding spirit was Marie L. Andrews of Connersville, who first discussed the idea with J. C. Ochiltree, Indianapolis Herald editor, in the summer of 1885. Ochiltree offered Andrews a list of Herald contributors and also prepared for her a prospectus for a literary organization. That winter, three regular writers for the Herald—Dr. J.N. Matthews, Richard Lew Dawson, and Dr. H. W. Taylor—exchanged correspondence discussing the possibility of calling a “gathering of the poets of the Wabash Valley in some convenient city, or resort, for the purpose of enjoying whatever pleasure might result from a meeting so novel and unique,” remembered Matthews.

Working together, Andrews and Dawson produced a notice, addressed to “The Literary Profession,” which was published on April 3, 1886, in the Chicago Current. The notice called upon “all writers of verse and general literature” to band together to form a new literary association that aimed at discussing “methods of composition, and all topics pertaining to the advancement of literature in America.”

The association’s sponsors received more than one hundred positive responses to their call for action and the first meeting was held in Indianapolis in late June 1886. “In the assembled audience,” wrote a Journal reporter, “was a score or more of persons with enviable reputations as writers, and whose outpourings have graced the pages of volume and magazine, as well as the brighter, but perhaps more evanescent column of the newspaper.”

At the meeting, Thompson was elected as the group’s first president, Andrews as secretary, and Ochiltree as treasurer. A subsequent gathering in October saw the organization adopt both a constitution and a name for itself: the American Association of Writers. Members agreed that the organization’s main mission was to “promote acquaintance and friendship among the literary fraternity, and impart encouragement and enthusiasm to one another.” The association also would work to protect writers against “piratical publishers” and would meet to hear literary work produced by its members.

Speaking at the fall gathering, Thompson warned those in attendance that a meeting involving “literary folk for the purpose of forming a close corporation is, in fact, a pretty good joke, and we ought to be thankful that so little has been said about the fine frenzy of our eyes and the cerulean tinge of our hose. When we come to think about it, we do occupy a doubtful ground, and we must be careful what airs we put on.” Members took their president’s words to heart and, in June 1887, decreased their horizons a bit by changing the organization’s name to the Western Association of Writers, “an appellation,” noted Cottman, “not so inept, since not a few who shared in membership came drifting in from beyond the borders of our state.”

Looking for friendlier surroundings to hold its assemblies, the group found the perfect spot for its artistic endeavors in northern Indiana, at a resort near Warsaw known as Spring Fountain Park Assembly on Eagle Lake (now Winona Lake). “Than this spot with its shady groves of forest trees, it profusion of gushing crystal waters, its limpid lake, and withal, its ample hotel and auditorium accommodations, nothing could be more inviting as an Arcadian setting where poets and birds alike might sing their melodious lays,” said Cottman.

From the first, the new surroundings for its annual gathering proved to be a boon for the W.A.W.Taking advantage of special rates offered by the Big Four Railroad Company,members competed for available spaces in the Eagle Lake Hotel (with room rates at $1.25 to $1.50 per day) and in nearby towns. During the morning and evening,those attending the convention listened to poems, stories, and addresses by fellow members while the afternoon, as the convention program stated, “will be given to recreation and social enjoyments,” which included boating, fishing,and swimming.

Cottman had found memories of the association’s conventions, recalling “long sunny June afternoons when earth and sky and sparkling waters were at their best, and our genial fraternity surrendered itself to sweet-do-nothing.” Usually, the W.A.W. had the hotel mainly to itself and its members could explore the “nooks and byways of the shady grounds” tot heir hearts content, Cottman remembered.

The association’s most successful conventions were those that featured its most celebrated member: Riley. “When word got around he[Riley] would be up for the annual jam session,” said James Weygand in his history of the association, “its success was almost assured. Everyone knew he’d be on the program for a poem or two, and that he could be coaxed into a couple more.

Riley’s patronage helped keep interest high at the association’s early conventions, but, with his increasing popularity keeping Riley away, attendance dropped considerably as the organization moved into the new century. The aging of the W.A.W.’s founders and low annual dues ($2 per year) were also factors that helped to speed the association’s downfall. In 1904 an attempt was made to revive the moribund organization by Opie Reed, a leading figure in the Chicago Press Club. On December 16, 1904, the club sponsored a reception honoring “that great organization of writers which has taken so prominent a place in the literature of the west.” Although the Chicago group brought new blood into the W. A. W., it could not breathe new life into the once flourishing organization and it quietly disbanded.

Discerning the association’s effect on the state’s literary history is a difficult task. In its two decades of existence, it did produce a few volumes containing the work presented at the group’s annual convention. Its greatest contribution, however, came through the association’s ability to provide a needed spark to the creative process for hundreds of writers in Indiana and the Midwest. There was, as Cottman noted, “nothing else in existence quite like it.” Even if the organization rested not on “solid accomplishments as on the little vanities of would-be writers,” the fact remains, he continued, that the association stood as “an integral part of our literary history.”

Friday, February 17, 2012

Indianapolis's First Newspaper

In lieu of news on my upcoming book projects, here is an article I wrote many years ago that has yet to be published. I did present it as a paper at the annual meeting of the Indianapolis-Marion County Historical Society many years ago. It is about Indianapolis's first newspaper, the Indianapolis Gazette.

About two weeks before Christmas in 1821, a family, after an arduous journey from Jeffersonville, Indiana, finally stopped their wagon before their home in the new state capital of Indianapolis. Inside the four-horse wagon in which they had made the trip were the family’s meager possessions and the items upon which they would depend for their livelihood—the type, cases, press and other materials necessary for equipping a printing office.

From a one-room cabin George Smith, with assistance from his daughter Elizabeth and a recently hired journeyman printer lodged in a nearby cabin, on January 28, 1822 published the inaugural issue of the first newspaper ever printed in Indianapolis—the Indianapolis Gazette. For the next year, until the appearance of the Western Censor and Emigrant’s Guide, the Gazette served as one of the few means of state, national, and international news for the central Indiana community.

In addition to his important role as newspaper editor, Smith during his life also opened one of the first real estate agencies in Indianapolis and served two terms as an associate judge of the circuit court. John H. B. Nowland, describing Smith in his sketches of prominent citizens of the city, noted that he “was a man of warm feeling and devotion to his friends, and would go any length to serve and accommodate one. He cared nothing for money or property further than to make himself and his family comfortable.” Smith also stood out in the community by the way he wore his hair, braided, hanging down his back in a queue. His choice of hairstyle got him in trouble one day with a lawyer named Gabriel Johnson. During an argument between the two men, Johnson grabbed the judge by queue and seemed to have the upper hand for a time. Nowland noted, however, that Smith managed to rally and “administered to the lawyer a sound trashing.”

By the time Smith, with the assistance of his stepson and partner Nathaniel Bolton, placed the Gazette before the public, newspapers were well entrenched on the Hoosier scene. In 1804 Elihu Stout had printed the first newspaper in what was then the Indiana Territory, the Indiana Gazette at Vincennes. Other newspaper editors set up shop as settlements grew: Madison had the Western Eagle in 1813, Brookville the Enquirer and Indiana Telegraph in 1815 and shortly thereafter the Indiana Register in Vevay. Between Indiana's admission as a state in 1816 and 1829, papers were also established in Greencastle, Centerville, New Albany, Richmond, Salem, Terre Haute, and, of course, Indianapolis.

The founder of Indianapolis's first press, Smith was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1784. There are differing accounts on where Smith first learned the printing trade. Some historians have him serving as an apprentice with the Bradfords, colonial printers in Pennsylvania, another with the Lexington Observer in Lexington, Kentucky. Wherever he started, Smith, as did many other apprentices, underwent a painful initiation into the printing world. As the low man on the totem pole, apprentices were expected to run errands for the shop owner and his family, sweep the shop, keep the fires kindled, wash type, carry water for cleaning and wetting paper, and other onerous tasks. The chore dreaded most by printing apprentices involved the pelts used for ink balls. These pelts were soaked in chamber lye and gave the entire shop “a characteristic reeking smell.”

After completing his apprenticeship, Smith worked for a number of printing shops, including one that produced the Liberty Hall and Cincinnati Gazette newspaper. While working in Chillicothe, Ohio, in the early 1800s, he met and married Nancy Bolton, a widow with one son, Nathaniel. George and Nancy Smith eventually had a daughter, Elizabeth, born in Chillicothe on February 17, 1809. Elizabeth’s earliest memories centered on the printing office, which often was located in the house the family occupied. Both children helped out by doing small jobs in Smith’s print shop.

In 1820 the Smith family, which also included Nancy Smith’s brother, Uncle Nat Cox, well-known for his skill as a hunter, carpenter, and practical joker, was “seized with the fever of emigration” and decided to move to the young state of Indiana. According to Elizabeth, her father had originally booked passage for the family down the Ohio River on board the steam packet General Pike. Nancy Smith, however, upon seeing the steamboat, flatly refused to travel on what was to her an obviously dangerous craft. Instead, the family made the journey to Jeffersonville, Indiana, on a timber boat that was steered by Nat Cox. Upon reaching Jeffersonville, the family hired a wagon for the trip to Corydon, then the state capital. Displeased with Corydon (what upset Smith about the area is unclear), the family returned to Jeffersonville and there Smith opened a print shop.

The business in Jeffersonville, however, was merely a short stop for Smith, who in moving to Indiana had his eye set on establishing his printing trade in the newly established capital of Indianapolis. Perhaps as Stout had in picking Vincennes as the home for his newspaper, Smith looked forward to winning a contract with Indiana government as the official state printer, a distinction the Gazette later achieved. With the sale of lots in Indianapolis set for the fall of 1821, Smith left Jeffersonville and walked the 111 miles north for the sale.

Upon reaching Indianapolis, Smith bought two lots at the corner of Maryland and West Streets at the intersection of Missouri Street. One of these lots included on it a cabin built by a Kentucky squatter who had deserted it and went back to his native state. Returning to Jeffersonville, again on foot, Smith prepared his family for the move north, all except Nathaniel Bolton, who remained behind to finish some printing work for the state. It was a rough trip; the only settlements the family passed through on their journey were Paoli, Bedford, and Brownstown. They also had to endure a heavy snowstorm, which stopped them dead in their tracks for two days.

Upon reaching Indianapolis Smith, as he had in other locations, set up a print shop in the family home, a one-room cabin that also served as bedroom, dining room, and kitchen. Recalling those early days in Indianapolis, Elizabeth Smith noted that her bed consisted of “two old sugar troughs with rails and short board laid crossways, on which was placed a good feather bed ‘made up nice.’” Her father and mother slept on a bed made with buckeye logs and rails, overlaid with brush. Uncle Nat Cox and a journeyman printer hired to help with work at the fledgling newspaper slept in a neighboring cabin owned by Doctor Kenneth A. Scudder.

In spite of the cramped conditions, Smith, with thirteen-year-old Elizabeth’s help (she had learned how to set type that winter) issued the first edition of the Indianapolis Gazette on January 28, 1822. Jacob Piatt Dunn Jr., in his history of the city, Greater Indianapolis, said that the Gazette was printed on “an old-fashioned, two-pull, Ramage hand press.” Such a primitive press limited a printer's production to approximately seventy-five impressions per hour. After setting type, forms were hand-inked by Smith and Bolton with buckskin balls stuffed with wool. When not in use, these balls were kept soft with liberal doses of raccoon oil. The two outside pages of the four-page newspaper were usually printed early in the week, according to Dunn, with the inside pages on Friday and the whole paper released to subscribers on Saturday.

A subscription to the Gazette cost two dollars, if paid within two months after subscribing, two dollars and fifty cents if within six months or three dollars thereafter. In lieu of cash—often in short supply in pioneer days—the newspaper accepted for payment “produce of every description . . . if delivered at the office.” Rags, a vital substance for the production of newspapers in those days, were also taken in lieu of cash. This barter system for purchasing newspapers continued in Indiana for many years. All the way up until the late nineteenth century of small-town newspapers took produce and livestock for payment.

In that first issue of the Gazette, Smith issued the following statement of purpose for his periodical:

We, this day, issue the first number of the Indianapolis Gazette, without comment: believing that we shall receive a generous support so long as we continue to publish it on principle consonant to the government and the times we live under. The Gazette will be enlarged to a sheet not inferior to any in the state as soon as the support will justify it.

Smith had all the confidence in the world that such support would be forthcoming. Although local news was often lacking in pioneer newspapers, Smith did in that first issue expound a bit on the bright future facing Indianapolis:

The improvement of this town since the sale of lots in October last has surpassed the expectations of those who entertained the greatest hopes of its future prosperity. There have been erected forty dwelling houses and several workshops since that period, and many other buildings are now in contemplation. One grist and two saw-mills are now in operation, within one mile of the centre of the town, and several others are nearly ready to be put into operation, equally as near. Business is comparatively lively at this time. We have, already, mechanics and professional men of the following description and number, to wit: 13 carpenters and joiners, 4 cabinet makers, 8 blacksmiths, 4 boot and shoe makers, 2 tailors, 1 hatter, 2 tanners, 1 saddler, 1 cooper, 4 bricklayers, 2 merchants, 7 houses of entertainment, 3 groceries, 1 school master, 4 physicians, one minister of the gospel and 3 counselors at law.

There were numerous problems to be faced, however, by anyone foolhardy enough to attempt publishing a newspaper on the frontier during the early nineteenth century. “The first problem of the printer,” noted one Indiana newspaper historian, “was to get paper, the second to get news, and the third to get paid.”

Securing the necessary paper for printing a newspaper proved to be a difficult task for any Indiana publisher at this time. Until 1826, when one was opened north of Madison, there were no paper mills in the state. According to Justin H. Brown, an early chronicler of Smith’s life, the paper for the Gazette’s first issue was brought by wagon from Springfield, Ohio, by George Smith’s father. Inadequate paper supplies sometimes led to the newspaper suspending publication for a week or two.

For news to fill the Gazette's columns, Smith and Bolton had did not have the luxury of turning to a newsroom of trained reporters ready at a moment's notice to scour the countryside unearthing interesting tidbits for readers. Instead, they had to rely on a unpredictable source—the mail. At a time when local news was “all over town,” noted Dunn, by the time it made its way to an editor, national and international news dominated newspaper columns. In fact, one scholar has noted, the “more exotic the location, the more news value an item seemed to possess in the minds of pioneer editors.”

To relay this kind of information to his readers, Smith, and other publishers, relied on mail dispatches concerning messages from the federal government and items of interest culled from other newspapers scattered throughout the country. Speeches and other messages from the president and Congress were related to readers in their entirety, without the news analysis that is commonplace today—a boon to politicians wanting to communicate their ideas and plans directly to their constituents.

There was one problem: Indianapolis had no post office nor any regular mail service at the time the Gazette started publication. Smith set out to remedy the situation. On January 30, 1822, a meeting was held at Hawkins’ tavern to arrange a private mail service. Under this system, all the mail for the community would be gathered at one post office and brought back to the city by a rider hired especially for that task. Those attending the meeting hired Aaron Drake as carrier and arranged with him to bring the mail from Connersville once a month.

Drake issued a circular to postmasters requesting that they forward all mail for Indianapolis to the Connersville office. Drake’s first distribution of the mail was very dramatic. “He returned from his . . . trip after nightfall," according to Brown, “his horn sounding far through the woods, arousing the people who turned out in the bright moonlight to greet him and learn the news.” An Indianapolis post office finally opened for business on March 7, 1822, putting Drake out of a job. Even with a post office in the community, the flow of news could be halted by everything from bad weather to incompetent post riders, who sometimes fortified themselves with alcohol before setting out on their journeys.

Even with adequate paper supplies and fresh news from the mails, the Gazette’s owners faced a never-ending struggle to make ends meet. George Cottman, Indiana Magazine of History founder and a printer himself, noted that in the early days of Indiana statehood "the sentiment seemed to prevail that the newspaper man and the doctor could wait for their pay a little longer than any one else." Along with subscriptions, Smith relied for income on classified advertising (Calvin Fletcher was a frequent advertiser on behalf of his law practice) and printing such items as pamphlets, handbills, cards and blank forms of every description, which, Smith and Bolton claimed, would be “executed at this office on a short notice and on moderate terms.”

To help keep their business solvent, Smith and Bolton also printed and offered for sale through advertisements in the Gazette books and almanacs. One of the first books the Indianapolis printers offered to the public was one titled The Indiana Justice and Farmers Scrivener, which contained information on the office and duties of justices of the peace, sheriffs, clerks, coroners, constables, township officers, jurymen, and jailers. Also, the book included a number of examples of written contracts that a farmer, mechanic or trader would have occasion for using during their life. Even in pioneer days, lawyers had to contend with a do-it-yourself ethic.

An 1831 almanac printed by Smith and Bolton, a copy of which is in the Indiana Historical Society's William Henry Smith Memorial Library, offered information not only on the phases of the moon aspects of the planets, but also listings of federal and state officials and helpful advice for Indianapolis gardeners.

Smith and Bolton published the Gazette together until July 1829 when politics came between them. Until that time, the newspaper had been politically neutral, a path that Bolton wished to continue. His step-father, however, wanted the paper to support Andrew Jackson and his policies. Bolton remained in charge of the Gazette while Smith announced his intentions to start a new paper to be known as The Jacksonian. In an August 6, 1829, letter printed in the Gazette, Smith proclaimed to readers that materials for The Jacksonian “are now ready and will shortly be here from Cincinnati.” Unfortunately, if any such newspaper was published, there is no record of it today.

Smith’s dream of a pro-Jackson newspaper did come true. On October 22, 1829, George L. Kinnard took over as part owner of the Gazette, changed its name to the Indiana State Gazette, and turned the newspaper's politics to pro-Democratic and a staunch supporter of Jackson. In late March 1830, the newspaper’s last ties to the Smith family dissolved as Bolton sold his interest to Alexander F. Morrison and the paper’s name was changed again, to the Indiana Democrat and State Gazette.

After leaving the printing business, Smith retired to his farm, called Mount Jackson, which was located on Indianapolis’s near west side. After what was described as a long illness, Smith died on April 10, 1836. His stepson, Bolton, took over the Mount Jackson farm and lived there with his wife, the poet Sarah T. Bolton. The two operated a tavern on the site until 1845, when the Boltons sold the property to the state as the new home for the Central Hospital for the Insane. In 1851 Bolton was elected as state librarian and four years later was named as consul to Geneva, Switzerland, by President Franklin Pierce. He remained in Switzerland until 1857, when ill health forced him to return to Indianapolis. He died on November 26, 1858.

Most Indiana historians would probably agree that Smith was not an outstanding newspaper man. But he typified the pioneer editor and provided through the pages of his newspaper a valuable resource to his readers. As R. C. Buley noted in his classic The Old Northwest, the Gazette and other newspapers of its type played a vital role in pioneer society, furnishing “the bulk of the knowledge of the essentials of representative government,” a task still being undertaken by newspapers today.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Happy Birthday Juliet

Saturday, January 7, is the birthday of a Hoosier original, Juliet Strauss, who was born on that day in 1863 in Rockville, Indiana.

During her life, Strauss wrote for her hometown Rockville Tribune newspaper and produced a steady stream of common-sense, down-to-earth observations on life for Indiana readers of her weekly “Country Contributor” column in the Indianapolis News and, from 1905 until her death in 1918, for the approximately one million Ladies' Home Journal subscribers through her column “The Ideas of a Plain Country Woman.”

Strauss came to be considered as one of the most widely read female writers in America. Indiana historian Jacob Piatt Dunn, Jr., who noted that Strauss’s writing possessed the Hoosier characteristic of “optimism and wholesomeness,” claimed that the Rockville writer was “more widely read than any American essayist has ever been.” In the history of the world, Dunn went on to say of Strauss, “nobody ever wrote so much about the common things of everyday life, and held their readers.”

I first came across Strauss while doing research for an article on Indiana’s centennial celebration for Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History in 1991. Her life and work intrigued me and I subsequently wrote an article about her career for the spring 1995 issue of Traces, which examined Hoosier literature. Through the years, I have developed a genuine fondness for this Hoosier original whose column "The Ideas of a Plain Country Woman" in the Ladies’ Home Journal attracted readers from throughout the country. It was not only her work for the Journal, and her columns in both the Rockville Tribune and Indianapolis News, that drew me into investigating her life, but also her dedicated efforts at saving from destruction the scenic splendor that now is Turkey Run State Park. The result was my biography, The Country Contributor: The Life and Times of Juliet V. Strauss, published in 1998.

What writer could resist examining the life of a person who had so dedicated a following that the Woman’s Press Club of Indiana spearheaded an effort to erect a statue in Strauss’s honor at the park, which was sculpted by Myra R. Richards of Indianapolis. What was it about “The Country Contributor” that inspired this intriguing work, titled Subjugation? The impressive statue features a graceful figure of a woman with one arm outstretched holding aloft a slender goblet. Her other hand rests on the head of a peacock, which symbolizes pride. Crouched before the woman are a lion, representing brute force, and a tiger, signifying treachery. In the folds of the gown that fall from her figure are an ape, representing imitation in contrast to the genuine, and a wild boar, signifying gluttony. How many hikers have passed by this site and wondered how it came to be at Turkey Run?

There are, however, more complex reasons for a biographer to devote time and energy to their craft. I would be remiss if I failed to point out that I was drawn to Strauss in part because she captivated me with her frank comments about her life and career. In one example, she wrote George Cottman, Hoosier historian and Indiana Magazine of History founder, expressing her frustration early in her career over her failed attempts at convincing publishers to print her work. She confessed to Cottman that it made her “sick to see others who have scarcely a grain of talent printing their trash in respectable publications.” A bitter and self-serving statement perhaps, but it is also an honest one.