Fannin County and the Fourth Estate
Bonham Daily Favorite, October 16, 1994
In recent years, those who purport to know such things have declared that the newspaper will be a thing of the past. That is, the newspaper in its present form will be a thing of the past. Instead "all the news that is fit to print" will come to us by electronic means. To get one's daily dose of national and international happenings, business, dealings, sport, etc. one will punch up the selected news organization on a computer screen, sit hunched over a plastic video display and electronically and symbolically turn the pages of the Daily Gazette.
Like many previous predictions this one has the aura of possibility. Certainly we are beginning to raise a generation of children who sit mesmerized in front of a vast arrays of flickering screens to be entertained and informed much like the previous generation who sat in front of a flickering screen in the family living room or den to be entertained and informed through the new and wonderful media of television.
I can't imagine any satisfaction to be derived from an electronic center as my source of entertainment, pleasure, and education. Will I have to be chained to one central locale in my home in order to read the daily? How can I fold a display screen to sit comfortably to the left of my plate at the breakfast table so that I can read William F. Buckley's marvelous presentation of the English language. How can I fold the display screen into a compact configuration that allows me to rear back in the recliner and work the New York Time's Crossword Puzzle? Will I be forced to constantly move the cursor up, down, backwards, and forwards to fill in the blank? I think not!
For those who are so eager for us to rush onto the information highway perhaps a little reflective look at the history of that honorable fourth estate will temper the urge for the electronic miracle.
Newspapering in Fannin County is almost as old as the county itself. In the pages of this and other journals, some of our venerable newspaper men have delineated the history of journalism within the confines of the county boundaries. And most every time their scholarship has been somewhat lacking as to times, places, and peoples. In the very recent past more information about Fannin County newspapers and the newspapermen (this is not a male chauvinistic statement, there is no evidence of females in the editorial offices of the county's first newspapers) has come to light and perhaps it is time to take a fresh look at the subject.
Fannin County newspapers come from a long and proud tradition. In Colonial America we know that printing presses were functional at Boston and Philadelphia, but no one had had the inspiration to disseminate current information using the printing press. The first newspaper to appear in the Colonies was published in 1690 by Benjamin Harris under the masthead "Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestic."
Newspapers appeared in Texas long before the revolution with the first paper produced entirely in Texas being printed under a May 25, 1813 date. The Gaceta de Texas made its appearance in Nacogdoches under the guidance of William Shaler and Jose Alvarez de Toledo.
With the advent of freedom from Mexico, the doors opened to numbers of Anglo journalists who often traveled with their own printing equipment and who quickly set up shop in the most likely looking locales. Almost before the smoke cleared from the field at San Jacinto Republic of Texas journals were making themselves known. Despite the early settlement in the Red River Valley, Fannin County failed to attract either printer or publisher for a local newspaper in those nearly ten years of the Republic of Texas. The closest that the county could claim was a regional publication at Clarksville called The Northern Standard. During those early years from 1842 until 1846 much Fannin County news appeared in these pages.
Other journalistic sources indicate that Bonham and Fannin County's first paper was established in Bonham in July, 1846. As with many of the early papers in the area, no copies are known to exist. The first documented proof comes from a Fannin County probate file which contains a bill for publication and a copy of the probate notice, published in the newspaper, from a legal notice to an estate. The bill lists Thomas J. Langdon, editor of The Bonham Sentinel.
Evidently only a few issues were published and again other sources indicate that Charles DeMorse, editor and publisher of The Northern Standard purchased the paper from Langdon. It appears that Joseph A. Clark and John Shaffer became owners in 1847. At least Clark is listed as editor in additional probate notices in January, 1847 and in March of that same year he and Shaffer are listed as "proprietors." The two evidently changed the name of the publication later in the year.
It remains unclear as to whether DeMorse continued publishing The Bonham Sentinel under that name after his purchase or whether he was merely buying out his competition. Because of his highly successful The Northern Standard, DeMorse, using the offices of the Sentinel, published The Standard simultaneously in Bonham and Clarksville for much of 1846 and into 1847.
Location for offices of either The Sentinel or The Standard, in Bonham, are unknown. However, Joseph Clark, on May 7, 1847 purchased a lot on the north side of the square. Since a long standing tradition required that newspaper offices be in the heart of their community, this site seems a likely location for the publication.
For whatever reason, Clark and Shaffer decided to rename their journal. Clark evidently had some influence in the choice of names when the paper was first issued as The Western Argus. In the late 1820's Clark had been associated with George W. Bonnell in the publication of The Argus in Selma, Alabama.
Again, no copies of The Western Argus are known to exist. The paper has been characterized as a Whig publication ostensibly from the Whig party organized in 1834 in opposition to the U.S. Democratic Party.
Dr. Marilyn M. Sibley, in her study of Texas newspaper before the Civil War entitled "Lone Stars and States Gazettes," states that Clark and Shaffer sold the Argus to James Sharp before the end of 1847. However, Clark seemingly did not disassociate himself from the publication until 1848 when he appears publishing the Trinity Advocate at Palestine, Texas. Shaffer's name continues to appear as proprietor until July of 1848. In October, 1848, J.M. Sharp appears as editor. Sibley states that the next year Sharp sold his interest to Robert C. Matthewson and James W. Latimer who moved the operations to Paris where they published the Texas Times for a brief period.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas