Some Succeeded . . . Some Failed
October 30, 1994
It was obviously a hard struggle establishing a newspaper on the Texas frontier of the 1840's. Most of the settlements were very small and scattered; the majority of the residents of an area dwelled far away from any sizable community. The mails were uncertain; there were no deliver boys on bicycles. If an enterprising journalist attempted to provide necessary information to his neighbors, the means of getting the news to them was almost seemingly insurmountable.
But, some of the journalists succeeded; some failed. As mentioned in this space last week we have no knowledge of why the first Bonham and Fannin County newspaper folded after only a few small issues. Its demise perhaps came about when it was purchased by a rival publisher to stamp out the competition.
The archetypical newspaperman, Charles DeMorse didn't seem to be any more successful than the handful of early journalists who attempted to influence Fannin Countians through the medium of the printed page.
The most successful of these earliest journals was The Bonham Advertiser. At least it was successful in terms of longevity. Where the first papers lasted only a few issues to one or two years at best, The Advertiser managed to survive for about six years.
DeMorse does seem to have provided the impetus for the growth of the new publication and along with Richard S. Hunt was a founding father of the paper. The Bonham Advertiser was from the beginning, as were all the other frontier newspapers, a weekly publication.
In its initial year of publication the paper, according to information in the two oldest extant copies, was published every Thursday. And if we assume that from the premiere issue the paper was published every week without a break, then we find that The Advertiser began publication on March 1, 1849. The first of the two extant copies owned by the Fannin County Musem of History is listed at Volume 1, No. 32, and is dated October 4, 1849.
The paper is small, only eighteen inches by eleven and a half inches and contains only four columns per page. In terms of today's measurements it would be almost tabloid size. The type is somewhat smaller than the standard type used in today's publications. There is a scarcity of headlines over news items; these bold type additions are only in slightly larger print than the articles themselves and are more likely to appear over advertisements than news items.
In addition to the October 4 edition, the Fannin County Museum also owns an October 18, 1849 edition. Both of these papers, which are in remarkably good condition, were the prized possessions of Bob Cantrell, long-time editor of The Bonham Daily Favorite. The papers were given to the museum by Mrs. Cantrell in her husband's memory.
Both of the papers are single sheets printed on both sides. However, consultation with several experienced persons who deal with historic newspapers make it seem evident that the third and fourth pages of the papers are missing. Typically these early papers printed most local items on the third page and both papers have a marked lack of local news. In fact there is a distinct shortage of news of any kind on the two pages.
The masthead on the front page contains the paper's name in an outlined style type with heavy shading on the right hand side of the lettering. The letters are 3/4 of an inch high. Immediately below is the legend "Published every Tuesday by DeMorse and Hunt at $2.00 per year." The bottom line of the masthead contains the volume and number, and the place of publication.
The two left hand columns of the front page are devoted to an extensive advertisement for "John Bull's Fluid Extract of Sarsparilla." Following the product name comes a section extolling the powers of the extract to cure a long list of diseases and medical conditions. The greater part of the ad is then devoted to the standard testimonials given by physicians and satisfied users of the product. The last line of the ad informs the public that bottles of the wonder medicine are available in Bonham at L.C. Alexander and Co.
In the absence of wire services, electronic transmissions, etc. the newspapers of 1849 were dependent upon the procurement of other publications, from around the country, for a variety of news. Most of these early papers are replete with news items copied from a wide variety of sources and quite often much of the news was several weeks old when the reader of The Advertiser learned of state, national, and occasionally international happenings.
The remainder of the front page of the October 4th edition was devoted to other advertisements, legal notices, and about half a column devoted to a number of mildly amusing anecdotes and philosophical items.
Page 2 of this edition does contain one interesting piece of information under the small version of the masthead. In a boxed section a notice informs the readers that "The Bonham Advertiser is by law entitled to the legal advertising of the following counties, it being the only newspaper published thereto: Fannin, Grayson, Colin, Cook, Denton, Hunt, Dallas, Henderson, and Navarro."
Assuming that this information is correct then it seems that Hunt and DeMorse had something of a monoply on the newspaper field in northeast Texas during those early years.
The remainder of page 2 has extensive short news items from around the State of Texas including notice of some Indian raids in the western reaches of the state. There are more extensive articles on situations on Mexico and Cuba.
Perhaps the most intriguing item on this page is an advertisement/news brief headed BONHAM FEMALE SEMINARY. The. article continues, "This institution seems to be permanently established. Parents and guardians may send their daughters and wards with the full assurance that every facility will be afforded for their thorough education. The Winter Session will commence on the first day of October next. Tuition will be $1.25 per month... The schoolroom is connected with the dwelling of the proprietress and as many as twenty young ladies can be accommodated with bedding, boarding, rooms, fires, and candles for $1.00 per week, (signed) Delilah Burney."
There are no records to refute that this may well be the first established boarding school in the county. In fact this may be the first advertised educational facility to be established in the area and about only the third school of record in the annals of the county.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas