The First Edition of the Texas News
Bonham Daily Favorite, Decmeber 4, 1994
After the incident involving the ministers from the northern branch of the Methodist Church had cooled down, the newspapers of the Red River Valley returned to a more prosaic approach when reporting the news for most of 1860. When L.C. DeLisle divested himself of the ownership of The Bonham Era, successor to John Crane's Bonham Independent, newspapering in Fannin County took on a more serene tone.
As before, in the absence of any real records, we are at a loss to determine how long Richard S. Hunt continued publication of The Era. The last record can be found in the probate files as a billing statement for the month of April 1861. Despite the threat of an impending war, there seems to be a lack of interest on the part of anyone to continue publication of a Fannin County paper.
It would appear that once again the burden of providing news to the citizens of northeast Texas fell to Charles DeMorse and his Clarksville Standard. Information on the rising tide of secessionism and the equally strong opposition to such action was provided only through DeMorse's efforts. It is in these papers that we learn of the sentiments of Fannin County residents. Seemingly from early 1861 until 1866 no paper was published in Fannin County.
DeMorse had no easy task keeping the paper in operation. For most of the war years he himself was away from Clarksville serving as a colonel in the 29th Texas Cavalry. During those years the paper was managed by John R. Woolridge. A shortage of newsprint resulted in a reduction in the size of the publication. Reportedly a few editions were printed in a one page format on the back of wallpaper when newsprint was temporarily unavailable.
Deprived of a reliable news source, the people of Fannin County often had to resort to hearsay information brought by travelers, military personnel arriving at General McCullough's headquarters, or by occasional weeks old papers brought back from business trips to New Orleans, Galveston, or other metropolitan areas.
Even after the cessation of hostilities, it was some time before anyone appeared in the valley to fill the void left those pre-war publications. A man who had more than once attempted the successful publication of a newspaper in the area arrived in Bonham in late 1866. B. Ober, reportedly a native of German, prevailed on the commissioners of the county court to rent him space in the Fannin County Courthouse.
Ober first came to the area about ten years earlier and in 1858 was publishing The Family Visitor in Paris. He reportedly worked on other publications before launching his own. Ober is another mystery man of Fannin County journalism. No records exist to show was the initial B. stood for. He bought or sold no property in the county. His rental of the courthouse space is under the name B. Ober. There is no record of a family or kinship to any resident of the county. What happened to him after his sojourn in Bonham is unknown. And he left little in the way of examples of his work or political philosopy although DeMorse once suggested that The Family Visitor was a "Know Nothing" publication. By the time of his arrival in Bonham the "Know Nothing" Party was pretty much a dead issue.
Sometime in the early winter of 1867 Ober issued the first edition of The Texas News. It seems improbably that the printing offices of the paper could have been in the courthouse, but the commissioners records seem to suggest such was the case. As we have relied on the billings of probate publications for approximate dates of these early papers, we must do the same with The Texas News; on a regular basis Ober was presenting such statements to the probate court.
By January, 1868 John M. and William H. Ragsdale and G. Dailey are listed as owners and publishers of The Texas News. The paper continued under their direction until November 1869 when John Piner purchased Dailey's interest. Piner seems to have had extensive journalism experience and assumed full editorial control leaving the business function of the paper to the Ragsdales.
W.T. Gass, who spent many years editing a number of north Texas newspapers, began his career in 1871 when he bought the Ragsdale's interest. Although Piner still controlled the editorial reins, he proved to be a valuable mentor for the young Gass. Shortly after Gass' arrival George Ivey was added to the publishing staff.
In 1874, the now experienced Gass was offered the opportunity for more editorial responsibility at a Grayson County newspaper and he sold his interest in The News to James Chisolm. Chisolm's participation also seems to have been mainly as a financial investment.
About this time the newspaper offices were moved to a new location on Post Office Row, the section of Main Street just south of the square. Post Office Row had acquired its label before the Civil War when Henry Hoffar, Post Master maintained a mail facility in the middle of that block. This block also saw more commercial development than did the public square. By the time the first train arrived in Bonham in 1873 Main Street south of the square was the main commercial area until its later decline when the nickname was insultingly changed to "Panther Row."
The Texas News occupied offices on the second floor of the building referred to as the Saunders Drugstore building. At the time of The News removal to its new location the building was relatively new and the paper remained there until the building was destroyed by fire in 1910.
The change in location also brought about a change in the masthead. After seven years the now influential paper became The Bonham News. In addition to the name change Piner adopted the masthead slogan as a strong indication of his political philosophy: "For The Free School System and Against O.M. Roberts and All Who Uphold Him, Now, Henceforth, and Forever."
In 1879 Zac Smith became a major financial investor and joined Piner as publisher. After Piner's death in 1883, W.A. J.C., and H.G. Evans, brothers, acquired ownership of the paper and launched one of the longest reigns in Fannin County newspaper history. Although ownership and control changed over the next fifty or so years, a member of the Evans family was associated with the paper until its demise in the late 1940's.
Many copies of the paper are at the Texas Newspaper Collection at the University of Texas including one famous edition of The Texas News containing a letter of defense from Captain Bob Lee of the notorious Lee-Peacock Feud.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas