The Greatest Good to the Greatest Number
Bonham Daily Favorite, December 11, 1994
As the nineteenth century neared an end, Bonham and Fannin County served from an embarrassment of riches if we judge from the number of newspapers issued in the area. Counting the Texas News/Bonham News of post Civil War, Bonham had no less than twelve newspapers in the last quarter of the century. The list included one religious organ which contained a wealth of local news.
Considering that for the first thirty or so years of the existence of Fannin County only six journals were all that managed to make a mark in the journalism annals, it makes one pause and wonder why the sudden eruption that took place as the new century approached. One thread that seems to run through a history of frontier journalism was simply the fact that these early journalists who almost singlehandedly were responsible for the output of these papers were at best of a nomadic turn. Bonham and Fannin County did not alone experience this type of journalism.
Perhaps one major reason the journalists frequently moved on was that more potentially successful climes beckoned from the next town or the next county. Considering the annual subscription rates for most of these papers it's clear that the average journalist didn't make much of a living plying his trade.
As we have seen in previous columns, the journalist's profession was not a safe one. In a society that still settled disputes with firearms and a newspaperman risked his life with most editions of his publication if he made the mistake of supporting causes not popular in his town.
Of these dozen late century papers two impacted Fannin County society to some extent. The others seemed to come and go with the changing of the seasons, left nothing to mark their existence, nor much information about the men who assisted at their births.
One paper which seemed to threaten the popular Bonham News was interesting as much for its rivalry as it was for its founder. In 1870 a young veteran of the late Civil War moved his family to Honey Grove and by June of that year produced the first edition of The Honey Grove Enterprise. [Note: some issues of The Honey Grove Enterprise are available at the Portal to Texas History]
Thomas R. Burnett, a Kentucky native, had moved to Fannin County with his parents, and other siblings, in 1850 when young Tom was eight. The father and older brother bought adjoining farms just to the east of Windom.
Some earlier histories have mistakenly indicated that Tom Burnett did not come to the area until after the war had ended. Burnett did not marry until after his return from the war. On July 1, 1865 he and Miss Elizabeth Piner were married Bonham.
Family tradition says that Burnett apprenticed with a Bonham newspaper in the late 1860's when only a lad of eighteen. His budding career was interrupted on June 12, 1861 when Burnett enlisted with Captain A.J. Nicholson's company of the Texas Militia. Later his unit was absorbed into The Texas Fourteenth Regiment under General Polignac.
Burnett's history from his marriage until the date of the first issue of his Honey Grove paper is unknown. Judging by the quality and character of the writing in the pages of the Enterprise, Burnett must have acquired experience beyond the limited pre-war training he had.
Burnette's publication sold for less than his Fannin County predecessors. One dollar per year "invariably in advance" was the expected sum. There are a number of copies of this paper at several libraries; the Texas Newspaper Collection at The University of Texas in Austin has several.
One article reprinted in Honey Grove papers in past years gives us a sampling of Burnett's direct style of journalism. After the arrival of a circus in September of 1870 Burnett succinctly offered his opinion of the group. "After having been so often humbugged by traveling companies of showmen pretending to exhibit something worthy (to) the attention of our citizens, it was with considerable precaution we allowed ourself to conclude that old John Robinson's caravan was not also a cheat and a swindle.
But when we saw the long train of cage-wagons, preceded by the hand chariot and followed by the Elephant and dromedaries, and had received full pay for the printing contracted for by the agent, together with a half a dozen complimentary tickets, our prejudices were quite all gone."
Burnette's tenure in Honey Grove may have been relatively brief; some documentation indicates that he was publishing The Ladonia Enterprise sometime after his initial issue in Honey Grove. It is possible and not unusual that he may have been responsible for two separate papers at the same time. Whichever is the case, we find that in December of 1872 the McKinney Messenger published a notice that, "The Ladonia Enterprise has been removed to Bonham and appears in an enlarged form. Burnett has forgotten to send us a copy."
At both the Bonham and Honey Grove papers, Burnett used the same lengthy slogan on the masthead. "Principles, and Not Policy; Meaures, and Not Men; The Greatest Good to the Greatest Number."
In a January, 1872 edition of The North Texas Enterprise, the earliest issue extant, the mast head states, "our third year of publication." Evidently Burnett did not subscribe to the idea that moving his paper to a different place of publication should indicate that the first edition in the new locale should be numbered from volume 1, number 1. This same paper ascribes the editorial control to both Burnett and Jim Farr.
Evidently Burnett acquired a partner in the move from Honey Grove. Farr was a popular north Texas attorney with offices in both Bonham and Greenville. In the October 23, 1873 edition of the paper an announcement appeared to the effect that E.C. Cox had become one of the proprietors of the paper. The same edition contained a letter from Farr announcing his separation from the paper.
On January 3, 1874 the Enterprise published a letter from E.C. Cox indicating that for personal reasons he had disposed of his interest in the paper to Burnett. Burnett's reply stated that "today we assume entire ownership of The Enterprise office, a position we have a long time aspired but from which our straitened circumstances kept us debarred."
By 1876 Burnett had once again changed control of the paper when it was announced that A.P. Bagley had become publisher. Two years later Burnett in association with Charles Carlton began publication of The Christian Messenger, an organ for the Disciples of Christ church in Texas. He moved this publication to Dallas about 1890 and continued publication until his ill health forced its sale about 1900.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas