Gatchell started first newspaper in Wadena
On March 24, 1877, a gentleman by the name of Prince Arthur Gatchell started the first newspaper in Wadena named The Tribune. The Duluth Tribune described Gatchell to be about as sprightly as any chap on the Northern Pacific road.
Another Duluth paper described the Tribune as a neat little paper and clean in its appearance. A neat six-column, four-page sheet, well edited.
Later that year S.S. Gardner, a local real estate agent, began publishing the Wadena Real Estate Journal which he stated he started as an advertising medium and for his own amusement. However, it was a short-lived publication being suspended before the end of that year. This paper was printed at Brainerd.
The subscription rate for one year for the Tribune was $2 in money or two bushels of #1 wheat, 12 pounds of nice good butter, 13 dozen eggs or 8 bushels of potatoes.
On Nov. 16, 1878, came the announcement that after the 25th of this month the paper will be presented as the Wadena County Tribune and published at Verndale. The change to be made simply as a business point of view because of the generous and unsolicited proposition extended to us by the wide awake businessmen and citizens of Verndale.
In 1878, a man by the name of Joseph E. Hall and his brother were the owners of the Fargo Argus newspaper. They split and Joseph, along with a man by the name of McClure, came to Wadena and started the Northern Pacific Farmer, a weekly newspaper. Hall did not recall the date of the first issue but did vividly recall the production. It began with an old Washington hand press which they had picked up in Fargo, and the shop was located in a story-and-a-half unfinished building, built by contributed labor and material of its citizens on a lot facing the railroad contributed by the Northern Pacific (probably 23 Aldrich Ave. SE).
During this printing, there were many local spectators and Mr. Hall, at 5-feet, 6-inches, tells of operating the hand press, which he was very familiar with. A young local blacksmith, with some reputation for strength asked if he could try pulling the lever to operate the press. In so doing he tried several times before he could operate it and upon the return of the lever he was jerked over the frame to the delight of other spectators.
The first advertisement placed was an ad for the upcoming Fourth of July celebration in Wadena. It proved quite difficult because of the lack of materials and type.
In 1880, Hall and McClure parted company and Hall took on W. Jay Whipple as a partner. Later that year, George Whitney, one of the town leaders, purchased Hall's interest and he and Jay Whipple ran the paper until 1883.
In 1883, they sold the paper to Amzi H. Bereman and George Wilson still under the name of Northern Pacific Farmer. However in 1886 they changed the name to Wadena County Pioneer. In 1887, on Bereman's death, the paper was sold to the Reynolds brothers, Joseph and B. M. They operated the paper until 1891 when they sold it to Charles C. Eastman.
According to Alvah Swindlehurst, a long-time editor up until at least 1913, local newspapers were little more than a jumble of old and almost worthless material, poorly housed and requiring almost super human effort on the part of the publishers to accomplish the weekly task of issuing their papers.
In 1885, Edward H. Love and A. C. Archer, editors of the Bluffton News, moved the paper to Wadena and established the Wadena Tribune. A few years later they sold this to M. L. Vought and the next year he sold to Harold T. Bivans, who in 1897 sold to the Swindlehurst Brothers, William and Alvah. They were an interesting couple, Alvah having been born in Wadena and the paper strongly Democrat differing with their arch Republican rival the Wadena Pioneer Journal. Alvah was the son of Joseph Swindlehurst, the first blacksmith in Wadena, graduated in the class of 1891 and is said to have had a beautiful tenor singing voice. He married a local girl, Jennie Beach, and in 1905 with the consolidation of papers he became editor of the Pioneer Journal, a position he held until 1913 when he left Wadena to become the U.S. Land Agent at Cass Lake. He was succeeded by Harald Boen as editor. Over the years he and Boen became good friends.
The Swindlehurst brothers were very positive in their beliefs and judgments. For some reason they took a dislike to the Wadena mayor, Robert F. C. Iltis, a local druggist.
They accused him, in his office as mayor, of being in favor of the establishment and maintenance of houses of ill fame in this city, that he fostered them with a tender solicitude and that he was a frequent and favored visitor to some of these places. As proof, Editor Swindlehurst had as a star witness, a poor fallen woman, who at one time conducted a house of ill repute in this city and upon complaint of citizens Mayor Iltis ordered her and the occupants of another house out of the city last spring. Anyway, the jury ruled in favor of Iltis and he was awarded $1. Mike Daly of Perham was the defense attorney and P. V. Coppernoll of Wadena worked for Iltis. Bear in mind that the above appeared in the rival newspaper, the Pioneer Journal. Headline in the Tribune: "Iltis wins libel trial awarded $1. Big deal." In 1903, Dr. Babcock who was running for state representative, determined that he needed a newspaper to further his cause and purchased the Tribune from the Swindlehursts for $4,000. He hired William Verity, a well- known editor, to run the paper for him. In 1905, they sold out to the Pioneer Journal.
This whole affair becomes a little jumbled when Albert S. McMillan moved from Verndale to start the Wadena Journal (215 Jefferson South). In 1897, he sold this to Charles C. Eastman and C. V. Sayles, owners of the Wadena County Pioneer (118 Jefferson South). These gentlemen combined the two papers forming the Wadena Pioneer Journal -- the newspaper we know today (209 ½ Jefferson, 314 Jefferson South in 2009).
From this time forward the Pioneer Journal dominated the newspaper scene but over the years there were other competitors which were taken over by the Pioneer Journal.
Next week: Teeming with rivals