Editor’s Note: The following history of The Chadron Record and the city of Chadron was written by E.E. Egan, founder of the newspaper, for the paper’s 25th anniversary in 1909. Egan had already sold the newspaper at that time but agreed to write his recollections of the early days of the paper and of Chadron. His story was originally published Dec. 17, 1909, and is excerpts of it are reprinted here.
Born in 1859, reared by a widowed mother through the trying Civil War years in the beautiful village of Elwood, Ill., having the benefit of a high school education, covers in brief the years of my early life. During the last few years of schooling I gained a fair knowledge of the “art preservative” by working during vacation, evenings and Saturdays. Upon graduation I was equipped to formanize a newspaper office in a neighboring town. Thence I stepped to a “working interest” and later proprietorship. But during interims I broadened knowledge of the craft by “going on the road,” working on daily papers in many cities and two years among the “Missouri River pirates,” a nickname for the journeyman printers who covered a rectangular circuit embracing Omaha, St. Joe, Kansas City, Jefferson City, St. Louis, Burlington and Des Moines. This was in 1879-80. In the fall of the latter year, with two companions of similar age, we trekked by wagon to the southwest and passed a year in the Indian territory, then almost a profound wilderness. At the opening of 1882, I was back in newspaper work in Illinois this time for myself. In 1883, after contracting marriage, I was again smitten with “Western fever.”
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So the early months of 1884 found me seeking a location in Dakota or Nebraska. Mr. J.B. Buchanan, general passenger agent of the Elkhorn Valley road, invited me to go for a look to the end of the line, then at Valentine, and I promptly accepted. On the train westward were a number of Levi G. Sweat’s Missouri colony. Their enthusiasm regarding the White River country to which they were bound was contagious and within a few hours after first hearing of this land of promise, I was eagerly picking out my “three rights” in government land as any of the party. Next day at the land office at Valentine I made entries and was making plans and dreaming dreams of the future for a great newspaper 150 miles across the Sandhills wastes. I accompanied the colonists in their wagon train in a few days to “spy out the land.” We made the trip in a week over a reservation road, which avoided the hard trip through the Sandhills further south. Among this party were Levi G. Sweat, S.A. Ballard, T.Y. Grantham and his two sons, Henry Reynolds, Gillespie, Gilliand and among others of the immigrants either in that party or met on other trips were Rev. Wilson, Chas and William Mann, Jim Toomey, Adams, Rees, Cooper and others that memory now refuses to summon.
I had been “adopted” into the colony scheme to start a newspaper on Bordeaux creek which was to be the scene of empire building, but already my luck or “good eye” or whatever it was, had outgrown this pent-up Utica, and I discovered that when the railroad should come (that the road would build west had been expected for years, but it had lain dormant at Valentine for so long that at that time the extension was a far-off future event, if ever) it must make its detour to the Hills around the reservation considerably west of the Bordeaux valley. So in scouting over the country one day I mounted the divide and looked down on the beautiful Chadron Creek valley at its confluence with White River; and fairer natural panorama ne’er greeted prophet’s eyes from pisgah’s height. Rolling valley garbed in spring verdure, winding silver threads of creek and river, the background of pine hills, undulating hills and dales to the westward, with embattled Crow Butte in the mellowing and hazy distance. I was simply enraptured and decided upon the spot to that here was my future. There was a scant half-dozen settlers in the whole valley. Among them I remember Orville Brainerd, Jim Toomey, Lem Cooper, Adams, Mrs. Fannie O’Linn, Cook and son. Brainerd and Toomey were much interested in my adventure, and while patrons appeared few outside the Half Diamond E Ranch, the grazing cattle and coyotes, they promised if I would come over the divide with my newspaper they would see that we should get a post office established and I was to be the postmaster.
There had been in years previous a post office named Chadron with a cowboy postmaster at the Half-Diamond E Ranch, on the star route between Fort Robinson and the Pine Ridge agency; but it had long been discontinued on account of innocuous desuetude. Discouragement was not among the words in my lexicon those days.
In Chicago I bought an “army press” that held one page of six columns, 200 pounds of type, a meager supply of other materials and grub enough in the raw for several months ahead. I shipped this outfit at emigrant rates in a car with three horses, wagon, etc., I had bought with an eye to independence of freighters.
At Pine Ridge the first subscription to the new newspaper was made by Trader Ed Robinson, and the two dollars he tendered voluntarily looked mighty large to me. Onward down the slope into the Beaver Valley our spirits grew light and at last we reached Nelson’s ranch on Bordauex to meet again the same royal welcome. Here we found Uncle Dave Mears making preparations to open a store, and as soon as informed that a newspaper had come he ordered the first ad and cinched the bargain with $10 pay in advance. Monte Cristo’s thrill with “The World is Mine” had nothing on my enthusiasm now. We proceeded in high hopes to a camp on Chadron creek and lost no time hauling logs from the hills to build our house and business office. This was 20x20 feet inside with dirt roof and literally a “ground floor,” with by wagon sheet stretched through the center to divide the “house” from the “office.”
Events crowded rapidly now. I mounted the hurricane deck of a white-eyed cayuse and rode to Fort Robinson for business. The stranger I addressed proved to be William E. Annin, connected with the Omaha Bee, out to Fort Robinson for a few weeks’ recreation, where he owned an interest in the traders store. He sized me up in astonishment and when he could find words, broke out: “Do you mean to tell me that you are starting a newspaper in that wilderness?” I modestly confessed that I was discovered. “Well,” he said, “Any man with a nerve like that can have a half-page ad here.” He was as good as his word, treated me royally, gave me the copy for the ad, kept it running all that winter at $25 a month, which was a tremendous aid to meager resources, besides adding that sort of prosperity look to the paper so dear to the newspaper man’s heart.
The First Paper
It was now “rush copy” to issue the long-delayed paper. “Rush copy” in this case was purely figurative for I had no time to write, but stood up the rack and set the matter “out of my head.” The natural beauties, resources and advantages of the region were emphasized to make the strongest possible appeal for the White River country to homeseekers, supplemented by the many items of oddities, such as the play of children “going beading,” stringing many-colored beads collected by the ants about their hills, for this spot was the many years the site of a great Sioux Village, and the scene of one of the greatest sun dances. The paper was widely quoted for its spiciness as well as its enthusiasm regarding the “banana belt” and promised land, and I have always considered that those first few months under difficulties encompassed the best newspaper work I ever did.
At last the first issue of the Sioux County Journal was off the press November 6, 1884, and to say that I was proud that Vol. 1, No. 1, very feebly expresses my feelings. My brother wielded the roller while I cranked the army press, and we were speedily prepared for the rush at the “mailing and counting rooms.” I had been unable to secure any windows or doors for my log cabin, so some idea may be had of the fine fall weather that fall to know that it was warm enough for printing a paper in the open air Nov. 6.
For something like a year the name was the Sioux County Journal because all Northwest Nebraska, which later became Dawes, Sheridan, Butte and Sioux, was then the unorganized county of Sioux. In 1885, by legislative act the territory was split up, and the citizens of Dawes county proceeded to organize. The Journal became the Dawes County Journal, the name it continued to bear for the years while it bore my name at the head.
In Sioux County, The Journal was the first paper. Sometime in December, about four weeks after the Journal, the first paper started in Gordon, and for more than a year these were the only papers in the county. When the Journal started, its nearest contemporaries were at Valentine, Sidney and Rapid City.
How Chadron Was Named
The date-line of The Journal in its first issue was “Chadron, Nebraska, Nov. 6,” and thereby hangs the tale of how the town was named and how saved from one-time threatened extinction. As I have related, it was promised by settlers on my spring trip that a post office would be applied for, and that I should serve as Uncle Sam’s representative. When I arrived with my printshop in the fall, however, the first news item I struck while yet on the road was that Mrs. Fannie O’Linn had during my absence east sent in a petition and an office had been established named O’Linn, located on the O’Linn homestead, with the lady herself as postmaster.
Emphatically I declared that I would not publish a paper at O’Linn, Nebraska. The lure of the beautiful picture I remembered of Chadron valley, together with an inborn trait of not turning back after taking hold of the handles of the plow, decided me to go forward and to publish The Journal under the date-line of Chadron, in spite of all the power of post office, widow and Uncle Sam combined.
To decide meant to do, and keep going, and each week the glories of the White River country, linked with the name of Chadron, were blazoned on the world, and the army press was pressed to the limit to grind out enough Journals to supply the demand of people who came whence I not know to get the newspaper to send to friends in other states. Mrs. O’Linn vigorously combated my idea, and all who know that estimable lady will no she was no mean antagonist. Be it understood that this involved no rancor nor disrespect, for Mrs. O’Linn and myself could not help being personally friendly, and so far as I know we always continued to be friendly. But it was no easy task for a frontiersman to contend against a lady, when that lady was resourceful, keen and employed every resource to win her point on perpetuating the name O’Linn among the towns on the map. But the power of the press was too much. The incoming tide of homeseekers, business men and speculators from the four quarters, all sought for and heralded the name Chadron, and the next year when the railroad gave the name to its townsite, the postal authorities acceded to the demand of the citizens and the post office name was also changed.
Before this climax, however, a combination of circumstances came near bringing all my efforts to naught, and very nearly relegated the name of Chadron among the memories of the things that were. When in the summer of 1885 the Elkhorn Valley extension was nearing Bordeaux, the railroad people began laying plans for a townsite on White River. First choice was the future junction point where the Wyoming and Black Hills lines would diverge, the natural location. Here already was the old town of Chadron, a community numbering about 500. Here was a townsite of special desirability as to ground, water and other advantages. Negotiations were opened by the railroad people with Mrs. O’Linn, whose homestead was the key to the situation. It is not necessary to recount all the points of disagreement, but the name of the townsite was among them, and the railroad refusing, as I had done a year previous, to concede that the town would be named O’Linn.
The matter drifted for a few weeks, and then a quiet stranger appeared wanted to buy a dairy ranch. After scouting over the country he bought six quarter-sections and departed, and soon the old town residents nearly threw a collective fit when the news came that the section and a half dairy farm was to be the new railroad town, five miles back from our beloved choice. And for a double misfortune, the railroad town was already christened Bordeaux.
At this juncture came an opportune visit of P.E. Hall, Supt. of Construction, and Marvin Hughhitt, then general manager of the Chicago & Northwestern. They found the citizens dissatisfied and almost in open revolt regarding the removal to the new and distasteful townsite, some ready to leave the country, others advocating a mass meeting to charter a town and compel the railroad to put in a depot. It was not a satisfactory condition for town buildings, and Messrs Hughitt and Hall asked a conference with me. Burr and Shelton had stressed to them the reliance of the people in The Journal and advised them that I might be influential to throw oil upon troubled waters and I met the gentlemen in Mr. Shelton’s store.
After some talk sounding the situation they frankly asked my aid to gain the cooperation of the people for their new town. I asked regarding its proposed name and was told it was to be Bordeaux. And then with a zeal of eloquence I never equaled before or since, I poured out my whole soul in a plea for the preservation of the name of Chadron. I don’t think I could have overlooked any argument in its favor, chief of which, of course, was that it had been so persistently and widely advertised, was known all over the west, which would be a valuable asset to upbuilding a new town; alto that it was beloved by the people and if the name went to the new town it might be possible to get the business houses of the old town to follow.
The argument was a winner, and at last Mr. Hughitt said to me: “If you will help us secure the cooperation of these people in building our new town, we will give you the name of Chadron.” And I think without egotism that I may therefore lay claim to the godfather’s honor of the christening. And there is much in a name, the poet to the contrary notwithstanding.
The Old Town
In the valley when I arrived, as before related, there were bare half-dozen families of settlers. I had taken a homestead a mile east on the rise of the hill but desiring to locate business on the waterway, I was granted permission to build my log cabin on the homestead of Judge Jason P. Wood, on the bank of Chadron creek, near its junction with White River and adjoining Mrs. O’Linn’s homestead on the south. The tide was settling in, however, and in a few weeks Judge Wood came from Valentine and built his “store,” a shack about 10x12 feet, alongside The Journal office. Across the hill east, Bonnell opened a store, and Uncle Dave Mears commenced business in a room of Pete Nelson’s house at Bordeaux. Then came Burr Shelton, who built the first pretentious lumber structure with a real stock of goods on the shelves. He built on the O’Linn homestead, and this was the nucleus for the old town.
Then came the first saloon, Angel’s Place, alongside Shelton. These comprised the business of the community the first winter.
These were trying times for newspaper work. My log hut proved to be a “fair weather house,” but the blizzard found unknown chink holes, and the dry snow, fine as flour, drifted clear across the room. It was impossible to set type more than a few minutes at a time, and a stove at white heat burned those gathered around it on one side why they would actually freeze on the other side. It was necessary to revolve the body to warm it all around.
Outside the howling storm filled the air with snow so that for days at a time not the faintest outlines of Wood’s store was visible, though only 20 feet distant. Mail service was suspended, so that not only no news was available from the outside world, but my supply of weekly ready-prints could not come. Here my foresight in providing a stock of paper in my emigrant supplies was justified, for despite the almost desperate conditions, The Journal never once missed an issue or failed to be published on time each week.
During this storm the first tragedy occurred in the new community. One morning the blizzard suddenly abated and the flying frost points. Young Elmer Rees left home, gun in hand for a hunt along the creek. The pitiless blizzard closed down again as suddenly as it had lifted; the boy never returned. The alarm went out, and on the second day the men formed a lock-step file and tramped about in search through the storm, but without avail. Young Rees’ body was found when the snow melted in the spring, not over a quarter of a mile from home.
With the saloon came also the “shooting up” of the town, and gangs of cowboys in their favorite pastimes were a terror to the “tenderfeet.” One such trip the saloon man was compelled to sell his cartridges to be used in riddling the place. And after an evening of fun there was not an article of furniture, door or window that would hold together, while the walls and ceilings resembled a sieve. The Journal severely condemned the practice, being advised by friends that it would be punished by being “shot up,” but on the contrary the cowboys admitted themselves that it was wrong, stood by the paper and largely stopped the practice. While the pioneer community was never free from the sound of firearms, there was far less trouble than in other towns, and never was a man hurt in the old town by the promiscuous gun play.
During the opening of 1885 it became generally known that the extension west of Valentine was a certainty, and then ensued a wild rush for the “Magic City” on White River. One after another came business men with stocks of goods by wagon train, waiting not for investigation but inquiring along hundreds of miles of way for Chadron. Up would go a tent or a board shanty, goods on shelves and the merchant doing business a few hours after arrival and demanding an ad in the paper. Soliciting for ads was not necessary now, but rather apologies for lack of space, and asking the merchant to use less space than he wanted. I was frantically trying to get a Washington press and printers from the east, but transportation companies had more business than they could handle. By the time the old Washington arrived, it was actually outgrown, and only by running the press almost night and day every day were we able to get out pages enough and papers enough. So great was the pressure that for several issues there was only one and a half columns of news matter and only the most important events got mentioned in solid nonpareil. All the rest of The Journal was advertisements, but these were all news – all new men, all new and welcome events. Not all could be accommodated and some merchants were actually angered and cherished resentment against The Journal for years because I could not make room in the paper for more ads, and as large ads as a rival was fortunate to have by prior contract. Talk of the strenuous life! These days were “going some.”
At this time John Berry made good one of his friendly promises of the winter. He came to conduct the sale of the lots by auction in the new townsite, and by his choice, I had been selected to be resident agent of the townsite company, the firm to be Berry & Egan. This was the first experience of the Northwestern Railroad in buying and handling a townsite, and the Pioneer Townsite Co. was formed as its vehicle. Prior to this its hundreds of townsites were located on the land of private individuals, and sold by them, giving the road an interest. As the time drew near for the sale, there was a tremendous influx of prospective business men and speculators and it became evident there was a fierce rivalry for the lots.
The townsite company had expected Main Street to be the business choice, and list prices were considerably higher than on the other streets. But the old town men decided to go in a body on Second Street, with Egan St. as the center.
Now came the actual removal nearly five miles to the new town. Moving outfits were in demand at fancy prices, because everybody wanted to “do it now.” Every available vehicle was pressed into service and buildings were raised on wagons to be hauled for temporary shelter to the new town. One who has never witnessed the moving of a whole town, buildings and all, can hardly conceive the picturesque appearance of such an event. The road over prairie and hill was a continuous procession of houses, stocks of merchandise, household goods and people.
The night before the grand removal some of us gathered at an elevation where we got a last view of the old town before its dissolution. The evening was one of glorious beauty and the picturesque old town on the bank where the creek and river met, with the beautiful valley and hills as a perspective, all bathed with the halo of a gorgeous setting sun, caused feelings which cannot be put into words. The toast was passed to celebrate the victories of good old Chadron. We bade her an affectionate farewell, and then turned our faces to the future.