A Plucky Editor in 19th Century Deep East Texas

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As I have mentioned previously, I am working on a book about the San Augustine Red-Lander and the interesting characters that ran that paper during the Republic of Texas years and into the first years of Texas joining the union as a state. I hope to bring that fascinating period alive through the thousands of pages of newspapers I have perused and transcribed over the past two years. Whether I succeed or not will be up to the readers, of course.

The prominent editor of the Red-Lander, for seven of its nine years in existence, was Alanson Wyllys Canfield, who emigrated to Texas from his native Connecticut in 1835, the year before the Texas revolution, in which he fought. He was 27 at the time and took over publishing what became The Red-Lander in 1839 at the age of 31. Part of my fascination with Canfield is that I took over running a weekly newspaper in San Augustine at the age of 26 – 40 years ago this July. That paper was called The Rambler. Eventually I became the owner and stayed there for five years. That experience provided the foundation on which I built a career running newspapers for several decades.

While I was there, I wrote my master’s thesis on The Red-Lander, thanks to The University of Texas at Austin giving me an extra year of grace before time expired. The pandemic has provided the perfect opportunity to spend hundreds of hours researching newspapers from that era, plus journal articles and books.

Canfield was a trenchant writer with a wide vocabulary and a wicked sense of humor. Publishing a weekly newspaper in a tiny town nestled in the woods of Deep East Texas was tough work in the 19th century. Keeping reliable printers and compositors was a constant headache. Paper on which to print the newspaper, usually four pages, had to come from New Orleans or sometimes through Natchitoches, La. Turnover of newspaper editors was high as a result. The fact that Canfield lasted seven years is admirable and rare for the times.

I plucked out some of his pithier passages to pass along, from 1842-1844. Writers in this time period were inordinately fond of commas, and I have been faithful to the original:

  • They are marrying off rapidly in Nacogdoches, and have been killing off rapidly in Shelby (counties). It is well that these operations are going on at the same time; otherwise the genus homo might become extinct.
  • Up to SnuffThe Red Lander will be furnished, gratis, for one year, to every young lady that will quit eating Snuff for the same time.
  • There is an editor in Brooklyn, who is only ten years of age. He ought to be patronized.
  • If you desire to know whether the day will be fine, take a walk a few miles in the country, until you come to a field where cows are grazing, and if the animals turn their tails to the wind, be sure it will be stormy; if they turn their faces, it will be fine; but if some stand one way and some the other, you had better toss up, and accordingly as the coin gives you heads or tails, you will be able to solve the problem.
  • It is a mistake to suppose that newspapers are printed for amusement, and their printers deem it a compliment when a friend begs a dozen to give away.
  • We regret that the communication of “Justice,” in our last number, was so full of typographical errors. It was the fault of our foreman, who either saw double, or did not put on his specs when reading the proof sheets. We ask pardon of “Justice,” and hope that he will continue to favor us with his views on any subject that he may choose.
  • How much more consolatory must it be to a man’s feelings to read a newspaper that he has subscribed and paid for, than to read on that he has borrowed or begged. There are a number of persons in this world that express a very warm disposition for the success of a public journal — speak in glowing language of the advantages it is to mankind in shedding rays of light on a benighted world — then turn round and ask the publisher if he has a spare copy to give away, and an exchange paper or two to throw in!
  • “Ephraim,” said Simon, “what does a young fellow look like when gallanting his sweetheart through a shower?” “Why,” said Eph., looking at his boots, “he has the appearance of a rain beau.”
  • Finally, sound advice from 180 years ago that still holds relevance today:

“Rise from the table when the appetite is yet good, for thousands annually dig their grave with their own teeth.”


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