by admin | October 20, 2010 6:18 pm
Jones will be here at 3 — cowhide him. Gillespie will call earlier, perhaps— throw him out the window. Ferguson will be along about 4 — kill him…The cowhides are under the table; weapons in the drawer — ammunition there in the corner— lint and bandages up there in the pigeonholes. In case of accident, go to Lancet, the surgeon, downstairs. He advertises — we take it out in trade.
Mark Twain, “Journalism in Tennessee”
Twain’s humorous account of the perils involved in publishing a country newspaper in the mid-19th century might be a bit exaggerated, but bitter conflicts between newspaper editors were a fact of life in America. East Texas was no exception. Most editors were wise enough to pick fights ,nearly always over politics, with rivals running papers in other towns. Editors swapped subscriptions with each other; it was a way to glean news from other regions before wire services existed. And that’s how editors kept up with what their brethren were writing on various topics of interest.
Editors weren’t shy about airing out political feuds over statewide candidates, the tariff or other matters, secure in the knowledge that they could employ all the vituperative missiles in their armory and not have to face a physical challenge, no matter what they wrote. Distance was in their favor. The feud between A.W. Canfield, editor of The Red-Lander in San Augustine, a weekly in Deep East Texas, and Charles DeMorse, editor of the Clarksville Standard in North Texas, is an example of a feud fought entirely on paper. The two towns are about 160 miles apart — a long trip to make in the 19th century just to settle a score.
DeMorse and Canfield both came to Texas in 1835, and both strongly supported Texas independence from Mexico the following year. DeMorse served in the Texas navy during the revolution the following year, while Canfield enlisted after the battle of San Jacinto.
Canfield landed in San Augustine a few years later and bought the Red-Lander from its founder in 1840. After the war DeMorse worked as a lawyer and then served Mirabeau B. Lamar — the republic’s second president— as stock commissioner. When Lamar left office, DeMorse edited a couple of Austin newspapers and then accepted an invitation in 1842 from the town’s leaders to come to Clarksville and start a newspaper. He was 26.
At the time DeMorse started the Northern Standard, the Red-Lander had a vast area to itself, and the arrival of a new competitor certainly accounted for some of the antipathy between the two editors. But the major differences were political. DeMorse had worked for Lamar, who Canfield despised. Canfield adored Sam Houston, who he knew personally, since Gen. Sam had once hung his law shingle in San Augustine and represented the town in the Republic Congress between his two presidential terms.
Now, in 1842, Houston was again president, and that young whippersnapper in Clarksville was alluding to the country’s “harassed and toil worn people… despoiled again and again by bad Generalship,” meaning Houston. Canfield went ballistic, accusing DeMorse of being a lackey of Lamar and David Burnet — both political enemies of Houston. He claimed DeMorse stole $40,000 from the Republic’s meager treasury while working as stock commissioner.
It went downhill from there. The Northern Standard, which was being run by interim editors while DeMorse returned to Austin, claimed Canfield had papered East Texas with counterfeit money. DeMorse finally returned to Clarksville after four months. He took up where his surrogates left off, threatening to use a cowhide against the San Augustine editor if they ever met in person. He repeated the counterfeiting charges and also accused Canfield of stealing a “large quantity of jewelry from a ship at New York.”
Surprisingly, Canfield never responded to the charges and in effect called for a truce. In an apology of sorts, he explained his aggressive attack on DeMorse came about because there wasn’t much real news to report: A country paper that has not a fund of local matters to draw from, MAY often, with propriety, be embellished with criticisms upon neighboring contemporaries. It is a rich source of enjoyment to an editor — so also to most readers.
The feud essentially ended after that, in fall of 1843, though both editors continued to snipe at each other over political differences. It would be a different story for Canfield’s successor, the Rev. James H. Russell. He, too, would pick a fight with a competing editor. But this competitor’s newspaper office was right down the street.
“A man of irascible, impetuous temperament”
Canfield published the Red-Lander for just more than two years before selling the paper so he could join Zachary Taylor in Corpus Christi. Texas had joined the Union a few weeks earlier, an event Canfield noted with this poignant note:
DIED: Without a pain, on the 15th instant, A NATION, aged nine years, eleven months, and thirteen days— In that short period, this NATION became very conspicuous in the family of Nations— excited the jealousy or admiration of many— elevated the standard of civil liberty, she brought forth new lustre upon the benighted monarchy, and left on record another evidence that man is capable of self government.
His successors, the Rev. James A. Russell and Henry M. Kinsey, took over on Jan. 8, 1846. Kinsey was an attorney who would quit the paper a year later and gain notoriety in 1864, during the Civil War, when he was implicated in the murder of a prominent San Augustine business owner — and was himself murdered while hiding in a Nacogdoches hotel. Russell continued alone as editor of the Red-Lander, but he no longer had the only newspaper in town. Henry A. Kendall had founded The Shield in San Augustine just two months after Russell and Kinsey took over at the Red-Lander. It wouldn’t be long before the two editors began hurling barbs at each other. But this time around, there wouldn’t be miles of wilderness, fast-flowing creeks and lousy roads to make a physical confrontation unlikely. And, besides the newspaper rivalry, each editor headed competing religious factions in this tiny town.
One could hardly conjure up a better recipe for disaster.
Russell came to San Augustine in 1843 to serve as a teacher in San Augustine University. He succeeded M.A. Montrose as president of the institution in the summer of 1845, when Montrose resigned to accept a similar position at the University of Nacogdoches. Thus, by January 1846, Russell headed both the university and the town’s only newspaper.
The Scottish-born Russell had received a Master of Arts from Edinburgh University, and his writings show he possessed considerable intelligence and education. His exact age at the time he took over the paper is not known, but he described himself as a “man of considerable years.” Contemporary accounts, and certainly his writings in The Red-Lander, indicate he was also a man of considerable temper.
As East Texas historian George L. Crocket described him:
He was a trenchant writer and an accomplished lecturer upon literary, scientific or philosophical subjects. On the other side of his character he seems to have been a man of irascible, impetuous temperament and domineering personality, and was constantly in trouble one way or another. He was perfectly fearless and did not hesitate to meet an antagonist in a personal encounter. He possessed a biting tongue, and expressed his opinion regardless of the consequences.
Upon taking over the paper, Russell and Kinsey printed a statement of purpose in their first issue, announcing:
There are few stations in life, if indeed there be any, of more importance, or fraught with such momentous consequences to the community at large, than that of the editor of a newspaper. He has on his hands, not only the difficult task of catering for the satisfaction of public appetite; but he has also the important duty, to give right feeling and proper tone to public sentiment. Should his mind be biased, or misdirected, he may mislead hundreds, and plunge the community in which he resides, into the most ruinous mistakes and fatal errors…
Given the events that would transpire by the next year, those words would prove prophetic.
The new editors quickly encountered difficulties in issuing The Red-Lander, publishing a short note of apology in their first issue: “We have been obliged to work off our paper this week with a hand less than has heretofore been employed in the office…”
A few weeks later, the story was the same: “Our desire not to disappoint our subscribers this week has caused us to issue The Red-Lander not as we could wish, but in the best manner possible under existing circumstances.”
The same issue underscored Russell’s dual role as editor and university president:
UNIVERSITY OF SAN AUGUSTINE— The eighth session of this Institution will commence on Monday, the 9th instant. Both male and female departments will be in full operation. A highly accomplished female teacher is engaged— there is no mistake on this occasion .
James Russell, President
Russell’s politics were similar to his predecessor’s and included unwavering support for Sam Houston, now a U.S. Senator, and for the state’s first governor, James Pinckney Henderson, a San Augustine resident. As did his predecessor, Russell opposed the tariff system and abolition, and strongly supported annexation.
The difficulties of publishing a country newspaper, combined with Russell’s short temper and irascible personality, led to an increasing number of testy pieces from the editor, as well as a perpetual notice in the Red-Lander of a job opening for “A Journeyman printer of steady habits.”
Russell could fulminate with righteous indignation whenever he felt himself slighted, questioned, or inconvenienced. He complained about people stealing exchange papers or filching manuscripts, and offered a “liberal reward” for capture of the thieves. In the same issue he hotly denied a charge of refusing to publish articles with which he didn’t agree:
…We will here repeat what we have before said, that we think for ourselves, and have no wish to interfere with the right of our neighbor to do the same. But were we to refuse to publish a communication that was readable, because we did not view the subject in the same light as the author, the public might say that it savored very strongly of a disposition to curb a mans’ thoughts, and the liberty of thinking, unless a man can think aloud, is not worth enjoying. That is an error we have never fallen into. The communication of which the inquiries were made, we never received…
Another article that week semi-humorously complained that the type Russell inherited from Canfield acted “like spoiled children,” resulting in a multitude of typos in the first few issues. Russell vowed to “reduce these refractory insurgents to proper subjection. Upon any occasion they disobey our orders, we will beat their hands as flat as a flounder…”
Indeed, apologies and complaints are sprinkled liberally in the first few issues of Russell’s Red-Lander. In April, under the headline “Apologies,” Russell wrote:
There are many things in this queer world of ours that we love, and a number that it is no part of our composition to have any great liking for — among the latter there is one that has frequently fallen to our lot to perform in several instances; that is of making an apology to our readers for some irregularity in the Red Lander office — and aware that they cannot appreciate the troubles and vexations of a poor editor adds to the task of an explanation… Our last number made, much to our regret, a most shabby appearance which was caused by a combination of circumstances…
Russell went on to tell a tale of woe. His printer had quit suddenly, leaving the finished forms uncleaned after the last issue. The ink became glued to the type, which made it nearly impossible to get a clear printing. To make it worse, The Red-Lander’s new compositor had been out of the business for seven years, and “he made a number of typographical errors and caused us to say some things that we did not intend…”
The problems faced by Russell certainly weren’t unique to The Red-Lander. Every Texas country editor in the 1840s experienced similar hardships, trials and tribulations. Long hours, mind-numbing, tedious work, low pay and unhappy readers were the norm. Each letter of type had to picked up by hand and placed into a form, one piece at a time. It was painfully slow and tedious work. These factors help explain the overwhelming number of newspaper failures, as Texas struggled toward settlement and civilization. It took a person with considerable fortitude, patience and strength of character to make a go of it.
Clearly Russell was lacking in more than one of these attributes.
Two universities, one small town:
Two other factors compounded Russell’s miseries. As university president he became embroiled in a local religious feud, and — partly as a result — a competing local paper began publication in the spring of 1846.
San Augustine University had been chartered in 1837 but did not actually begin operation until 1842. Soon after, the university became associated with the Presbyterian church, which eventually raised revenue for the school through sale of 4,500 acres of donated land. In addition, most of the faculty had Presbyterian connections. Although the school was officially a state institution, it in effect functioned as a Presbyterian college. This did not sit well with the Methodists, who had a strong following in the town. San Augustine is generally considered the birthplace of Methodism in Texas, and was the home of three of that denomination’s leading Texas ministers: Littleton Fowler, Samuel A. Williams and Francis Wilson.
Wilson came to San Augustine from Nacogdoches in 1841, a minister with a large following, and was described as a “pulpit orator of intense force and dramatic power.” Upon arriving in the town, he began lobbying for creation of a Methodist college to offset the influence of the Presbyterian-controlled San Augustine University. Wilson traveled several times to the United States to raise money for the project. After $20,000 was raised, a three-story building was erected and classes began in 1844 at Wesleyan College.
Editor A.W. Canfield, Russell’s predecessor, had been a strong backer of Presbyterian-backed San Augustine University, goading the trustees into action and eventually himself becoming a trustee. As Wilson began his efforts to create a second college in this town of about 1,200 population, Canfield questioned whether such a small community could support two higher institutions of education, saying rather sarcastically:
We were not before aware that our citizens took so deep an interest in the welfare, or rather that they were so deeply sensible of the real benefit of their offspring. But we still object to this new institution, inasmuch as we do not believe this community able to support more than one seminary of learning at this time; and we are certain they cannot find a better one than is now already established, either as a college, Ladies’s Academy, or Elementary School; for we have been a close observer and have ourself a couple of ruddy fellows in the last mentioned department… So friends, just drop the idea of instituting another school.
The Methodists ignored Canfield’s advice and continued their efforts. Canfield dutifully recorded their progress, generally without comment, reporting on Sept. 23, 1843, that the cornerstone had been laid for Wesleyan College. But the following week, Canfield heatedly responded to remarks made by Rev. Wilson at the ceremony, in which Wilson lambasted Canfield’s opposition to Wesleyan College, saying the latter opposed the Methodist church, and had “sold out” to the Presbyterians and San Augustine University. Never one to shy away from an attack, Canfield responded:
On the Saturday previous, a most unprovoked attack upon the public press and the San Augustine University was made by one of the reverend clergy. This course is to be sincerely regretted, and every truly pious man must perceive that the sacred cause of religion and the prosperity of the christian church can derive no lustre from a quarrel with a newspaper…
Canfield denied Wilson’s charges, pointing out that he had frequently run news of Methodist activities and had even personally contributed $100 to Wesleyan College. The piece, nearly two columns in length, concluded:
While from the sacred desk, our worthy and venerable friend was arousing the feelings and appealing to the passions of his congregation, urging them to Down with the Red-Lander!, the object on which he was denouncing damnation was busily engaged in furthering the cause of the Methodist Church… We could not have believed that in a church so large and respectable, there could have been found, at this age, persons so infatuated as boldly to array Priestcraft against the liberties of the Press! and to threaten annihilation to a political journal, that has nothing to do with religion— for or against.
A few weeks later, Canfield published a letter from a Jasper correspondent, which said that Wilson was in that town “preaching a crusade against the Red Lander. You MAY therefore expect a considerable increase in your list of subscribers.” Canfield remarked:
Now we never designed increasing the patronage of this paper through the angry passions of holy and devout men. It is an act of their own, for which neither we nor their own church should be held responsible.
While Canfield continued to defend himself against attacks by Wilson, he still published news of Wesleyan College, including a lengthy editorial a month later that praised the formation of the school. And just a few months before selling the paper to Russell and Kinsey, he wrote an editorial announcing that the “two institutions of learning are in a most flourishing condition… The spirit of controversy and rivalry, which unfortunately existed at one time, has entirely disappeared.”
But, of course, it had not. The town, with a population of roughly 1,200, was hardly large enough to support one college, let alone two, and enrollment in both institutions had dwindled. By the summer of 1845, enrollment in San Augustine University had decreased from 150 students to about 50. Wesleyan College probably had about the same number enrolled — hardly enough to justify either school’s existence.
James Russell took over the reins of San Augustine University at about the time enrollment was at its nadir, in the summer of 1845. When he became editor of The Red- Lander six months later, it doubtless further reinforced the belief of those allied with Wesleyan College that the paper was the mouthpiece of Presbyterian-controlled San Augustine University. And Russell did nothing to dispel that belief, becoming embroiled in a number of religious disputes, which he aired in the pages of his journal. Just two months after taking over the paper, he angrily responded to a charge of favoring one denomination over another:
O let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end.
Psalms of David, 7:6
It has been said, and perhaps with great truth— “he who bears, prevails.” But human nature is so constituted that it may bear quietly to a certain point, yet when oppression continues to accumulate, it must give vent…It is certainly more than can be expected, that we should day after day submit to the most base and groundless slander of designing knaves, without so much as once attempting to disabuse the public mind…A report was circulated in town on Saturday last, that Mr. Russell had refused to publish in the Red-Lander a notice for sermon. In the most unqualified terms we pronounce this a base falsehood— and without fear of contradiction, we assure our friends and the public that on no occasion whatever has Mr. Russell been requested to publish a notice intimating a diet for divine worship…
Russell — already burdened with difficulties in keeping a printer, sticky type, slow- paying customers and accusations of favoritism — gained yet another millstone about his neck in March, 1846, just two days after the above piece was published. Probably with the encouragement of the Methodist faction in the community, Henry A. Kendall founded the San Augustine Shield, a weekly newspaper.
A New Competitor
Not a great deal is known about Henry A. Kendall, San Augustine’s newest editor, and apparently no copies of The Shield have survived. References in other papers, including The Red-Lander, indicate he was a young man and a printer by trade. Though he possessed the same surname as a contemporary journalist of considerable fame — George Wilkins Kendall, founder of the New Orleans Picayune and chronicler of the ill-fated Mier Expedition to New Mexico— the two were at most distantly related.
Kendall chose two men to serve as editors of The Shield, Rev. Foster H. Blades and J.C. Brooke. The latter apparently did not remain with the paper long, as by early 1847 he no longer was mentioned in Russell’s Red-Lander. With the selection of Rev. Foster Blades as the other editor, Kendall made no bones about where The Shield stood in the struggle between San Augustine’s two colleges. Like Russell of The Red-Lander, Blades was a man of the cloth and, to further complicate matters, Blades also moonlighted at another position while editing The Shield.
At about the same time he became co-editor of the town’s new publication, he succeeded Rev. L. Janes as president of Wesleyan College. Thus, by the summer of 1846 San Augustine had two newspapers, each edited by a minister who served as president of a college. The town could support neither two newspapers nor two colleges, and the bitter clash that resulted is hardly surprising — especially given the fiery nature of both Russell and his new competitor, Henry A. Kendall.
Russell’s reputation as a tempestuous and easily irritated curmudgeon has already been established. And apparently his new counterpart in San Augustine did not shirk from his perceived duty as a country newspaper editor, attacking political opponents with the same energy and vitriol as the Scottish minister. Russell once reprinted a piece from the Colorado Herald, which described Kendall’s attack in The Shield on Judge Toler, agent of the postal system for the state of Texas:
For, save that it smacks strongly of billingsgate and the bar room it contains neither sense, wit, nor truth, but is as dirty and foolish a piece of tirade and abuse as the lowest sort of blackguard might write, but would be ashamed to acknowledge.
Russell and the editors of the Huntsville Texas Banner began exchanging insults about this time. The Huntsville editors criticized Russell for attacking the trustees of San Augustine University, The Shield, and the postal system, saying they “are all alike the objects of his unmitigated abuse and uncompromising hostility. The Shield, against which he is doing such doughty battle, we know nothing about, &c.”
In typical fashion, Russell responded angrily and venomously:
In their last number they have sent forth one of the most frothy, imbecile, foolish articles that ever adorned the columns of any newspaper, not even excepting that silly thing, the Texas Banner… Such miscreants we consider as not only the scum of society, but believe them capable of the black crime of assassination, and if driven by necessity without the smallest compunction they would become negro thieves, horse stealers, nocturnal incendiaries and everything else in the horrible catalogue of crimes.
Russell denied doing battle with The Shield, saying he had only mentioned the paper once, and that he had criticized the university trustees— his bosses— “when the public property vested in the trustees of the University was about to be perverted.” He pointed out that he had recently been re-appointed as president, and that action did “show that they, at least, are satisfied with the justice of our remarks, notwithstanding the ignorant snappishness of the Huntsville curs to the contrary.”
When it came to hurling insults Russell had few equals.
Russell, Kendall intensify the invective
As spring came to San Augustine in 1847, the battle between Russell and Kendall intensified. Russell’s difficulties in getting out The Red-Lander also increased, in part due to Kendall’s unabashed attempts to hire away Russell’s compositors and printers. In March, Russell cryptically wrote, “Let the Banner and Shield enjoy their tranquility, and hug themselves in the arms of self conceit. A press of matter and the sickness of some of our workmen are their buckler for this week.”
The following week, in a curious juxtaposition of comments. Russell both announced that “Owing to the sickness and scarcity of compositors, it is impossible to issue the Red-Lander regularly till arrangements are made for another hand.”
Directly below that announcement was another lauding himself for:
… The extensive patronage which has been given to this paper since it came under our charge. We congratulate ourselves on the return of many who at first flew off at a tangent, and rejoice that a free and independent people will support a free and independent Newspaper.
To round out that week’s worth of billingsgate, Russell devoted nearly a full column to attacking both The Banner and The Shield, all the while promising that this would be his final word on the subject. He took after his fellow preacher, editor and college president, Rev. Blades, saying in part:
How can one so ignorant as you rightly divide the word of truth, or open up the mysteries of the kingdom? Shame! Shame! When the Donkies of the West come out again to bray, do not you, as on the past occasions, come out to bark, lest your prudence as well as your erudition come to be called into question.
Doubtless the hard times faced by Russell made him even more testy than usual. For the next two months, The Red-Lander was reduced to half its former size, a single sheet printed front and back. Since the front page was taken up with legal notices and professional cards, only one page was left for news and commentary. In April, Russell announced that the, “abriged state to which the temporary want of compositors has reduced the columns of the Red-Lander, and the press of important news from the seat of war, forbid us, at this time, to indulge in any thing like editorials.”
Finally, the lack of qualified help forced Russell to suspend publication in late May of 1847. Apparently The Shield still published regularly, which no doubt considerably irked Russell. Kendall — no slouch in the art of insults and epithets — rubbed it in, boasting in his paper that “this time the Red-Lander is really dead.”
Kendall’s prediction was wrong, and Russell resumed publishing in late June. The old minister obviously was feeling pressure from all sides; the university was fast failing, and his newspaper was losing its war with The Shield and its young brash editor. He accused Kendall of being the cause of his paper’s troubles, of having conspired to steal his printers and compositors — charges that had more than a kernel of truth to them. Kendall responded in kind, and the conflict escalated until Russell devoted nearly all his editorial space in three issues in July to attacking Kendall with a ferocity that could only bring the affair to a violent end.
Then it got really nasty
The final chapter of the saga began with Russell’s July 10, 1847 issue, in which he announced:
“At an early hour yesterday afternoon, we were presented with a copy of the “Shield,” and have perused the Billingsgate article over the signature of H.A. Kendall. Our columns were closed before it was received, but we shall reply to the frothy gasconader and his flimsy, blackguard production, next week.”
Russell was true to his promise, devoting three full columns of type to Kendall the next week. He stoutly defended his accusations that Kendall had stolen his employees, and gave his history of the past 18 months of tumult and intrigue:
On the first of January 1846, we purchased and took possession of the Red-Lander establishment. Shortly after, it was current that H.A. Kendall would open another printing office in San Augustine, on the 14th of March, and that our workman, Mr. Morris, was engaged to work with him. On the 13th, Mr. M. left the Red-Lander contrary to his written agreement, and on the very day fixed for the arrival of the new printing apparatus; H.A. Kendall arrived, and it is also somewhat remarkable, that this was the very day which Mr. Morris had fixed upon, and actually attempted to assassinate us… Messrs Rainer and Adams also left us, without warning…
Russell said he then hired another printer, by the name of Nichol, and paid his expenses to move to San Augustine from New Orleans. Russell and his new printer soongot in an argument over printing the laws of Congress, and Nichol left The Red-Lander to work for Kendall’s newest publication, the Nacogdoches Times, begun in late July 1847.
Russell, with some justification, noted:
Every great movement made by that milk-and-water periodical, the San Augustine Shield, has been followed by a movement in the typographical corps of the Red Lander office. Here is an abduction, not only a first and second, but a third, even a fourth time, and the abducted are uniformly found in the Shield office… Therefore, till H.A. Kendall produces something more cogent and satisfactory, then his bolstered up piece of puerile malignity, which appeared in the last number of the Shield, he must be considered by a discerning public as a corrupter and his conduct to the proprietor of the Red-Lander, as both ungentlemanly and unchristian.
Russell took up where he had left off the following week, after first running another help-wanted notice for “A Journeyman Printer, who is a competent workman…”
His latest work began with two quotations:
Good name, in man and woman, dear my lord, is the immediate jewel of their souls. Who steals my purse, steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he, that filches from me my good name, Robs me of that, which not enriches him. And makes me poor indeed.
No mischief but a woman or a priest in it— here both.
Henry Kendall, for his part, apparently had described in The Shield a chance encounter on the street with Russell, saying he “met with Mr. Russell, in Mr. Watson’s coffee-house. After taking a drink together, he invited me to walk with him to his office.”
Russell responded angrily to this description of their meeting, particularly the part about the Presbyterian preacher imbibing alcohol in public. Russell’s version of the story, recounted in tedious detail sprinkled with harsh epithets, said Kendall “insisted” that he have a drink with him, and that Russell, “complied, and drank with the reptile. It was, however, moderately— he does not pretend it to be otherwise, and as soon as the traitor could turn it to his advantage, he propagates as a crime, an act in itself innocent, harmless, and inoffensive.”
Russell waxed malevolently about Kendall’s deceit, asking his readers: Can any person who has any claim, or who has a right to make the smallest pretensions to the title and character of a lady or a gentleman, take his pulluted (sic) papers, the San Augustine Shield, or Nacogdoches Times, or any other production that passes through the hands of the vile, infamous, treacherous reptile, into their houses or hands? Can any affectionate parent admit such an infamous scoundrel into their families? Fathers and mothers, can you, after this flagrant breach of honor, admit this miscreant to your family circle? What security have you that he will not plant a thorn in your domestic felicity, and then triumph in your pain?
In defense of his own character, Russell claimed he saw Kendall lying in bed at the National Hotel in March, 1846, “in a state of beastly intoxication, and that bed was dreadfully bepuked.”
Again, Russell filled up nearly a half page with his attack, before abruptly ending the piece and promising to conclude it the next week. And, true to his word, he started in again on Kendall the next issue saying, “Without note or comment, excuse or apology, we shall now begin just where we had left off.”
Stepping Over the Line
After two weeks of such unabashed, vicious attacks, it would seem that Russell might have run out of ways to insult his young competitor. But the minister, who described himself as old enough to “be the great-grandfather of that sheepish clown — if a man of unimpeachable veracity could be in any sense the primogenitor of such a wretch,” had a few more things to say about Kendall and his “corrupt, avaricious priesthood clique.”
Russell, apparently running short of ways to personally insult Kendall, next turned to Kendall’s family with a vengeance that made previous attacks seem docile by comparison:
He (Kendall) is of his father, and although the foul tongue of slander should arise among us, and falsely accuse H.A. Kendall’s mother as a woman of easy virtue, there can be no doubt he is the son of his father, the devil, who was a lier and a murderer from the beginning.
In addition, Kendall apparently had tried to have Russell killed since the last issue; at least Russell accused him of such, calling him “the pimp and prompter of intended assassination,” and saying “this modern Ahab, seems determined to have our property, if he should wade to it through our own blood, and the blood of every one connected with us.”
Russell’s diatribe went on ad nauseum, next poking fun at Rev. Blades, who had recently retired from editing The Shield to devote all his time to Wesleyan College. Russell congratulated himself on forcing Blades to retire “from the head of the puerile production, which he so feebly conducted for the last twelve months.”
Russell then returned to his favorite conspiracy theory, that The Shield was the organ of a “priesthood clique,” intent on the destruction of both San Augustine University and The Red-Lander. He announced that despite Kendall’s best efforts, the paper had arisen again, “like the slain witnesses, who lay in the streets of spiritual Sodom, it has arisen to its feet— ay, too, and that in unwonted lustre, to the no small terror of the Shield, and the myrmidons of iniquitous priests who hang by that dirty concern.”
Finally, a full three columns later, Russell ended his spleen-venting with a half- baked apology to his readers, and a prescient comment concerning his mortality:
Our readers will please excuse us for occupying so much space in this sort of controversy. We can assure them it is not our fault. A base defamer has been encouraged to throw his filth at us, and we are determined to defend ourself, come what may. We will allow no man nor irresponsible cabal, to trample us with impunity. We hope no cowardly assassin will lurk behind a fence and shoot us down. All we ask is, a fair field and no favor.
The next week’s issue, Aug. 7, contained no references to Kendall or The Shield. As it had for the past several weeks, the front page was taken up with publishing congressional laws, while the inside pages contained news of the war with Mexico. The bitter vitriol of the past three weeks was absent from what would be the final issue of The Red-Lander. Three days later, the Rev. James Russell was dead. Henry A. Kendall, editor of “that bolstered up tissue of puerile imbecility,” as Russell referred to The Shield, shot and killed his nemesis as he left his office on Aug. 10, 1847.
Thomas William Blount was an eight-year-old boy, growing up in San Augustine, when Kendall killed Russell. His description of the murder follows:
Russell came down from the Redlander office in the old Printing house and just as he stepped out of the door at the west end of the house he was shot from across the street by Henry Kendall, who was standing in the alley between Francois and Border’s store and the yellow house where Border lived. He fell and said “I am a dead man,” and died.
Russell earned the dubious distinction of being the first Texas editor known to have died at the hands of a fellow editor, though he certainly wouldn’t be the last. Kendall fled to New Orleans, leaving the Nacogdoches Times in the hands of his brother, Floyd H. Kendall, and took a job as a printer with the Picayune.
A San Augustine grand jury indicted Kendall for murder a few weeks later, and handed down two indictments against Samuel Rainer for assault and accessory to murder. Rainer, one of the former Red-Lander printers who had gone over to The Shield, apparently helped Kendall murder Russell.
The case never came to trial. Kendall died of yellow fever in New Orleans in late September, just over a month after killing Russell. The Picayune published his obituary on Sept. 25,1847:
DEATH OF A PRINTER— Mr. Henry A. Kendall, a printer by profession, but lately the editor of the San Augustine (Texas) Shield, died in this city on Friday morning, of the prevailing epidemic. He came to this city about three weeks since, and for some days past was employed as a compositor in this office. He seemed to be a young man of intelligence and amiable qualities, and gained the esteem of those who made his acquaintance. On Friday afternoon a goodly number of his brother-craftsmen of the city attended his remains to their final resting place. It was a solemn sight to behold the trappings of mourning and the sad faces of his new comrades, as they bore the body of the young stranger to the tomb.
It may be remembered by some, that not long since Mr. Kendall was unfortunately engaged in a personal recontre with a Mr. Russell, editor of the Red Lander, of San Augustine, in which Mr. Russell lost his life. During Mr. Kendall’s sojurn in this city he frequently stated it to be his determination to return to San Augustine and stand trial for the killing of Mr. Russell: so confident did he feel of his justification in the unfortunate affair. His only reason for leaving home he declared to be, on the advice of counsel, was to escape imprisonment.
Kendall’s death ended the legal proceedings against him, obviously, and also against Rainer. The grand jury freed Ranier to “go hence without delay and to be finally discharged &c.”
Russell’s murder met with considerable consternation among Texas editors. DeMorse reported the death under the headline “Melancholy Affair,” and moralized, “How the heart sickens at such events, growing out of unbridled use of the tongues or the pen— the unnecessary heaping of obloquy and abuse, and the harsh traducement of character.”
Francis Moore of the Houston Telegraph and Texas Register picked up an account of the murder from the Natchitoches paper, adding “we still hope, for the credit of the Texian press, that the horrid report is not correct.”
About two weeks later, Moore ran a lengthy obituary for Russell, without ever mentioning how he had met his end. As one writer pointed out, the piece “inferred that Russell died a natural death of ripe old age.”
Kendall, his life cut short by yellow fever, also was memorialized in the Texas press, starting first in the Nacogdoches Times with brother Floyd at the helm. The Huntsville Texas Banner, which had earned nearly as much of Russell’s scorn as The Shield had, reprinted part of the lengthy obituary, remarking that his death “makes five of our State editors gone within about a year to meet their God.” The obituary in the Times depicted Kendall as an unwilling victim of unfortunate circumstances, a kind and gentle soul thrust into violence:
Thus has gone one, upon whose life many anxious hopes depended, and for whose preservation many an aspiration had ascended to Heaven. Of manners kind, of a character free from spot or blemish, loving the land of his adoption and its institutions, with all his heart, he pursued to the best of his abilities, those measures which, as the conductor of the press, his judgment deemed the best calculated to promote the welfare of one and the durability of the other. Pursuing these, and in a manly and independent manner, Mr. K. was forced into a collision, the result of which forced him to leave his home for a season…He is gone and let the tongue of passion be silent, and the arm of revenge rest; for in the inscrutable ways of providence, the issues of the contest which led to the death of Mr. Kendall are passed to another jurisdiction, whose decisions are always right, whose judgement never errs.
Historians attempting to account for Russell’s murder generally put forth two theories for the incident. San Augustine historian George L. Crocket, relying on T.W. Blount’s memory, says Kendall killed Russell after the latter wrote that Kendall’s sister was a woman of loose morals. Other accounts ascribe the murder to a theological dispute; Jesse Guy Smith in “Heroes of the Saddle Bags: A History of Christian Denominations in the Republic of Texas” says the killing came out of the intense rivalry between San Augustine’s two colleges. And Frederick Law Olmstead, a 19th-century journalist, reported what he was told in 1853 while traveling through San Augustine:
It appeared that two universities were chartered for San Augustine, the one under the protection of the Methodists, the other of the Presbyterians. The country being feebly settled, the supply of students was short, and great was the consequent rivalry between the institutions. The neighboring people took sides upon the issue so earnestly, that, one fine day, the president of the Presbyterian University was shot down in the street.
Blount’s memory, on which Crocket relied for his account, was slightly faulty, as Russell called Kendall’s mother — not his sister — a harlot. In addition, Russell characterized Kendall’s father as a “lier and murderer from the beginning.” Indeed, with the incredible amount of insults, accusations and vituperation directed toward Kendall in those three issues in July, 1847, the most surprising thing is that Kendall didn’t kill Russell sooner.
But those who attributed the murder to sectarian jealousy weren’t exactly off base either. San Augustine had two newspapers and two colleges in a town hardly big enough to support one of each; a better prescription for disaster could hardly have been written. Add two tempestuous personalities, Russell and Kendall, and the outcome seemed almost preordained.
Two universities, two newspapers, die
The death of Russell spelled the end of The Red-Lander, nearly nine years after W.W. Parker had bought the venerable Slocum press, first put to use in Nacogdoches, Texas in 1829 and moved it to San Augustine. The Red-Lander had survived the rocky years of the Republic, had seen the city grow and prosper but then begin a slow decline as statehood helped change settlement patterns. Except for a few weeks when Canfield ran out of paper, and a month or so under Russell, the newspaper had offered its weekly fare to readers for nearly a decade.
The Shield also ceased publication after Kendall left for New Orleans. Two months later, in October 1847, the Rev. William N. Harman, purchased both offices and began issuing The Texas Union.
Texas editors breathed a sigh of relief now that things were finally back to normal in San Augustine; after all, murders were a poor advertisement for attracting new settlement. As the Banner editor noted:
We cannot but admire the disinteredness of our contemporary’s motives and sincerely hope that he may see the accomplishment of his object in the speedy UNION of the conflicting parties and the extirpation of the unhappy feuds which have recently existed in the beautiful little city of San Augustine.
Harman sold the paper to Benjamin F. Benton and B.F. Price in the fall of 1849, and the new owners changed the name to The Red Land Herald. A later owner shortened it to simply The Herald , in 1852. Two years later it changed hands yet another time, and proprietors M.C. McDaniel and James F. Martin — probably hoping to draw on the attraction of a venerable name in Texas publishing — called their publication The Red- Lander. The final version of the paper lasted until the eve of the Civil War, when a lack of paper and supplies, plus the enlistment of nearly every able-bodied man in the Confederacy, spelled the end of many Texas newspapers. Newspapering in San Augustine stopped until a few years after Reconstruction.
With Russell’s death, San Augustine University closed its doors, the murder of its president the death blow to that ill-starred institution of learning. Wesleyan College followed suit shortly after. Its debt had increased to the point that the Methodist Church could no longer afford to keep it operating. The two college buildings lay empty, victims of sectarian jealousy, harsh words and harsher actions.
One last attempt to create a college in San Augustine was made, spearheaded by the town’s civic and political leaders, including one past and one future governor— James Pickney Henderson and Oran Roberts, respectively. In an attempt to prevent the sectarian difficulties that had destroyed the previous schools, the charter prohibited more than three members of any one denomination from serving as trustees. The properties of both schools eventually were ceded to the new institution, called the University of Eastern Texas, and chartered March 8, 1848. The school limped along for about two years before closing, mainly from a lack of qualified instructors and administrators.
After that, the Masonic Lodge took over the task of educating the county’s children, under the name of the Masonic Institute. Rather than aspiring to be a “university,” the institute offered a more pedestrian and greatly-reduced curriculum, but apparently still provided a sound and basic education to its students. The Masonic Institute lasted nearly 10 years, until the Civil War, another of that conflict’s many victims.
The year 1847 was a watershed in San Augustine’s history; the violent end of its two newspapers and two colleges marked a turning point in the town’s fortunes— downward. From its early, heady days as the “Athens of Texas,” home of statesmen, scholars and renowned attorneys, San Augustine’s importance in the republic had slowly diminished as statehood approached.
Several factors were responsible for this decline. Hostile Indians were slowly being subdued, or at least pushed westward, opening up new regions for settlers in the interior of the state. New counties and new towns were springing up all over Texas. Many of the town’s leading citizens, still drawn by the sense of adventure and fortune-seeking that had brought them to Texas in the first place, moved on to new challenges elsewhere. And new settlers to Texas didn’t stop at San Augustine as often, as other ports of entry into Texas opened, especially after annexation. As historian William Seale noted:
Before the Republic experiment was abandoned, San Augustine had ceased to be a blossoming town, or one of any particular importance. The Gulf Coast, of course, was destined to drain its part of the wealth from the backlands. Abnormal prosperity, begun during Mexican times, could not have been expected to last forever. In the instance of San Augustine, the bloodline of profit was blocked. Whether through some unconscious feeling of guilt because of the false land titles, or whether because of fear of physical harm, San Augustine hesitated too
long before again carving open its road to market. Few planters were imaginative enough to utilize safe, upriver ports on the Sabine. During the three isolated years the townsmen with cash bought hungrily the property that went up for sale so cheap. After 1844 and for decades later, there was little turnover in farmland and town lots, thereby discouraging new settlers from making permanent homes and businesses in San Augustine.
As Crocket observed in concluding his history of the town, the force of events swept past San Augustine, but the town remained unscathed and untouched, almost a footnote to Texas history:
The tide of progress which flowed over the State and filled it with wealth and influence, swept by and left the town, and indeed the whole section of the country, which once wielded so potent a force in the direction of affairs, entangled in one of those backward eddies, which sometimes retard the development of communities.
All that remains of those years of shining glory, when San Augustine played host to presidents, governors and the other aristocrats of the republic, is the history, much of it faithfully recorded in a newspaper whose sway and influence over Texas politics closely mirrored the fortunes of the town — The Red-Lander. In its columns, modern readers find an unvarnished glimpse of East Texas in the 1840s. It was a raucous, engaging place with a host of larger-than-life characters— some who were heroes, some who were scoundrels — but all a part of the region’s proud legacy as the Cradle of Texas.
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