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A New Newspaper Publisher: A Short-Short Story of Old West Paper
Letterpress type case
The County Newspaper
Uncle Jake is dead. He left everything to me, Sarah, his niece and only living relative. So I’m here in Carbons Creek with a small house, a burned out newspaper business, horse and buggy and a dog named Buddy. Buddy is a hero. He pulled Uncle Jake out of the building but my uncle died shortly after.
Although I was working as a copy reader for a publishing company in Chicago, I pretty much knew what was going on in Carbons Creek because I had the paper sent to me. My uncle also wrote about things that didn't go into the paper.
The lawyer handling the estate told me that he had an offer to buy the paper and house from me for a fair amount of money. He didn't say who the offer came from, but I suspect it came from someone in the political circle. Many stories and editorials were about some shady goings on in the political realm. They brought some lawsuits against Uncle Jake for libel but they got thrown out of court. At least the circuit judge is honest.
The sheriff’s report concluded it was an accidental fire. I’m inclined to think it was arson. Buddy and I went to look at the newspaper office. I guess I’ve been around newspaper people so much that I felt I had to stay and find out what happened. We found John, Uncle Jakes printer.
I looked around the burned out building. “It looks like the press is in bad shape the type case had been overturned and much of the type was damaged by the fire. Tell me John, what are the chances of getting this in shape to print another paper. Johns face lit up. “You want to keep publishing?”
“Just because I’m a girl don’t think I don’t know something about this business.”
“Oh, I know you do. I just thought that coming from the city and having a job there you’d be aimin’ to get back.”
“Uncle Jake was close to me. If he was on to something, I want to finish it.”
Well, we got one thing going for us. Your uncle was pretty smart and prepared for something like this. The equipment up here is the old stuff he put here in case they tried to destroy it. I’ll show you.”
There was a door almost hidden, in back of the shop that led to a cellar. John lit a kerosene lamp and led us down a rickety set of steps, I felt along the old mortar to keep my balance. A lot of dust crumbled off. I exhaled when we reached a damp dirt floor at the bottom. Then I looked at an almost new printing press, stacks of paper and cases of type. “This is where we’ve been doing the real work lately,” he said.
Back to Business
“ If you want to work for me, we got a job to do,” I said. “We got a paper to get out. We’ll let this town and county know we are staying. Start with publisher’s niece is taking up the family tradition. The Carbons Creek Sentinel will come out weekly with some special editions. Quality stories of town activities, news, items of interest and any editorials that seem necessary.”
“While you set that up I’ll write up an editorial about how I think the fire was set on purpose and whoever did it should be accountable for murder use whatever copy we have and fillers if we need them.”
I hitched up the buggy and set out to visit everyone I could find for information and paid business. A paper makes its living from job printing, calling cards, stationary and stuff like that. Advertising helps pay the bills. I also wanted clues as to who set the fire.
Barbershops are a hub of information. The barber trims hair but he also is the only kind of medicine man we have. They know what’s happening in town. Jed, the barber was surprised to see a girl in his shop. Any unmarried woman is a girl even though, like me, they may be 25 years old.
“Miss Sarah, Your uncle talked about you a lot. So you’re goin’ to start the paper again. “
“I sure am. Can I count on an ad from you this week?”
“Of Course. Few need that paper. Folks need to know about what goes on in this county. I bet you can dig it out, just like your uncle.”
“I’ll sure try.”
“Be careful though. Your uncle had enemies and they just might be yours, as well.”
“Got any idea who they might be?”
“Only that I would watch out for the county politics. I heard rumors of some land finagling.
We got the paper out and John said he’d see to getting them distributed. I went home and slept late. I woke up to hear a lot of pounding and other noise.
I could see the town from my window and there were a bunch of people at the newspaper office. They were pitting up new framework and carrying away and getting rid of the burnt wood and furniture. There was long table and fires going for cooking. The women were making a food for everyone. I put on a blouse and an ankle length buckskin skirt along with boots and a sunbonnet to see what was going on.
I had heard about “Bees” quilting bees, and building bees, but never actually saw one before. This would certainly be our lead story nest week.
“Sarah,” a middle aged woman stopped me. “Your Uncle was so important to this community and sort of special to me.” She didn’t say how special. “I know he thought the world of you and would be very proud that you are going to carry on the paper.’
“I will until I find out what happened. I don’t know after that.”
We had a great party and I couldn’t believe how great the office and shop looked.
My editorial created a buzz of talk in town. I think people suspected that the fire was arson and that Uncle’s death was murder but people only seem to believe what they see in print. I wasn’t real easy for the Sheriff’s office to ignore it. Buddy got downright contentious when a couple of deputies stopped by who at first tried to convince me that their investigation showed it was an accidental fire, probably Uncles fault. My uncle was very conscientious about safety around the print shop. Buddy’s attitude convinced me that these men had something to do with it.
After looking a t some back issues of the paper I decided to take a trip to the land registry office. Buddy jumped into the buggy beside me. I insisted that the land clerk show me the recent records of land registration. What I found, as uncle suspected, that certain tracts of land were altered to shift portions of ownership to friends of politician’s.
As I was leaving the Sheriff tried to bluff me. I think Buddy called his bluff, although it might have been the shotgun I had hidden under my skirt.
Anyhow, I knew what was going into tomorrow’s special edition.