December 17, 2015

Fiction in Montana's Historic Newspapers

by Natasha Hollenbach, Montana Newspaper Project Assistant

Tis the season of traveling.  For me, the most difficult part of my packing process is deciding what I’m going to read on the plane (and in the airports).  Kindle has simplified the process in terms of space, but the problem of which book remains.  Do I want to read something funny or serious?  Fiction or non-fiction?  This genre or that genre?  For this reading season, I have brought together some suggestions from historical Montana newspapers available on Chronicling America (

Most scholarly discussion on fiction found in newspapers focus on the serial publication of novels.  If this appeals to you, The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum was published in The Roundup Record from July 23, 1909 through Oct 15, 1909.  Or Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four ran in The Kalispell Bee during the month of February 1902.  It can be fascinating to see how the reading the story in a serial form creates a different experience, and sometimes the newspaper version of the story is significantly different from the novel version.  However, by limiting themselves to serialized novels, these researchers have overlooked most of the fiction published in newspapers from 1880-1922.

Roundup Record - July 16, 1909
Most Montana newspaper fiction during this period were one or two column short stories.  Even the researchers who acknowledge their existence tend to dismiss these stories as romances aimed at women readers.  While it is true, that the majority I ran across were romances, a substaintial number weren't. Even the romances show a variety of themes, settings, and endings.  Below are links to several stories highlighting this genre’s range.
Vera’s Trustee by Clarissa Mackie
The Girl from Goshen by Clarissa Mackie
Out of the Sky A Fourth of July Story by Clarissa Mackie
On the Border A Story for Memorial Day by F.A. Mitchel
A Belgian War Romance by Louise B. Cummings
Love’s Horrors by Louise B. Cummings
The Spotted Death A Story of Vengeance by F A Mitchel
Robin’s Christmas Gift by Clarissa Mackie

From The Spotted Death A Story of Vengeance
The Ronan Pioneer - April 12, 1912
Obviously this genre encompasses a great deal.  However, there were a number of surprising non-romance stories.  Here are two that I think of as Frankenstein-type stories.  Both have an emphasis on the legal implications, which is an angle that I’d never considered.
A Scientist’s Startling Proof by Oscar Cox
Omnium A Story of the Year 1985 by F.A. Mitchel (Before you write in angry comments, I know this is not from a Montana paper, but it's one of my favorites so I'm including it.)
There are ghost stories,
Perhaps not surprisingly there are numerous stories were the point seems to be imparting a moral lesson. 
Her Easter Bonnet by Clarissa Mackie
The Call It Occasions a Struggle Between Love and Duty by Clarissa Mackie
An Easter Lily It Inspires Good Feeling and Good Deeds by Clarissa Mackie

From An Easter Lily
The Whitefish Pilot - May 18, 1911
Next three stories don’t fit into any of the above categories but I think are worth mentioning.  The first is the social implications of the new technology: telephone party lines.  The second straddles the line of moral lesson and war.  The last story from 1913 surprised me because I really expected a different ending.  I interpret my surprise as partly due to a change in societal expectations and partly a difference in common story plots between then and now.
A Party Wire Muddle by Constance Wild
The Milksop by F. A. Mitchel
The New Girl She Found a Friend in Need by Clarissa Mackie
One of the main tropes during this period is coincidence.  Below are three stories (and believe me there were many more) that rest solely on a coincidence massive enough to be Shakespearian.  Just as I was beginning to lose hope, I found the last story on the list which actually goes against type.  It seems to me there is a research topic here about literary trends and their development.
If you’ve been looking at the authors, you’ll realize most of these stories have been written by three or four authors.  Many of them seemingly women.  However, my favorite of these authors is F.A. Mitchel.  The reason he’s my favorite is because his stories are the most diverse.  (Also in a couple of his stories he refers to East Tennessee, which is the correct name for that part of the state and he knows that East Tennessee supported the Union during the Civil War. I grew up in East Tennessee and it makes me happy when people get these things right.)  Below are a couple of his stories for a compare and contrast exercise.  They both are set during the Civil War in the South with a 11-12 year old boy as protagonist. However, compare the plots. Based on newspaper articles about Mitchel, I learned that he served in the Union army, and I definitely see some writer bias influencing the endings.
The Little Courier by F. A. Mitchel
The Little Bridge Burner A Civil War Story by F. A. Mitchel

From The Little Bridge Burner
The Western News - May 25, 1910
Whatever your reading tastes are, the historic newspapers of Chronicling America have a story for you.  So for all your travels or when staying at home, I hope you find the perfect reading material.

Harter, E. & Harter, D. (1991). Boilerplating America: The Hidden Newspaper. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America.
Johanningsmeir, C. (2004). "The Devil, Capitalism, and Frank Norris: Defining the 'Reading Field' for Sunday Newspaper Fiction, 1870-1910." American Periodicals, 14(1), 91-112.
Johanningsmeier, C. (1995). "Expanding the Scope of 'Periodical History' for Literary Studies: Irving Bacheller and His Newspaper Fiction Syndicate." American Periodicals, 5, 14-39.
Lichtenstein, Nelson (1978). "Authorial Professionalism and the Literary Marketplace 1885-1900." American Studies, 19(1), 35-53.

December 3, 2015

"Roughing It" with Jack Slade

by Barbara Pepper Rotness, Reference Librarian, Montana Historical Society

A recent Ken Burns documentary highlighting the life and works of Mark Twain reminded us that Twain auspiciously was born when Halley’s Comet was spotted on its 75- to 76-year trajectory around the sun. Twain himself famously remarked, “I came in with Halley's Comet... and I expect to go out with it." And, he did indeed die upon the next sighting of Halley’s Comet seventy-six years later on April 21, 1910.

During the course of his life, the environmental, political, and demographic landscape of America had dramatically changed. Mark Twain, born on November 30, 1835 as Samuel Langhorne Clemens, chronicled many of those significant events through his unique story-telling ability - that rare mixture of being an American, while providing an outsider’s perspective of the American culture of racism, hypocrisy, and provincialism. In his book, Innocents Abroad, Twain provided his prescription for overcoming those destructive traits: “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”.

Twain followed his own prescription throughout his life; however, when he was older and more content to stay home, he was forced to embark on a year-long worldwide lecture tour to overcome financial troubles. His travels at that time brought him to Montana for a week during the summer of 1895, and included performances in Great Falls, Butte, Anaconda (see article below), Helena, and Missoula.
Mark Twain's visit to Anaconda, MT
Anaconda Standard, August 3, 1895, page 3
From: Chronicling America

Much earlier than his 1895 visit to Montana, though, Mark Twain sent a letter to Virginia City in 1870 concerning the hanging of Jack Slade on March 10, 1864 by the Vigilance Committee. Twain wished to “rescue my late friend Slade from oblivion & set a sympathetic public to weeping for him."

As the letter mentions, Twain had met Slade before Slade made his way to Montana and Twain wanted to provide a different perspective concerning Slade's infamous character.

In his letter, Twain asked to obtain Virginia City newspaper articles about that period in Montana’s history and wished to include the story in a new book he was writing, later published as Roughing It.

The letter written and signed by Mark Twain is preserved in Montana Historical Society Archives Small Collection 104, The Hezekiah L. Hosmer Papers, 1848-1870, and is displayed below in two parts.

Letter written by Mark Twain, 1870.
The Hezekiah L. Hosmer Papers, 1848-1870, SC

Reading Chapters 10 and 11 concerning Slade in Roughing It, we learn what Twain was referring to when he states in this letter (above), "... I took breakfast with him and survived." Twain doesn't explain in his letter what he meant by that; however, one could misconstrue it as his sardonic way of saying the man is not as bad as his reputation.

Twain even describes his experience of first meeting the notorious Slade as being in the presence of a man of 'peerless bravery' and seems to admire this 'courageous desperado'.
Here was romance, and I sitting face to face with it!...Here, right by my side, was the actual ogre...I suppose I was the proudest stripling that ever traveled to see strange lands and wonderful people.
Upon further reading, though, Twain describes Slade as volatile, brutal, and unpredictable. After eating the meal Slade presided over, Twain feared that Slade's mercurial temperament might incite him to murder Twain, after all. Twain had heard that Slade had supposedly killed twenty-six people during his lifetime and Twain didn't want to be the twenty-seventh. In Chapter 10 of Roughing It, he describes the event:
He was so friendly and so gentle-spoken that I warmed to him in spite of his awful history. The coffee ran out. ...Slade was about to take it when he saw that my cup was empty.
Illustration of Mark Twain meeting Jack Slade by Benjamin Clinedinst
for 1899 edition of ROUGHING IT

He politely offered to fill it, but although I wanted it, I politely declined. I was afraid he had not killed anybody that morning, and might be needing diversion. But still with firm politeness he insisted on filling my cup...I thanked him and drank it, but it gave me no comfort, for I could not feel sure that he would not be sorry, presently, that he had given it away, and proceed to kill me to distract his thoughts from the loss. But nothing of the kind occurred.

Though Twain admitted to a romanticized view of Slade's 'desperado-nature', he still wondered, by Chapter 11, what could make a man kill so wantonly and without remorse.

...what could it have been that this stout-hearted Slade lacked?—this bloody, desperate, kindly-mannered, urbane gentleman, who never hesitated to warn his most ruffianly enemies that he would kill them whenever or wherever he came across them next! I think it is a conundrum worth investigating.
And, researchers have continued to investigate and try to understand Jack Slade and the history of Virginia City's vigilantism.

Come visit the Montana Historical Society Research Center to see this fascinating letter by one of America's most famous authors and learn about Jack Slade's life and death during a controversial and, still often confusing, aspect of Montana's history.