Early newspaper editors lambasted political enemies

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANOctober 6, 2013 

Typical of the vicious attacks published by newspaper editors, even against members of their own political party with whom they disagreed, is this one by Statesman owner and Editor Milton Kelly that appeared on June 4, 1874:

“The Portland Bulletin claims that Dr. D.W. Ballard, ex-Governor of Idaho, has written a letter to Dr. Geary, published in the Oregonian, prating himself against ‘corruption’ and claiming ‘virtue’ etc., etc. Well, we don’t disagree very much with the Bulletin about the ex-Governor’s ‘virtue.’ ‘Corruption’ and ‘virtue’ are synonymous terms with him, and while he sometimes talked the latter, he always practiced the former. But, it is perfectly impossible for him to have written that letter. He can’t prove by anybody in this Territory that he knows how to write at all. He did get so that he could barely sign his name, but his clerk used to tell him on which margin of the paper to put it.”

Dr. David W. Ballard was a moderate Republican who served in one of the most tumultuous periods in Idaho history. He was a pioneer of Oregon who had practiced medicine in his new hometown of Lebanon for a decade, during which time he served several terms in the Oregon legislature. He was appointed governor of Idaho Territory in June 1866 and served until July 1870 — the longest term of office actually served by any man appointed governor of the territory. Several who were appointed to the post never came to Idaho. During efforts by political foes to drive him out of office, Ballard’s salary was withheld for a whole year and he had to support himself by practicing medicine. Despite what you might suppose from what Kelly wrote of him, before he returned to Oregon in 1870, where he resumed his medical practice, the genial Ballard had become popular in Idaho.

Physical retaliation sometimes followed what editors wrote. In April 1875, Kelly was beaten and stabbed by Louis Scholl, after criticizing him in print for his management of the school tax money. The judge’s son, Homer Kelly, then beat up Scholl. In 1881, J.B. Foster, who had published a paper called the Idaho Democrat, was shot at a tollgate near Ketchum. Although it was first reported that his wounds were fatal, he survived.

Kelly was still at it in January 1876, when he called the Owyhee Avalanche’s correspondent from Rocky Bar “the Ass of Alturas,” and called his writing “dwarfish thoughts dressed up in gigantic words.”

All early Western newspapers benefited from regular exchanges with their contemporaries, since it gave them news and items of interest not available locally. On Jan. 3, 1882, the Statesman reprinted a piece from the Walla Walla Statesman: “The story that old Leland, of Lewiston, was suffering from a cancer on his cheek is denied. The facts are that the cancer came around and after a look at Alonzo’s cheek went away and died of a broken heart.”

Alonzo Leland, a Democrat, had been founder and editor of the Lewiston Teller and a member of the first Territorial Legislature, as was later Statesman publisher Kelly. William A. Goulder, a member of the second legislature, who had known Leland in Oregon, recalled:

“I first knew him in the autumn of 1854, when he was engaged in editing a newspaper called the ‘Democratic Standard.’ After that I sometimes met him in the woods of Oregon (while) following the guidance of a solar compass. I next met him in the Oro Fino mining camp, interested in the building and running of a saw mill. He was also interested in mining operations in several of the mining camps of Idaho. Of all the occupations in which I knew of his being engaged, I always thought him best fitted for that of editing a newspaper. He was a writer of good ability and was indefatigably industrious.”

Leland spent the rest of his life trying to advance the interests of Lewiston, often with projects that even his friends thought were impractical. The fact that he was a Democrat, and had vigorously opposed moving the capital of Idaho to Boise in 1864, made him subject to negative reports thereafter in the Republican Idaho Statesman.

Leland was born in Springfield, Vt., in 1818. He died in Lewiston in 1891. Kelly was also born in 1818, in Onandaga County, N.Y., and died in Boise in 1892.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

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