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Barber County's first newspaper had "Sticky" beginnings


We are all familiar with the Medicine Lodge Cresset, The Gyp Hill Premiere and the Barber County Index. However, they were preceded by the Barber County Mail for a short time. Tom McNeal tells the story of its ill-fated editor in "When Kansas Was Young."

"In the early part of the year 1878 a man by the name of Cochran concluded that there was a field for a newspaper in the frontier town of Medicine Lodge. He purchased a Washington hand press from McElroy of the Humboldt Union, together with a couple of racks, a few cases, a well worn font of long primer type and another font of brevier, a few job fonts for advertising purposes, moved the outfit to Medicine and commenced the publication of the Barber County Mail. Possibly Cochran concluded that it didn’t make much difference what kind of a paper was published in that kind of a town, or possibly he didn’t know how to keep the worn type clean and a decent ‘impression’ on the washington hand press, but whatever the reason, the fact was that the paper was generally unreadable. Cochran was a man of fair ability with a rather catchy style of writing, but a good many of his local and editorial observations were lost because it was impossible to read what he had printed. Whether it was the poor print of the paper or the flirtatious disposition of the editor that caused him to become unpopular, I am unable to say, but the fact was that before his first year in the town had expired a number of residents gathered together and decided that he must depart thence in haste and with a promise never to return.

It was also decided that there must be meted out to him punishment commensurate with his offending, and on a decidedly cool night in the month of February, 1879, the regulators took the editor from his humble office, stripped him of his clothing and then administered a punishment which I think was entirely unique and unprecedented in the treatment of editors. There was no tar in the town and not a feather bed to be opened, but an enterprising settler had brought in a sorghum molasses mill the year before and as sorghum generally grew well there, had manufactured a crop into thick, ropy molasses. Owing to the cold weather the molasses was thicker and ropier than usual. The regulators secured a gallon of this, mixed it well with sandburs, which grew with great luxuriance in the sandy bottom of the Medicine, and administered this mixture liberally to the nude person of the editor. I do not need to tell my readers who are familiar with the nature of the sandbur, that it is an unpleasant vegetable to have attached to one’s person. Clothed with this unwelcome covering of sandburs and sweetness, Cochran was elevated upon a cedar rail and carried about on the shoulders of the self-appointed regulators. He privately acknowledged afterward that while this was an elevation and distinction such as no other editor perhaps had ever received, he would personally rather have remained a private and humble citizen on foot. After carrying the shivering and besmeared editor about to their hearts’ content, occasionally adding to his general discomfort by bouncing him up and down on the rough and splintered corner of the rail, the regulators told him that he must leave town within twenty-four hours, and never show his face or form there again.

There were other citizens of the town, among them a brother of mine, who, while not particularly enamored with Cochran or his style of journalism, felt that his morals would at least average up with those of his persecutors. They also organized, armed themselves with such weapons as were convenient, and told the editor that he could remain as long as he wished and they would be responsible for his safety. Cochran expressed his appreciation of their kindness, but confessed to them that the atmosphere of the town did not seem salubrious or congenial to him and if they would arrange to purchase his paper and outfit he would seek other climes where it was not the habit to decorate editors with sandburs and sorghum molasses. His proposition was accepted by my brother and his brother-in-law, E. W. Iliff; the Barber County Mail slept the sleep that knows no waking and a new paper, the Medicine Lodge Cresset, was born.

The name Cresset was the selection of Iliff, who looked the typical frontiersman, but was really a lover of good literature and an especial admirer of Milton. Readers of ‘Paradise Lost’ will recall the vivid description of Satan’s palace which was lighted by ‘cressets.’ This appealed to Iliff’s poetic fancy and so the name, Medicine Lodge Cresset. The name called for a good deal of explanation. Half the exchanges persisted for years in calling it the Crescent, apparently laboring under the impression that some followers of the Sultan had migrated to Kansas and gone into the newspaper business. There was also some considerable curiosity among the readers of the paper, who had never read the blind poet’s great creation. ‘What’s the meanin’ of this here name Cresset?’ asked a rough, weatherbeaten cowboy, who ambled one day into the office. The origin of the name was carefully explained to him. He mused over it for a time, then looked at the rather meager and not very handsome paper, and exclaimed:

‘Damned fittin’ name I would say. This here is a hell of a paper, isn’t it?’"