I have a copy of the January 24, 1879 issue of the Caddo Free Press on my desk. I’ve been typing up some news for my Caddo blog and it occurred to me that despite the passage of well over one hundred years, the news from that era isn’t much different from the news of our own times. In fact, sometimes the parallels between the news I read in the old papers and the news I read on my MSN homepage are startling. I suppose that is one of the reasons I enjoy history so much! I find that reading about the problems and pastimes of my ancestors and their friends and neighbors keeps me calm and grounded. They survived the changes of their day and so will we!
The Free Press has a listing of the circuit judges, district chiefs, probate judges, sheriff, and other local officials of the day. There was already a need for a complex system of law enforcement in 1879. I find that even though we think crime is on the increase with every generation, what has actually increased is just our knowledge of it because of the changes in media coverage. This issue of the paper includes news of a murder, two other arrests, and the transporting of some prisoners. Later issues include robberies, rapes, abandoned babies, illegal whiskey selling, bar fights, and jail breaks. Sound familiar?
Our ancestors were also devout church goers. There are listings in the paper for the Congregational, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist church services. Pastors took turns preaching, often shared a building, and sometimes only made it into town once or twice a month. However, there was a service somewhere each and every Sunday and most folks attended. There were prayer meetings, revivals, Sunday school classes, and singing services.
Caddo had Masons and Odd Fellows as well as civic and social groups. People gathered for good times and good causes. This issue of the paper includes an article about the Sage girls, ages nine and eleven, performing an evening of “singing and elocution” at Nolan’s Hall in Denison for the “aid of the poor of that city”.
There is an advertisement in the paper for Domestic Monthly, “a journal of fashion and choice literary matter” offered for $1.50 per year and “well worth the subscription price”. Did you think our ancestors just wore any old thing?? We are the ones who are sloppy and dressed like servants most of the time. Our ancestors had elaborate fashion rules and expectations.
Doctors in this area worked themselves to death. There are always items in the paper about death and disease. Poor Dr. Walner nearly wore himself out caring for patients and his own dying wife. Dr. Thompson and Dr. Long successfully amputated a toe without losing their patient. Pneumonia and violence kept doctors traveling. Remember, they made house calls!
There is a sweet item about a young couple sharing part of their wedding cake with the editor of the paper. There are always marriages and funerals and baptisms listed in the papers. I suppose what surprised me at first were the divorces and infidelities. For some reason I had the notion that more of our ancestors lived happily ever after.
We have our war news and even the earliest papers had theirs. This issue of the paper has reports of the Indian situation. “Col. Gibson reports everything quiet at Ft. Sill. The Indians, who are out on a hunt in charge of two companies of the 4th Cavalry, are quiet and peaceful attending to their business, committing no depredations at all.”
Advertisements of the time include George Ahrens, Boot and Shoe Maker; Pete Hammer, Blacksmith; Planters House Restaurant; J.W. Robbins, Carpenter & Undertaker; L. A. Morris, Dry Goods and Groceries; George A. Gallie’s Restaurant and Confectionery.
And as final proof that some things NEVER change, I give you the opening paragraphs of the front page news of 1879:
Washington- Both Houses at Work
Since this holiday, both houses have settled down to hard work and legislation is rapidly approaching final action. The prominent measures are nearly ready for passage and by general agreement debates will be limited to few speeches of any lengths.
It is now expected that final action will be had on both bills affecting the interest of your people during the next week. Finding themselves unable to adversely influence members of Congress, the opponents of the Indian Transfer and the Oklahoma bills have of late concentrated their efforts to influence the President to veto both bills and thus stave off the inevitable until the next session.
The more things change…