Saturday, November 16, 2013

Daniel M. Baker: More of the story

We took a horse-and-buggy trip here the other day down to Corydon and back with Dan M. Baker, editor of The Chariton Leader during the 1870s, but there's more to the story.

We would not have known the trip occurred had not a bound volume containing two years of Leaders --- including that report of the trip --- returned to Lucas County from California during 1982, a century after Baker carried it west.

That's a portrait of Dan at left that accompanied the bound volume home and now is housed with it at the Lucas County Historical Society Museum. Sorry about the quality; the portrait is covered by glass and hard to photograph.

Dan, who was born Jan. 26, 1842, in Indiana, was one of 15 children of Walker W. and Eliza Jane (Musselman) Baker. He came to Lucas County with his family during 1853, but returned to Indiana as a young man to study at Indiana State University, then came home to Chariton to practice law. 

The law bored him, however, and so he transitioned to editor of The Chariton Leader --- a newspaper with a prolonged identity crisis. Founded as a Democrat alternative to The Patriot, it was known variously as The Democrat and The Leader and for a time as the Democrat-Leader, depending upon the sensibilities of its owners. 

In addition the editing The Leader, he also wrote the local history portion of Lucas County's 1881 history, still the definitive account of the earliest days around here. During 1874, despite the fact Lucas was a strongly Republican county, its citizens elected Dan to the state Legislature. He also married, during 1869, Annie Bell.

Dan was a restless soul, however --- and he hated Iowa winters. So in 1883 he packed up his family --- and that bound volume of Leaders --- and moved to Orange County, California, where he made his reputation as a crusading journalist as owner, publisher and editor of The Santa Ana Standard. His parents and several of his siblings also relocated to Orange County during the years that followed.

Among the siblings who remained in Lucas County was Jesse Clark Baker, who founded Farmers & Miners Bank in Lucas, an institution that continued in the family for three generations until the death of his grandson Jerry Baker, who operated it as the last privately held, self-insured bank in the state until a banking disaster in Bloomfield convinced him that federal insurance probably was a good idea.

But it was J.B. Evans of Lucas who read Jim Sleeper's "Throw the Rascals Out," then struck up a correspondence with Verne Baker, of Ventura, California, Dan M. Baker's youngest son. In that manner, he discovered the existence of the Leader files and arranged for their donation to the Lucas County Historical Society some 100 years after they had been loaded aboard a train pointed west.

After arrival in Chariton, the issues were microfilmed and then sealed in the box they now occupy in the museum library. Don't try this at home! Storage in this manner is not ideal for fragile vintage newspaper, but for the time being we've elected not to disturb the arrangement.

Dan M. Baker died during 1902 in Santa Ana of throat cancer and his obituary, picked up from the Santa Ana Bulletin, his last newspaper, was republished in The Chariton Democrat of Nov. 6. Here it is:

D.M. Baker, aged 60 years, died at his home, 501 East Washington Avenue, Sunday morning, Oct. 26.

Deceased was one of the proprietors of the Bulletin, and up to a few months ago was in editorial command. Death resulted from the ravages of cancer of the throat, from which he had been a sufferer for two years.

The funeral was held from the family residence last Monday at 2 o'clock p.m. Mrs. Eliza Tupper Wilkes of the Unitarian church conducted the funeral services. The pall bearers were W.H. Spurgeon, F.O. Daniel, Geo. J. Mosbaugh, G.A. Edgar, M.A. Yarnell and R. M. Hargrave.

Daniel M. Baker was born in Brown county, Indiana, Jan. 26, 1842, and when but a boy removed with his parents to Iowa, where he grew to manhood. Before attaining his majority, he returned to Indiana where he was educated in the Indiana State University. Upon returning to Iowa, he took up the practice of law, but later quit his profession to take up the newspaper work. He was the editor of the Chariton, Iowa, Leader, and remained at the helm until his removal to this city in 1883. In 1874, he was elected to the Iowa state Lesgislature, being elected from a county that gave a normal Republican majority of 500. He purchased the Standard of this city upon his arrival, and was proprietor and editor until 1898, when desiring to take a rest from active work, sold the paper to other parties. He remained out of the paper business for over one year, but grew tired of private life and in company with Mr. W.J. Rouse (now of Los Angeles) founded the Bulletin.

Mr. Baker was a man of unusual genius and ability as a writer, and for almost twenty years has been a very prominent figure in Democratic politics of Southern California. Until within less that three years he held the position of chairman of the Democratic central committee for many years and was looked up to by all of his political faith as an advisor whose ideas were always worth listenting to and whose reputation was without blemish.

Besides his wife the surviving members of the family are three daughters and two sons as follows: Mrs. R.A. Grover of San Francisco, Mrs. W.J. Rouse of Los Angeles, Miss Bertha Baker, Bayard Baker and Verne Baker.

The writer who has worked with him as a partner in newspaper work, knew his good qualities as well, perhaps as anyone outside of his immediate family. He was a large-hearted, broad-minded man, and while expressing his own views in no uncertain manner, always conceded the same privilege to others. He was frank and fearless, and never hesitated in taking the course he thought to be right. His enemies we believe were few, and his friends we know were numerous. No one ever appealed to Dan Baker for aid in vain, and his acts of kindness were many. In the death of Daniel M. Baker, Santa Ana loses an honest, upright man, and his family a kind husband and father. Peace to his ashes.

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