Sunday, April 02, 2017

Praying the grasshoppers away & other stuff ...

There are many reasons to read ancient newspaper files, but when Dan M. Baker --- at the helm of The Leader during the 1870s --- is involved, sheer entertainment is one of them. Dan wrote well, was irreverent, could be funny and bored easily (so he enjoyed picking fights).  Looking through issues from late March and early April 1877, I found a few examples.

Grasshopper invasions plagued the Midwest and eastern Plains 1873-77 and during early April of the latter year, Dan caught wind of a plan in Minnesota for a state-wide day of prayer to combat the little critters. That motivated a little advice in The Leader of April 18 for Iowa's governor, Joshua G. Newbold:

"The governor of Minnesota has ordered Thursday, the 26th of this month, to be observed in his state as a day of prayer to annihilate the grasshoppers. We remember some years ago the governor of Missouri tried the experiment of praying the little voracious cusses out of that state, and the result was that every hopper broke for Iowa. In view of the fact, wouldn't it be wise for Governor Newbold to circumvent the pious appeals of the Minnesotians by getting up a little prayer in this state to keep the grasshoppers out of our border by driving them into some other state? As a question of self preservation, we submit our proposition to the governor, and advise him to act promptly in the premises or Minnesota will send a deluge of the insects among us in a few days."


Some weeks earlier, in his edition of March 24, Dan had offended the sensibilities of those who lived in the mining towns of Lucas and Cleveland by reporting upon St. Patrick's Day celebrations there as follows:

"St. Patrick's Day was not celebrated in this city (Chariton), but the jolly boys of Cleveland and Lucas did honor to the occasion, so far as free drinking was concerned. There were more drunk men in Lucas on that day to the square rod than any other town in the state."

A week later, one of Dan's rivals --- The Patriot --- took him to task for his slight to western Lucas County in the form of a letter to the editor. On April 7, Dan responded:

"Some owlish galoot styling himself 'one of the boys' (probably the old boy himself), takes occasion this week to criticise us in the Patriot because we commented some time ago 'upon the manner in which the Cleveland boys celebrated St. Patricks day at Lucas,' and very plainly intimates that we lied when we said there were more drunk men to the square rod in Lucas than in any other town in the state. We apologise to him; we meant more drunk men to the square acre than any township in the state. We are not very particular how much the 'boys of Cleveland' or any other set of roughs appreciate our mode of advertising, and beg of our owlish friend, 'old boy,' to tender his advice where it is most needed. Quiet, sober, decent men have no reason to take offense at our remarks, and the other class deserve them; hence our apology."


Also on March 24, Dan had noted the success of a traveling evangelist he identified as "Miss Leonard," who apparently had found the neighboring county seat town of Osceola a field ripe for harvest, then moved on to Knoxville.  The evangelist in question was Belle Leonard, then conducting Methodist tent meetings in southern Iowa and northern Missouri. There were rumors about that Chariton would be next:

"The Patriot says that Miss Leonard, the revivalist, after she converts Knoxville, will turn her eager eyes in this direction and try her skill on Chariton's unregenerated sinners. And just to think of it; the grand jury sits here next month, too. Where will all the people go for safety?"

A column away, however, he published an item from The Osceola Beacon suggesting otherwise, as follows:

"Miss Leonard, the Revivalist, has left these coasts. considering the cases of Fawcett, of the Chariton Republican, Baker of the Leader, and Maple, of the Patriot, hopeless, she had no heart to stop in that Godless town, after reaping so good a harvest among the newspaper men of Osceola. So she wisely passed on to Knoxville where it is hoped she may succeed in the regeneration business as abundantly as she did here."

Miss Leonard finally did make it to Chariton, but not until late August. Dan was not impressed, or so a brief item in The Leader of Sept. 1 suggests:

"Large crowds attended the Methodist tent meeting, but the work of revival does not prosper as was expected. Miss Leonard is a good talker, but the general impression is that her powers have been overrated."

Or Chariton simply may not have been a field so ripe for the harvest. The Patriot reported in its edition of Sept. 1 that Miss Leonard had netted only some 20-30 souls for the Chariton Methodist Church before moving on to Russell. The total in Osceola had been 60-70 during a similar week-long series.


Never let it be said, however,  that Dan lacked compassion for the downtrodden, as this item --- again from The Leader of April 24 --- suggests:

"Some blooming angels of easy virtue and uncertain morals were before His Honor, the Mayor, on Thursday, for being seen on the street. If such a thing is a crime, will the court please rise and tell us where the poor wretches are to live. If they are found in a house they are indicted, and if found in public are arrested and taken before the Mayor. His Honor discharged them as he should have done."

No comments: