Joseph Simonton


On Wednesday, the newspaper you have in your hands turns a hardy 140 years old.

The first issue of the Sauk Centre Herald was put out by Joseph Simonton, his young printer's devil and a volunteer named N. H. Miner June 6, 1867.

Simonton set each piece of type by hand and printed two pages at a time on an old 1800 pound Washington hand press that found its way from the Minnesota Pioneer, the state's first newspaper.

The Herald was the first continuous newspaper west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains. It would become the official newspaper for Todd, Douglas, Otter Tail, Pope, Grant and Morrison County.

If you were holding a copy of that first newspaper you would see four broadsheet pages with two pages of boilerplate national and international news and features and two pages of local news.

The name would be in Old English type across the top of the page with the subhead, "A REPUBLICAN NEWSPAPER PUBLISHED AT SAUK CENTRE, MINNESOTA, EVERY THURSDAY."

That first issue had such headlines as: "A head of a dead man tries to speak," "Fiendish murder in Hastings," "A wife that crows" and an essay by Mark Twain titled, "The story of a bad little boy who didn't come to grief."

You would have learned that local artist W. J. Whitefield opened a paint shop, and that there have been several teams of settlers, surveyors and military units coming through town for the frontier.

You could also read a long account of Brubas's Brewery having "spared neither pains nor money to render his fixtures and apparatus as nearly perfect as possible a genial beverage may be expected."

You would also read long accounts of presidential and legislative speeches and proclamations.

There were advertisements for the G. L. Mendleson Variety Store in Holmes City, C. F. Winter's store with the finest in wines, liquor and cigars and another for the Sauk Valley Drug Store.

There were also bold declarations of the richness of the soils throughout the Sauk Valley Prairie.

Joseph Simonton was born in Perry County Pennsylvania working in the printing offices of the Sauk Rapids New Era, which was the successor of Minnesota's second newspaper, the Frontiersman.

He had an interest in the St. Cloud Times, which he sold to go into business with his brother Samuel in Sauk Rapids.

The Herald was a continuation of the Sauk Valley News that opened for business in the spring of 1866. It provided local printing but it didn't publish a newspaper until January of 1867 and sold to Simonton in April. Reports say owner George W. McLaughlin preferred hunting and trapping to printing and publishing so he turned the paper over to his backer W. H. Wood of Sauk Rapids who sold it to Simonton.

Simonton's brother Samuel joined him in July as a partner and the printer.

The first Herald office was a small frame building on Third Street with a sign reading, "Sauk Centre Herald, J. H. Simonton publisher." It had two rooms, separated with walls of newsprint. The newsroom had the press, four cases of type and an exchange table. Simonton lived in back with a single bed, two rickety chairs, a few dishes, a table and books.

Later the Simontons built a shack out back where they kept all the merchandise they took on trade for advertising and subscriptions. This included chickens, cord-wood, venison, beef, butter, eggs, grains and produce.

Between growing up and political positions, Frank Eddy had been a printer's devil for the Simontons, was a publisher and an editor. In the 1915 Greater Minnesota Edition of the Sauk Centre Herald he remembered, "Mothers of the bride would bring in large pieces of wedding cake for an extended wedding notice which usually read, 'bride was as beautiful as a dream and the groom was one of the most popular and best liked young men in the community.' "

Eddy added, "A newspaper in those days was regarded more as an object of charity than a business. I can't remember ever seeing cash money come across the counter. Everybody donated a piece of something-notice of donation expected of course. One of the newspaper problems of the early days was how to dispose of donations of game and fish without injuring the feelings of the donators."

Printing was the main source of income for the Simontons and the newspaper was a way to promote their ideas and business. The Simontons were known more as craftsmen than businessmen that served to open the frontier.

Stearns County was a wilderness when the Herald began. Eddy wrote about coming to Sauk Centre as a boy later in 1867.

"After leaving St. Cloud, we traveled through a wilderness most of the rest of the distance. Settler's cabins were few and far between, ruins of domiciles that had been destroyed by the savages a few years before were scattered here and there, grim reminders of that awful tragedy. Small flocks of deer crossed our way almost every hour of the day; once I remember a huge black bear disputed our passage and we had to halt our journey until his majesty bruin, leisurely made way along the road till he came to an opening and lumbered away into the shadowy forest. As soon as the stars came out the eerie howling of the wolves sounded their cry and we children plunged into our common bed and drew the covers over our heads even if we had to leave our feet sticking out," wrote Eddy in 1928.

Trappers would trade their furs in town. There were still Indian villages north of town and the streets didn't have sidewalks and a public school had yet to be established.

The Herald served as the official newspaper for Todd, Otter Tail, Morrison, Grant and Pope Counties and took in printing on the stage from western territories.

Upon the start of the Herald the editor of the St. Cloud Times wrote to Simonton, "You have created a sensation in this city. The journalists here supposed no respectable paper could be started or maintained outside the corporate city limits of St. Cloud. They have been awakened in surprise, by the appearance of your very elegant and entertaining columns."

The Simontons sold the newspaper to Charles Hendryx in 1879 and died in 1920.

Eddy wrapped up the early years of the Herald in a 1928 column.

"The story of the Sauk Centre Herald, its trials and it successes is the story of the Northwest for the last half of the century. It dates back to the old Homestead, Ox-team, Mule Train days and is surrounded with all the romantic glamour of those early times. With the exception of the St. Cloud Journal-Press, the St. Cloud Times and the Anoka Union, as far as we have been able to learn, it is the oldest paper in the Northwest, west of the Twin Cities and east of the Rocky mountains that has sustained a continuous publication."

The Simonton Bros. were typical frontier newspaper men who could not be daunted by dangers, disheartened by obstacles or crushed by disappointments. It was a fight for existence from the beginning but the Herald pulled through the flood disaster of 1867, the lean grasshopper years and by sheer persistence and indomitable pluck they turned over to their successors a flourishing and prosperous country paper. The Herald has been an institution and a mighty one for more than sixty years, furnishing a true mirror of current events and has established a strong and virile influence not only in the city where it circles but throughout the state," concluded Eddy.


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