What’s in a Name?

November 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Freedom of Speech manifests itself in a healthy alternative media. While Austin revels in calling itself “The Live Music Capital of the World,” (“Garage Band Capital”  would be closer to the truth), Austin could just as easily (and probably more justifiably) call itself “The Alternative Media Capital of the World.”

As my dear departed friend, Bill Narum used to say, Austin has the very rare distinction of having been born with dueling presses.

On October 30, 1839, Sam Whiting and Joel Miner printed the first edition of Austin’s first newspaper, the Austin City Gazette, several days before President Mirabeau B. Lamar arrived and Congress convened in its new, temporary wood-frame capitol.

The City Gazette was a four-page weekly that came out on Wednesdays and cost $5 a year. The City Gazette devoted about half its editorial space to the proceedings of Congress, laws, presidential decrees and other governmental matters. The rest of the paper was given over to local, national and international news, letters to the editor, editorials, fiction, poetry and essays (mostly reprints from other publications) and advertising (which took up a page or a page and a half).

Not surprisingly, the paper at first supported the new president, Mirabeau Lamar, but not exactly wholeheartedly, as revealed in issue number three, November 13, 1839: “the Gazette will support the Executive in any instance where the course adopted by him is not likely to prove injurious to the country.”

Elsewhere in the same issue, Whiting wrote: “The proprietor of this paper again presents himself before Congress as candidate for public printer. Having been elected by the last Congress, he felt obliged to have a press in readiness for the coming session. He trusts that the members of Congress will not be influenced by the representatives of his enemies who do not like him because they envy his success in life.”

Congress’ vote on the government printing contract took place in early December, but the City Gazette could not report the results until December 25; the paper had to skip two weeks. As Whiting explained, “We have five wagons at present, loaded with paper, materials, and another press on their way; a part of which have been already twenty-seven days out of Houston.” In another story, the Gazette reported that the Congress had voted 26 to 20 in favor of Whiting over George Bonnell and Jacob Cruger for public printer.

But what Whiting neglected to mention was that the government had subsequently changed its mind. Thus on December 6, 1839, George Bonnell and Jacob Cruger were selected as government printers. Perhaps Whiting should have been more slavish in his praise for Lamar. Whiting would retain the title “Printer to Congress” on his banner, but he would soon become the “opposition” press: Austin’s first “underground” paper and a model for all of the Siftings and Rolling Stones and Blunderbusses and Texas Observers and Iconoclasts and Rags and Austin Suns and Chronicles to come.

After a series of plain vanilla-looking issues, in January 1840, the Gazette announced it had gotten some new print and illustration material, which begins to show up in future issues. A good thing, because the Gazette now had competition, from the Texas Sentinel, published by George Bonnell and Jacob Cruger.

In the Sentinel’s first issue, in January 1840, Bonnell declared that it was an impartial paper. It was published every Wednesday and Saturday, four pages, three columns wide. Like the City Gazette, the Sentinel used very simple type faces, and almost no art, just an engraving of a sailing ship above the shipping news. The content was mostly government news. The ads were for mostly out of town businesses, in Galveston and such.

Being a man of many business interests, Sam Whiting was often out of town and so on February 12, 1840, George Teulon took over as editor of the Gazette and the gloves came off in the war between the Sentinel and the Gazette.

The Texas Sentinel, which soon after its birth revealed itself to be bitterly anti-Sam Houston, began publishing slanderous articles on Houston’s personal conduct. But as Lamar’s support withered, so did the Sentinel, which would disappear from the scene late in 1841, several months after Houston had been re-elected as president.

By March 11, 1840, the Sentinel was accusing Whiting of selling fraudulent land scrip in the US. The Lyceum’s debate topic was, “Should Texas wage war to utterly exterminate the Indians?” Bonnell, in a text notice, warns woodcutters not to cut wood on his land.

The Sentinel also included a brief, uncomplimentary “biography” of Teulon, who, it was said, came recently from Canada. It also featured a little remedy against Indian arrows, given by H. Mollhausen, Capt. of Artillery and Austin’s first architect: Take 16 to 24 sheets of blotting paper, interspersed with layers of silk or cotton, wrap it around your torso like a jacket, and you will be invulnerable to arrows and bullets.

Unlike most other boom towns, Austin had a newspaper, reading room, geology museum, and debating society before it had a proper bawdyhouse, gambling den, or saloon. Austin’s boom was based solely on its natural beauty; there was no oil, gold, silver, coal, iron ore, railroad, navigable river or power-producing waterfalls. San Francisco, for instance, did not get its first printing press and newspaper (the Californian) until January 1847. Austin did not get its first whorehouse until after the Civil War.

And at some point that summer of 1840, Austinites might have read the city’s first political satire publication, the Austin Spy, published by Dr. Richard Brenham. If published, no copies exist today, and it could have been just been some hokum printed in the Gazette. But we do know that Brenham was one of young Austin’s wittiest men before his untimely demise.

The December 23, 1840, City Gazette was the last issue with “Printer to Congress” on front page. The paper noted that Cruger had just been elected publisher. Last year, it said, promises of a new, state-of-the-art Adams Power Press had led to a revote in favor of Cruger. This year it was Cruger’s promise of 250 reams of paper in stock. The Gazette was hoping for another revote this year, in its favor. Just as Cruger’s Power Press had failed to materialize, the Gazette was equally skeptical of the arrival of 250 reams of paper.

But Lamar’s term as president would soon be up, and the Gazette busied itself promoting Sam Houston for president, in hopes of regaining the government printing contract.

While the Gazette and Sentinel exchanged political potshots, in April 1841 G.W. Morris offered Austin readers an alternative in the Rambler, published every Saturday for those who are “fond of Fun. Here you’ll find no lengthy speech of the politician, or love sick tale of the novelist; for the Lord knows the times are gloomy enough, without making us still more so by reading such nonsense. We need something to drive away the ‘blue devils’ — something to set our sides ashaking with laughter. We’ll let you know of all the doings ‘about town’, whether in the night or in the day-time.”

The Sentinel had died sometime in 1841 or 1842, after Sam Houston’s victory over the Sentinel’s candidate for president, David G. Burnet.

The last issue of the Gazette appeared in November 1842. Joel Miner moved to Houston in 1842 and later resided for a time at Washington, Texas.

With Texas statehood, people began returning to Austin, and the newspaper wars continued, with new names and owners that would change over the years to come.

The 1880s and 1890s were golden years for Austin alternative publications. Texans are world-famous for spinning yarns and other tall tales, and Alexander Sweet was the first Texas humorist (after Davy Crockett) to gain international fame. Born in St. John, New Brunswick, in 1841, Sweet moved to San Antonio with his family in 1849. He fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, but became a lawyer and staunch Republican during Reconstruction. Sweet began writing for the San Antonio Express in 1869, and then moved to the Galveston News, where his column “Galveston Siftings” gained him national fame.

Sweet moved to Austin in May 1881 and started a weekly humor magazine he called Texas Siftings. It offered “reliable information about Texas, brevities, news, chaff humorous editorials, humorous and descriptive sketches (illustrated).” After a couple of issues, he hired W. H. Caskie as cartoonist, whose fanciful depictions of Texans presaged such later freak icons as Gilbert Shelton’s Oat Willie and Jim Franklin’s Flying Burrito and armadillo smoking a joint.

Siftings was Austin’s first illustrated political satire publication featuring political cartoon covers. The paper soon had a national circulation and international recognition, and in 1884 Sweet moved it to New York. His 1884 book, Through Texas on a Mexican Mustang, was a bestseller here and in England and Germany. Cartoonist Thomas Worth was hired away from Currier and Ives to meet the demand for cartoons. In 1887 a London edition was started. At its peak, Siftings had a circulation of 125,000, half-again larger than Punch, the famous English humor magazine. At least one promotional poster for Texas Siftings has survived. The success of Texas Siftings was an obvious inspiration for Will Porter’s short-lived humorous weekly, The Rolling Stone. After a quarrel with his partner, the Siftings ceased publication in 1895 and Sweet returned to Austin. He launched a new humor magazine that quickly failed and he soon returned to New York, where he became an editor with the Tammany Times. He died in New York in 1901.

About the time Sweet moved to New York in 1884, William Sidney Porter came to live in Austin. Porter, alias O. Henry, is arguably the most famous human being to ever come out of Austin. Porter was not born in Austin, but he began his professional writing career here, as editor and ace reporter for The Rolling Stone, a short-lived weekly humorous paper. As talented an artist and cartoonist as he was a word wrangler, Porter aimed to emulate the success of Alexander Sweet and Texas Siftings before him.

Inspired by the international success of Alex Sweet’s Texas Siftings, an eight-page humorous weekly begun in Austin in 1881, Porter launched his own humor magazine. In March 1894, he acquired a printing press, a partner, and a moniker: The Rolling Stone: Out for the Moss, which was what they hoped they’d soon be rolling in. After doing his day time at the bank, Porter set to filling The Rolling Stone’s eight weekly pages with a burlesque of satire, sketches, political cartoons, squibs, and stories regarding local persons and events.

The Rolling Stone met with unusual success at the start, and had in its files letters from men like Bill Nye and John Kendrick Bangs praising the sheet. They were doing nicely, getting the paper out every Saturday–approximately–and blowing the gross receipts every night. Then the paper began to strike snags. One feature was a series of cuts with humorous underlines of verse. One of the cuts was the rear view of a fat German professor, leading an orchestra, beating the air wildly with his baton. Underneath the cut Porter had written the following verse:

With his baton the professor beats the bars,

‘Tis also said he beats them when he treats.

But it made that German gentleman see stars

When the bouncer got the cue to bar the beats.

That issue alienated every German in Austin from The Rolling Stone, and cost the paper more than Porter and his partner were able to figure out in subscriptions and advertisements.

In the face of The Rolling Stone’s mounting bills, Porter’s fingers evidently began to stick to some of the bills he handled at the bank. He altered the books as he went along, with the idea of readjusting them later when he repaid the money. A December audit revealed the shortages in his books. His father-in-law and others agreed to make up most of the shortage ($5000) and the bank was content to let the matter slide, but not the federal bank examiner. Embezzlement charges against him would be examined by the grand jury in July 1895.

Without a job, the Porters lived off of the Roaches’ generosity and whatever other crumbs of income that Will’s occasionally published squibs brought. He tried to keep The Rolling Stone alive by a variety of subterfuges, but it faded from view at the end of April 1895.

During Porter’s triumphs, tribulations, and trials in the 1890s, the man who sold his press to Porter in 1894 blazed his own fiery trail across national skies. On August 1, 1891, William Cowper Brann published the first issue of the Austin Iconoclast, not long after Texas Siftings moved to New York in search of a larger audience. Whereas Siftings had come out of the corner joking, the Iconoclast came out slugging, with opening stories like “The American Press-Its Hypocrisy and Cowardice,” “Playing the Pimp-The ‘Personal’ Column in Newspapers,” and “Female Chastity-What Is It?”

It wasn’t long before articles from the Iconoclast were being reprinted in dailies across the country, and was being read in Canada, Europe and beyond. Even the Iconoclast’s detractors had to admit that he had “succeeded in securing more free advertising for the Lone Star State than any journal ever published within her borders.”

But a high profile attracted little money and the Iconoclast immediately went into financial peril. He took outside jobs to keep it going but his troubles mounted. In March 1894 he sold the name and the rest of the paper’s assets to Will Porter for $250. Porter published two issues of the Iconoclast before Brann rethought the sale and asked to buy the name back. Porter acquiesced and changed his name to the Rolling Stone.

Brann would take his cynic’s crusade into the very belly of the Bible Belt in Texas: Waco. Brann’s Iconoclast debuted on February 1, 1895 with the same caustic skepticism shown in the Austin Iconoclast. The hypocrisy he found at Baylor University made fun reading and many enemies among the Baptist faithful, who called Brann the Apostle of the Devil. In one 1895 scandal, a 15-year-old Brazilian girl attending Baylor was impregnated by Steen Morris, a printer related to the editor of the Baptist Guardian and the president of Baylor University.  In October 1897, a group of Baylor students kidnapped Brann from his office and tried to lynch him. Less than a year after that, on April Fools Day 1898, he was shot to death by Tom Davis, father of a Baylor co-ed. Brann returned the mortal favor and the two men were buried two days later. Both funerals drew large crowds.

UT’s first humor magazine, the Coyote, appeared in 1909 that lasted through World War I. It was scarcely controversial.

In 1913, at the University of Texas, the a group called the Barbarians gathered at the gates not long after Christmas break ended, demanding an end to the Greek letter societies on the UT campus and elsewhere. The anti-fraternity men, who called themselves the Barbarians, vowed to take their abolitionist demands to the state legislature if necessary. Their fight led to the founding later that year of the Blunderbuss, a campus tabloid that lobbed volleys of scorn and ridicule on the Greek community for several decades thereafter. Richard Tudor Fleming attended the University of Texas, where he lettered as a pole vaulter for the track team, was editor of the yearbook, Cactus, and was one of three originators of the infamous Blunderbuss, an underground newspaper first published on April Fools Day, 1913, and then published for 16 years. By its own declaration it was “put out anonymously and administers justice and invective toward all the more prominent students on the campus with a generous hand.” It was printed on pink newspaper stock and was anonymously distributed under cover of night to locations around campus.

In May 1924, there briefly appeared a UT scandal sheet called the Tattler, put out because there were elements on campus who felt that the annual Blunderbuss in April had failed to dish out the traditional dirt it was famous for. It described several wild co-ed drinking parties and named a “Hall American Team” of 12 University students, explaining why each was picked for the team. The positions on the team that were thus filled were front end, rear end, wiener grabber, publicity grabber, mudguard, center, drawback, bump back, front back and back back. Almost all copies were seized before the y could be distributed, but those that did get into circulation were much in demand, some being rented for 50 cents an hour.

A few later years later, the Blunderbuss would be effectively put out of business through a series of lawsuits, though it would raise gain briefly in the 1930s.

In September 1919, the Scalper, a new comic monthly paper, debuted. Since the death of the Coyote, there had been no comic on campus, and the aim was to make it like the Harvard Lampoon, Cornell Widow, etc. Jerry Belcher was the debut editor; Jack Hyman was to have been editor, but had been kicked out of school. The first issue was so controversial the UT dads killed it.

Monthly college humor magazines were a national fad during the 1920s and the UT administration let its conservative guard down for once and gave students a chance to cavort around the edges of good taste. In 1923, the Ranger first appeared on the UT campus. Sexy student cartoons, racy jokes and campus satire were the monthly fare.

The modern era of great Austin cartoonists began in 1919 when Roy Crane arrived on the UT campus. Roy Crane would achieve national fame as a cartoonist and would serve as role model for a future generation of Austin poster artists and cartoonists, including Gilbert Shelton, creator of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, and Frank Stack, creator of one of the earliest underground commix, The Adventures of Jesus.

Born in Abilene in 1901, Crane attended UT-Austin from 1919 to 1922. His wife, the former Evelyn Hatcher, was also a student at UT Austin. Crane was art editor of the Cactus yearbook and the Longhorn, a student literary magazine that later merged with the Ranger, and he drew cartoons for The Daily Texan.

In an article about “Original, Freakish, Clever and Prosaic Means of Earning Way Through University,” the Daily Texan noted that Crane was plying his brush at three different places in the fall of 1921: He was on the Texan staff as artist and cartoonist, drew “those curly-whirly layouts for the society pictures and the automobile section’s heading on the Austin American and is artist for the Capitol Engraving company.”

Crane (1901-1977) is regarded as the father of the adventure-story cartoon strip. His first creation, Wash Tubbs, appeared in 1924. It soon was followed by Buzz Sawyer, syndicated by King Features, which became world famous. Crane would achieve the pinnacle of his success with the introduction of a rugged and savvy soldier of fortune, Captain Easy, who would inspire a generation of cartoonists.

It is almost impossible to overestimate the impact of this character on those who wrote and drew adventure stories in comic strips and comic books in the thirties. Gil Kane saw Easy in early comics. Kane, who began his comic book career in the early 1940s, once chanted a litany of credit to Crane before an audience at the San Diego Comic Convention: “Superman was Captain Easy,” he said; “Batman was Easy.”

And he listed several more characters before he stopped.

In 1937, future liberal US Congressman Bob Eckhardt was Ranger editor. Walking in the footsteps of O. Henry, he was also the magazine’s most prolific cartoonist that school year and he authored a number of stories as well, Austin’s latest, double-trouble, smartassed writer and clever cartoonist. A history buff, he knew Austin’s past well, including its party-hearty side. He celebrated the annual UT Round-Up homecoming by lampooning some of the greatest tricks pulled off by several of that year’s honored classes, including the Class of 1902, which brought Carrie Nation, the bar-smashing hatchet queen of Prohibition, on to campus. His illustrations at times mimicked those of O. Henry before him and inspired those of Guy Juke after him. Pressler’s Garden may have closed before Eckhardt was born, but he knew all about it, and Jacoby’s, and Scholz Garden too, from reading his history. History was another interest he shared with O. Henry and John Lomax and Raymond Everett before him, and Gilbert Shelton, Jack Jackson and Danny Garrett after him.

Jaxon would be a major contributor to the counter culture movement in Austin and San Francisco. Older than some of his Austin peers, he came to Austin in 1962 with a degree in accounting, because he had heard there was the beginning of a new scene there. He worked a straight, day job and partied with the tail end of the beatnik crowd at night, which is how he met Shelton, Janis Joplin and Chet Helms. They all attended the same folk music sings.

Jack Jackson adopted his trademark signature, Jaxon, to avoid detection by his boss, Robert Calvert, Texas’ comptroller of public accounts. Though his first love was history, Jackson had majored in accounting at Texas A&I University before moving to Austin and taking a grunt job in the Capitol basement. “I wanted to be like Spinoza –grind lenses by day so I could do fun stuff at night,” he told Gary Cartwright. At first, fun stuff was drawing subversive cartoons for the Ranger. Then, in 1964, Jaxon authored, with help from ex-Ranger editor Lieuen Adkins, what many regard as the first underground comic, “God Nose.” Jaxon printed God Nose late one night with the help of his friends in the Capitol printing office. So, the first significant underground comic was printed at government expense.

“God Nose” attacked the icons of Christian faith by presenting a hapless and bespectacled Deity frequently baffled by His creations. “God Nose” was a takeoff on the Austin Iconoclastic’s comic strip, “The Adventures of J(esus)” by Foolbert Sturgeon, AKA Frank Stack.

This 1960s incarnation of the Austin Iconoclast was the brainchild of Gilbert Shelton, who drew inspiration from the notoriety of both William Brann’s Iconoclast and O. Henry’s Rolling Stone of the 1890s. “Bill Killeen was publishing Wonder Warthog in Charlatan magazine, which he had re-started in Gainesville, Florida. That incarnation of Charlatan lasted until Killeen was sued for libel by some official of the University of Florida whose name had found its way into the joke column of the magazine. But I wasn’t making any income from the Wart-Hog. I lived off my friends for a while. I published six or eight numbers of the Austin Iconoclastic, all but the last two of which were pamphlet format. I also published a small edition of Adventures of Jesus, at least I took credit for being the publisher. It was xeroxed clandestinely at the University of Texas law school by a law student named Brooks Alexander, and I stapled it together,” Shelton said. A few years later, Shelton would suggest the name “Iconoclast” to controversial Dallas underground publisher Stony Burns for his new publication.

In the context of everything just said comes the launch of Richard Zelade: the Blunderbuss. Everything has to have a name, including this blog site. I chose to relaunch my blog as Richard Zelade: the Blunderbuss to honor, in part, Austin’s first underground publication (And with only a thimbleful of readers per week, I am about as underground as a blogger can get). The founders of the Blunderbuss chose that name because the blunderbuss cast a wide field of shot that was very effective at close range. My intent with Richard Zelade: the Blunderbuss is to similarly cover the broad spectrum of life and death and everything in between, within buckshot range of our pretty little city.

Funny, that a farming term, “broad casting” — “scattering seed across a wide area” — would be chosen to describe the transmission of radio programs to listeners all over the world during the original Blunderbuss’s glory years. But it proved the best word for the job.

But since this is the internet age, at the same time, I am broadcasting the seeds of the Austin area’s hubris and huggermugger to the world, or at least anyone who stumbles upon this spot.

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