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Friday, October 30, 2015

Ten Years In the Newspaper Game, part 5

[In this series, Beatrice Boedefeld Andrews described aspects of her experiences as a newspaper reporter and editor from 1910 through 1920. She worked first for The Elkhart Truth in Elkhart, Indiana, and later for the Casper Daily Tribune in Wyoming. She changed many names, such as substituting Concordia for her hometown, Elkhart. This is the final episode in the series. The first parts are:
I. Becoming a Sobsister.
II. Tramp Reporters.
III. City Editors I Have Known.
IV. Paste and Shears and Colyums.]


V. Getting the Big Thrills in the News Game

(Final story of a series by Beatrice B. Andrews, of Casper, Wyoming. Read this even if you have missed the others.)

No matter how much drudgery there is in the everyday round there are usually compensating moments. If there are not, then must the worker indeed be miscast in the great drama of earning a living and his plight is sad.

It is the knowledge that no two days will ever be alike that gives the newspaper game its great fascination. There is a treadmill, to be sure. Each day the beat must be traveled, and the reporter must ask his little list of pertinent questions, and meet with the same old answers:

“Well, what do you know today?”
“Not a thing.”
“Anything new, Bill?”
“Nothing new under the sun.”
“What’s doing in the shoe trade, John?”
“Oh, same old seven and six.”

But—you never know. Just around the corner the story of a lifetime may be lurking.

One of these days Bill may say, “Lots of excitement out our way last night, Joe. Man held up a guy, took a diamond and a watch off him and the guy managed to get him down and brained him with a brick.”

And you are off after a few questions on a red hot story.

To the girl reporter the thrills come a bit differently than to a man. For me there was my first scoop, a golden wedding celebration in which the leading figures were of unusual prominence. The tip had come from a preliminary story in the opposition paper, and they forgot to follow it up. I had many bigger and better ones later, but there is always a thrill in a first experience.

Among the highlights of my newspaper career, it seems to me now that election nights brought me the greatest thrills of all. There is a sort of breathless excitement in a newspaper office on election night which the most callous and blasé person must feel. So many hopes hang on the figures reported piecemeal from the various polling places. The little more means so much in hope and anticipation, and the little less is so often the difference between rejoicing and despair. And there are all the thousands of eager people in the street outside, in the public gatherings, or in their homes, depending on the paper for their knowledge of the results. There is something big in feeling that your paper has been the first to compile the complete returns and get them to all those waiting people.

Election day was always a day of big preparations in the office of The News. Cards with the names of the candidates in the principal parties were prepared and the boys were sent out early in the afternoon to all the precinct polling places in the city with instructions to get the promise of one or, better, two of the officials to telephone us the vote as soon as the ballots were counted.

It was my task to assist in preparing great charts, cross-ruled for the number of precincts and vertically ruled so that each candidate might have a column, and see that the names of precincts and candidates were properly inserted. The huge projecting lantern was set in place in the editorial room and the white sheet upon which the returns would be flashed was stretched on the building across the street. Stacks of isinglass slides appeared on the editor’s desk to be typed with the bulletins when the news began to come in.

Sometimes extra telephones were installed, and an effort was made to rope off a space surrounding the desks of reporters, editor, and telegraph man to keep the politicians from crowding over the desks and interrupting the busy workers.

If it were a general election, there was a thrill in the report from that first little town in Massachusetts which always completes its count about 4:30 in the afternoon. There are only some 68 votes to be counted. Those 68 votes are as a grain of sand in the whole result, of course, but there is a superstition about the showing there, just the same. There was no reason for sticking around between five and seven o’clock, but we generally did, going out one at a time to snatch a bite to eat at a hot dog stand, or some place close at hand.

Then the wire would begin to tick off the first meager returns from upstate counties in New York. The great electric lantern would be turned on and focused by the man engaged to operate it and cartoons and preliminary messages would be flashed on the screen.

Answering the battery of telephones was my task. There were always two and sometimes three whose bells must be distinguished. Something definite had to be told each inquirer—the prestige of the paper rested on my shoulders, I felt. Each of those inquirers must get as much information from us as he got from the opposition and more if possible. It was no easy task either with very meager returns from New York, Chicago, and a few Ohio cities to answer the woman who immediately assumed that her candidate was elected because he was in the lead, or the man who demanded the local vote on sheriff when only the heads of the ticket had been tabulated.

Then the local returns would dribble in bit by bit. Volunteer workers had gained entrance to our roped off space by hook or crook, and were as busy with pencils, phones and cards as were the reporters.

“Here’s Harrison township complete,” would come from one.

“Can’t get anybody at Osolo North. Do you ’spose they’ve gone to bed without reporting?”

“I’m getting Osolo North right here, Bill,” from a volunteer on another telephone.

And all the while lights glaring, telegraph instrument clicking madly; typewriters pounding out a running story for the extra edition to be run as soon as enough returns were in to justify it; the electric lantern roaring and snorting; tobacco smoke thicker and thicker; elated and disgruntled candidates decorating the tables and chairs not otherwise in use, and getting in everybody’s way; litter on the floor growing thicker and thicker; and above and through it all the incessant ringing, ringing of the telephones.

Then a lull—complete returns from the city all in. Almost complete returns from the south half of the county, collected by the paper in the town which was the county seat, the trend of the national election as well as the state clearly shown—the final bulletin to the fast thinning crowd outside and supper for us.

No banquet tasted so good as those chicken suppers with their accompaniment of strong and bitter coffee sent in from some neighboring restaurant on the order of the editor.

One year the steward of the Elk’s Club sent us a feed of roasted wild duck, which was something to be remembered forever.

I was generally sent home in a taxi shortly after midnight.

“You’re game, girl,” the city editor would tell me, “but you’ll have to answer twice as many phone calls tomorrow and you’d better get some sleep.”

I never wanted to go, even though I knew, after the first time, just what the next day would mean. But even I had enough in 1916 when for three days the issue in the national election hung in doubt. I found myself saying mechanically, “We do not know yet, the result in California is still uncertain,” even though the party at the other end of the phone line hadn’t mentioned the election and was merely trying to give a personal.

Giving out the results in the World’s Series ball games always afforded me another thrill. For the eight days or so each fall when those games were on, all other afternoon work of mine was secondary to phoning ball scores to anxious fans gathered in some eighteen or twenty pool rooms and like centers throughout the town.

With the aid of the telephone company, we worked out a plan of having these parties put on our line all at once while I repeated the score slowly three times. Those who got it then hung up and those who had questions were supposed to ask them one at a time. Of course they all piped up at once, but the scheme worked fairly well at that.

The installation of an electric score board and the employing of a megaphone man to detail the plays brought the fans from the pool rooms to the street in front of our building and cut my work down to answering only the casual inquiries from men and women fans all over town—merely three or four hundred, and they all wanted the result by innings—or so it seemed. But it was something out of the ordinary, and there was again the satisfaction of furnishing eagerly waiting people with news which they could not get in any other way.

Twice the paper on which I worked managed to “scoop the world” for the news service which furnished it its telegraph news.

Through the United Press, the News was the first to announce to the world that arrangements had definitely been concluded for the big railroad strike which was threatened in 1916. A high official in one of the brotherhoods [a union official] lived in Concordia, which was a railroad division terminal, and telegraphed the news to us immediately after the action was taken in Cleveland and before the meeting which was held behind “closed doors” had adjourned for the day.

We were able to make a definite announcement from Concordia before the news appeared in the Cleveland papers.

In December, 1919, the Tribune at Casper “scooped the world” on the capture of Carlisle, the daring train bandit who escaped from the Wyoming penitentiary at Rawlings and immediately afterward held up a Union Pacific train in the spectacular manner which he had made peculiarly his.

After robbing the train, the bandit, wounded, escaped into the desolate mountainous wilds which lie between the Union Pacific and central Wyoming and made his way from ranch to ranch until word of his whereabouts was finally sent to the sheriff of Converse County. The train robber, half delirious from a septic wound, was surrounded in a lonely cabin and brought to Douglas, later to be returned to the “pen.”

Their imaginations fired by his daring, jokesters all over the country kept sending out news of Carlisle’s appearances, and wires warning U. P. officials of further contemplated robberies were received at points all up and down that road so that there was universal interest in Carlisle’s capture.

Our regular edition had gone to press when the telephone rang and the editor was summoned to talk with Newton, editor of the paper at Cody. Newton happened to be in Glendo, east of Douglas, on business and had seen the sheriff’s party bring Carlisle in. He gave us a complete story of the capture and we were able to send a man by automobile to Douglas before the party with the bandit arrived there on the evening train.

Our extra contained the first published news of the capture and through the Associated Press, Casper told the world about it that night and the following morning. We even had the story before the editor of the Douglas weekly knew what the purpose of the sheriff’s mission had been.

I was not much surprised, however, when I met him the following spring. Douglas is one of those towns where they “roll up the sidewalks at nine o’clock each night.” Indeed, I first heard that phrase in Douglas when I was sent there for a week in April, 1920, to cover a murder trial as special correspondent for my own paper and for the Denver Times and the Denver Rocky Mountain News.

That was about the most important assignment I ever received, I think.

A dramatic story lay back of the murder of a deputy sheriff for which a young taxi driver was on trial. Politics was involved, a prosecuting attorney had resigned because the case had been taken out of his hands and put in the hands of special prosecutors. He and the sheriff had been arrested by the town marshal on a warrant issued by the prosecutor prior to his resignation. Casper had so taken sides that a change of venue to Douglas had been secured.

The shooting resulted from an effort by the sheriff’s office to run down bonded whiskey valued at $50,000 which had been stolen from a warehouse in Casper. It had been moved several times and an old taxi man by the name of Moore was believed to be directing the operations. A Moon car which he owned had been followed on mysterious errands. Finally the cache was located with the help of four Greek stool pigeons. The liquor had been stored under a garage built by a plumber living in the east end of Casper. The man was the father of nine children and probably needed the money given him for concealing the liquor.

When tipped off one night that the cache was about to be moved again, the sheriff, without stopping for a search warrant, took his entire force to the spot, intent on recovering the stolen liquor.

Armstrong, detailed by Moore to watch the place that night, was on the scene. His defense was that he and Martin, the plumber, had thought the house was being attacked by Greeks who hoped to get the liquor and that he and Martin were defending the latter’s home when they shot at the intruders.

The state contended that the sheriff and his men had commanded Armstrong and Martin to halt as they emerged from the house and told them the place was being searched by officers. That in spite of this Armstrong had fired, killing Majors, a deputy, and Martin also fired, wounding the old bailiff who had been taken along as an additional deputy. Martin himself was shot by a third deputy. Moore and Martin were held as accessories, their trials to follow if Armstrong were convicted.

It was the most dramatic trial which Douglas had seen for a number of years and the courtroom was crowded daily. The streets and the terrible eating houses were crowded with Casper people who were likewise there for the trial. The hotel was filled with them also.

My instructions were to treat the story in an absolutely impartial manner, favoring neither side, and in particular, I was not to give importance to the arguments of the attorneys.

The paper was in a delicate position, for at the time of the shooting we had been loud in our championship of the sheriff, only to find that his carelessness and negligence in not procuring a search warrant would probably lose the case, which it did.

So I was somewhat put to it to keep the goodwill of my attorney friends on either side who would discuss the case over luncheon or dinner tables, each blowing his own horn a little and hoping to see some kind words on his cleverness and wisdom appearing in the next issue of my paper.

I was kept on the keen jump when it came to getting my reports for the Denver papers written and filed at the given hour without missing anything of importance in the court procedure. The detailed story for my own paper was sent out on the night train, and I always had the escort of a couple of deputy sheriffs down the dark street which led to the station.

One night they treated me to ice cream at the Bull Pup Café and pointed out holes in the woodwork made in some general shooting affray which had occurred there when the place was a saloon.

“Yep, Red Jack died right over there by the door, and the bullet that killed him went right through, making that hole,” Roberts, one of the deputies, said. Real wild west stuff.

In the end, the state lost the case, partly on the fact that the sheriff had no search warrant and that Martin had been defending his home, presumably from Greek marauders; and partly because the counsel for the defense was far more clever in his final arguments than was the Irish special prosecutor who bellowed and roared, got red in the face, tore his collar loose so that one end rode wild under his ear, and tried to make up in noise what his arguments otherwise lacked in effectiveness.

Even the elements seemed to protest the verdict which set Armstrong, Moore and Martin free, for a terrific April blizzard struck Wyoming that night and marooned us all in Douglas for two days after the trial ended, all traffic by road or railroad being at a standstill for that length of time.

And so I covered a murder trial. There was plenty of chance for “sob stuff.” Armstrong’s aged parents were there from their Missouri home and sat by his side, day after day, making a most appealing picture for the jury. And on the other side of the courtroom Major’s widow with her two little fatherless children, a baby boy and a little girl, also sat, day after day, where the jury could see them plainly.

Armstrong had always been a model son at home, they told me. Church and Sunday School and all that. They couldn’t believe that he had intended to do anything wrong.

One of the deputies had ruthlessly shot a Mexican in Cheyenne in performance of his duty, so he said, but he was scared to death that the attorneys for the defense would bring up the affair in an effort to discredit him, and as a result made a very poor witness.

The poor old sheriff had a horror of death and had had an attack of mental aphasia at the coroner’s inquest brought on by his grief at the death of his deputy and the shock of the whole affair. But he got no sympathy on that score when he had to admit on the witness stand that his mind was blank on many of the happenings of the day after the murder.

The wife and two of Martin’s little daughters testified to being roused from sleep by shots and brutally harried by deputy sheriffs in their search of the Martin house for the gun used by Armstrong.

And all of this I used to its fullest extent, you may be sure.

It is well these high days do not come too frequently, and that there are stretches in between of the quieter search for everyday news. But they do come, to every reporter, and it is the hope of getting the big assignment which keeps him always alert to do his best on the little ones.

And the only reward he wants is to have the old man look up for an instant, after reading his story, and remark, “This is good stuff. Give us some more.”

A great newspaper man who once addressed the Medill School of Journalism in Chicago said he counted that moment the greatest in his life, and I count the rare times when it has happened to me as my most satisfactory moments, too.

***********************
Notes:


1. Bill Carlisle, the train robber, was an orphan who had moved to the Powder River country and was a hard-working cowhand until he robbed a train during a destitute period of his life. He was known as “The White-Masked Bandit” and the “Gentleman Bandit” for refraining from robbing servicemen, women, or children. He had served about 3 years of his life sentence when it was commuted to 25 – 50 years, but he decided he couldn’t wait that long and escaped by being carried out in a packing case of shirts—he had worked at the prison shirt-making factory. After his capture and return to prison, he received time off for good behavior and was released in 1936. His later life was successful and honest.
2. A Moon car was one manufactured by the Moon Motor Car Company out of St. Louis, Missouri.
3. Greek stool pigeons: men who agreed to tell authorities what they knew in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Greeks were stereotyped at the time as mobsters.
4. Aphasia is a type of brain injury that affects the ability to communicate, whether speaking, writing, or understanding, or some combination of the three..
5. The murder of Tom Majors was for many in Casper the last straw in a series of corruption scandals in which it seemed to the general public that bootleggers and other criminal syndicate types were running things and getting away with their crimes. Here is another version of the case, written by Alfred J. Mokler, a former publisher of the Natrona County Tribune who had retired in 1914, author of Natrona County History 1888—1922, published in 1923.
“Bootleggers Murder an Officer
“Charles Moore, H. J. Evans, H. B. Armstrong, Roy E. Martin and Lawson Hallowell, the three former being taxi-drivers and the two latter engaged in the plumbing business, but whose principal occupation was bootlegging, were the principals in an atrocious murder Sunday morning, November 2, 1919, when Deputy Sheriff Tom Majors was shot in the arm and the head with a shot gun and instantly killed and County Jailer George McKenzie was shot in the right shoulder. Martin was shot in the right breast three times and the thumb of his right hand was shot off by one of the deputy sheriffs. McKenzie and Martin were taken to the hospital and in due time both recovered from their wounds.
“Armstrong and Moore had previously been arrested upon the charge of stealing $40,000 worth of whiskey, but the case against them was dismissed on account of the lack of evidence. It was learned that about two hundred cases of liquor had been stored on the Martin property, and at 4 o'clock in the morning Sheriff Pat Royce, Deputy Sheriffs Tom Majors, W. E. Kilgore, Charles Easton and George McKenzie and Special Detective Roberts of the Burlington railway went to the Martin plumbing shop to make a raid on the bootleggers. When the officers surrounded the building, Armstrong and Martin came around a corner armed with shot guns. Majors saw them approaching and called to them to put up their hands. "Go to hell! Put up your own," was the answer and command of Armstrong, and without further parley he fired at the officer. The first shot shattered the deputy sheriff's right hand and the second shot struck him full in the mouth, the charge passing through and blew out the back of his head. Martin opened fire at about the same time and wounded McKenzie, but before he could fire a second time Roberts opened fire on him, with the result of four bullets taking effect, three in his chest and one shattering his thumb. Armstrong and Martin then ran to Martin's house which was near by. When the smoke of the tragedy had cleared away search was made of the premises and great quantities of liquor were found buried under the floor of the plumbers' shop, the cases being covered with several inches of earth.
“Armstrong and Moore were placed in jail and Martin was guarded by a deputy sheriff in the hospital. Evans and Hallowell were dismissed. The board of county commissioners appointed C. E. Winter and M. W. Purcell as special prosecutors for the county to prosecute the case against the assassins. This action of the county commissioners caused Prosecuting Attorney W. E. Patten to feel slighted, and he caused the arrest of Sheriff Royce and Deputy Kilgore at 2:30 in the morning of November 6, charging them with feloniously attacking Armstrong on the morning of November 2, with the purpose of committing violent injury upon him. The sheriff and his deputy were dispossessed of the office and Constable John McClellan, who served the warrants on the officers, took charge. The trial of the sheriff and his deputy were had before Judge W. E. Tubbs without delay and the cases against them were dismissed, and the sentiment of the community was so strong against the prosecuting attorney that he was forced to resign, and the feeling against the men who were charged with the murder of the deputy sheriff was such that a number of citizens organized and no doubt would have dealt out justice without waiting for trial by the courts had they not been assured by the special prosecuting attorneys, the county commissioners and other county officers that a speedy trial would be had and that justice would be meted out without unnecessary delay.
“At a preliminary trial held before Justice Tubbs on November 16 the three men were held to the district court for trial without bond upon the charge of murder in the first degree. At the December term of the district court in Natrona county a change of venue was demanded and granted and the case was ordered to be tried in Douglas before a Converse county jury at the April term of the district court. The case against Armstrong was the first to come to trial. There was no question in the minds of the people of Casper but a conviction would be had, and if ever a man deserved hanging it was the defendant, but be it said to the everlasting shame of the jurymen, some of the witnesses who gave perjured testimony, and others connected with the trial, a verdict of not guilty was returned by the jury, and once more the people of Natrona were compelled to witness a travesty of justice and the rights of good citizenship flung to the four winds. The charges against Moore and Martin were immediately dismissed after the verdict of not guilty was returned in the Armstrong case, and thus ended the farce with the courts, and the murder of Tom Majors has never been avenged.”

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