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Eagle Lake remembers 144 years of its newspaper history

August 21, 2019 - 00:00
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Eagle Lake Remembers

Can you imagine Eagle Lake without a local newspaper? Not only would we be a town without reported news, we would also be a town without recorded history. For 14 decades, Eagle Lake’s news has been reported by five local newspapers, both long and short-term, documenting events in town history. With each newspaper issue another chapter of Eagle Lake’s story was written.

In the old days of reporting, the columns told us who visited whom; who poured at the afternoon tea; who was visiting from out of town; who bought the latest farm equipment; and who rode the train to Houston. We knew about cattle on the town square; main events at the opera house; Eagle Lake’s first paving of streets; the first city lights; and the charter trains bringing guests to the lakeside pavilion. Perhaps things haven’t changed so much; but even now in this age of technology, we would miss our weekly reports and town news. From afar, former residents still feel a hometown connection through the local and county papers.

Eagle Lake’s newspaper roots run deep. Its first newspaper of record for Eagle Lake was printed in 1885. It was printed in the nearby small town called Frazarville, founded in 1857, when Eagle Lake was just a fledgling town.

Eagle Lake has had five known newspapers: The Boomerang; the Canoe; The Advertiser; the Colorado Democrat, and The Headlight.

In the early days news came primarily by travelers, and from local conversations. Saloons along Main Street were gathering places for news, ideas, and farm and ranch markets. With no local printing presses, and no media for reporting, news came by letters and word of mouth. Sometimes the more contentious conversations ended in gunfire near a saloon door on the square.

One day in 1885, a Mr. Isaac A. Porter, an area resident from the nearby below Matthews, produced a small newspaper. He was the well-known accountant at the Frazarville General Store, and had access to supplies. He thought it could be a way to both inform and entertain. He had a good sense of humor, which he brought to the paper.

Thus, the first area newspaper, called “The Boomerang,” began as one sheet of paper with several columns on two sides. It later had several pages, all hand-written in printed block letters in columns. It was started as a humorous paper, as the name implies. Boomerang: “What you tell will always come back to you,” seems a fitting motto for the name. It carried several items of local interest, and was printed for local distribution.

Since there were no printing presses, the medium for printing at the time was a shallow wooden box into which wax was placed. The warm wax was pressed with paper and ink to make an imprint of the hand-written block letters. The ink print was then transferred from the wax back to the copy paper, and was duplicated by this simple method. The first few copies made their way to Eagle Lake, and thus became the first known printed and distributed newspaper in the area. While “The Boomerang” was as much for entertainment as news, and did not last long, it spurred ideas for still other publications.

The “Canoe” was the second Eagle Lake paper, and was considered the town’s first ‘real’ newspaper. The name was presumably related to the Karankawa Indians who lived along the lake. It was published in 1887, two years after “The Boomerang.” It was begun by C.F. Lehmann and J.A. Ivy. The young J.J. Mansfield was editor and later sole owner. He was also mayor, county judge, and U.S. congressman.

“The Boomerang” was the Eagle Lake area’s first newspaper. Written for entertainment and news, it was a humorous paper printed by an early wax method in Frazarville, near Matthews.

The “Canoe” was a six-column paper printed in Hallettsville, which had a press, and came out each Friday. Mansfield published the “Canoe” until 1890. W.T. Eldridge then bought it and owned it for two years. It was dissolved in 1894, when “The Eagle Lake Canoe ceased to float, as glory was a breeze not strong enough to keep it going.” (Weimer Mercury, August 11, 1894)

In 1895, Mason and Bruce McCarty saw the opportunity for another newspaper in Eagle Lake, when they published a four-page issue with two and later three columns on each page. They named their paper “The Headlight.”

The name was unusual. The young McCarty boys were fond of watching the train headlights in the evenings frequently coming and going in Eagle Lake, shining their bright lights into the distance. Just as the headlights would light up the tracks, they believed their publication might shed a similar bright light on Eagle Lake through its recorded news, thus naming it “The Headlight.” The paper briefly ended when the boys attended college, but was restarted when they returned in 1903, and persisted under various ownerships.

In 1896, a politician named McGhauey started a newspaper called “The Colorado Democrat.” For a short time in 1897 it was said to be called the “Eagle Lake Democrat.” The paper was short-lived, and was used primarily to support McGhauey’s political persuasion.

W.R. Kinard, later sheriff, bought the “Democrat” and its printing press in 1898, and changed its name to the “Eagle Lake Advertiser.” It was sold twice, and was kept in production by owner M.C. Yates, until 1908. That year townspeople felt Eagle Lake could no longer support two newspapers, both “The Headlight” and “The Advertiser.” Thus “The Headlight” in 1908 bought “The Advertiser” and merged the two. It has since continued to shine a bright light upon Eagle Lake through its news.

For over a century the citizens of Eagle Lake and the area have benefited from the valuable services of our five historic local newspapers. We celebrate the men and women who have run their presses. They have written our stories, advertised our goods, informed us, and catalogued our history for 144 years.