Early Newspapers and Writers of Iowa
by Hubert L. Moeller
It is not easy for us to think of a time when
there were no daily papers in Iowa. If something
happens in Rome or Berlin tomorrow, we expect to read
all about it in the next morning's papers. Today in
Iowa, great presses turn out hundreds of thousands of
copies for us each morning.
For the earliest settlers there were no newspapers at
all. Neither were there telegraph or telephone lines
in pioneer Iowa. No railroad reached our borders.
News traveled slowlly.
The first newspaper in the state was the Dubuque
Visitor, published, as its date line said, at
Dubuque Lead Mines, Wisconsin Territory, May 11,
1836, with John King the owner and the editor. Andrew
Keesecker and William Carey Jones were his
assistants. The press that Mr. King used, he bought
in Ohio. Later it was sold to a man who started a
paper in Wisconsin. From there it went to St. Paul,
where it is said to have been used to print the first
newspaper in Minnesota. From St. Paul it is supposed
to have been taken to a place near Sioux Falls, S.D.,
to be used by the Dacotah Democrat, the
first paper to be published in the unorganized
'Dacotah Territory.' Thus this old press printed the
first newspapers in the Iowa Territory, the Minnesota
Territory, and the Dakota Territory.
News That Was Months Old
By 1840 there were a number of weekly papers in
Iowa. Most of them were of four pages. They had no
headlines, no cartoons, or comics, no large
advertisements, and most of their space was taken up
with local news. What little news the papers carried
from eastern states or foreign countries was weeks
and often months late.
Some of these papers had very long names. The
Iowa Sun and the Davenport and Rock Island News
was the first paper printed in Davenport. Often these
early papers called each other names. Two papers in
Iowa City called each other "Locofoca Rag"
and "Whiggery Hamburg."
Many papers were started in pioneer times, 14 papers
beginning in Dubuque between 1836 ad 1860. Some of
these lasted less than two years. We can name but a
few of the early papers.
The second newspaper to make its appearance in Iowa
was the Western Adventurer, published by Dr.
Galland at Montrose, Ia. The first issue was dated
June 28, 1837. It failed to pay out and was sold to
James G. Edwards, who moved it to Fort Madison in
1838 and published the Fort Madison Patriot.
Black Hawk Watched
Black Hawk and his sons watched the printing of
the first paper at Fort Madison. They thought the
press a wonderful affair. Indians often visited the
Fort Madison printing office. They liked to watch the
The third paper in Iowa was the Wisconsin
Territorial Gazette and Burlington Advertiser.
It was moved to Burlington from Belmont, Wis., in
1837. The first newspaper to be published in Des
Moines was the Star, which started
publication in 1849. The first regular daily
newspaper to be published in Des Moines was The
State Register which began daily publication on
Jan. 12, 1862.
Probably the first daily in Iowa was the Dubuque
Tribune, which began daily publication on March
26, 1851. It lasted but a short while. The Daily
Miners Express, which started in Dubuque on Aug.
19, 1851, was more successful.
The art of writing first found expression in Iowa
through the newspapers. Here, in small weekly papers,
many writers saw their first works appear. Many of
these early writers became Iowa's historians.
Theodore S. Parvin, private secretary to Governor
Lucas in 1838-39, wrote interesting stories of
several men of pioneer Iowa. William Salter, a
minister of the Iowa Band, wrote a long list of
articles, besides several books on Iowa history.
Benjamin F. Gue, who served in the Iowa legislature,
wrote a four volume history of Iowa. Samual H. M.
Byers, Iowa's outstanding poet, wrote Iowa in War
Times, one of the best books on Iowa's part in
the Civil war.
Ex-Congressman Cyrenus Cole, formerly an editor at
Cedar Rapids, is one of the later historians who has
written a book, A History of the People of Iowa.
Charles Aldrich and Harvey Ingham are other editors
who have written extensively on topics of Iowa
Only a few of Iowa's novelists can be named. Herbert
Quick was formerly editor of an Iowa farm paper.
Hamlin Garland wrote A Son of the Middle Border,
Ellis Parker Butler, Alice French (Octave Thanet),
Susan Glaspell, Bess Streeter Aldrich, and Ruth
Suckow are other novelists to whom Iowa lays claim.
Iowa's newspapers are all on a high plane. Some of
her weekly papers have gained national fame for their
excellence. The Des Moines Register and the Des
Moines Tribune are the largest daily newspapers
in Iowa and the fourth largest combined daily west of
the Mississippi river.
Iowa's authors have set a worthy mark for future Iowa
writers to aim at. Many of their works are truly