Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Walter Morris - newspaper entrepreneur

‘Doc Bishop and Fran Latham were lynched yesterday morning by the settlers living near Watonga, for horse stealing,’ reported the Cheyenne Sunbeam. ‘Both men belonged to a gang that were systematically stealing horses from the settlers and driving them into the Panhandle of Texas.’

While the impressive Morris family memorial at Christ Church contains all the names of newspaper magnet William’s twelve children, one son lies not in the shady churchyard on the hill but in a cemetery in Cheyenne, Oklahoma.

Walter George Morris, third son of newspaper editor, proprietor and printer William and his wife Martha was born above the family firm at 10 Victoria Street on March 2, 1852.  Unlike his brothers, Walter chose not to join the staff on the Swindon Advertiser but instead worked as a clerk at the GWR Works in New Swindon.  But by 1872 twenty year old Walter had decided life in Swindon was a little too tame for him and he emigrated to America.

With printing ink in his veins Walter turned his newspaper skills to good use on the other side of the pond. The 1880 US census records a Walter Morris 28, born in England, working as a compositor, husband of Annie formerly Addis and living with her parents at an address in Kings, Brooklyn.

During the 1880s Walter moved west, working first as a farmer in Galveston before moving to Mobeetie, Texas where he became proprietor, editor and printer of the Texas Panhandle.

In 1892 he married second wife Georgia Seese and a year later the couple moved to Cheyenne, Roger Mills County, Oklahoma where he became manager of the Cheyenne Sunbeam, a weekly newspaper he later purchased.

Like his father in Swindon, Walter published notices of church meetings, court proceedings, births, marriages and deaths, the bread and butter items of any small town weekly newspaper.  However, front page news was something altogether different.

‘The factional fight among the Indians which led to so much blood shed about a year ago has broken out afresh,’ the Sunbeam reported on September 1, 1894.  ‘Last Friday night a party of Indians surrounded the house of Albert Jackson in Cedar County, Choctaw Nation.  He was sick in bed but he was forcibly taken out into the yard where he was shot a full fifty times.  The next day two Indians were caught and killed seven miles east of Antlers.’

Hot off the Cheyenne Sunbeam press Walter writes:  'Someone should enforce the law against the owners of the hogs that are running loose around town.   They are a public nuisance and should be treated as such.'

And he was never one to  look a gift 'bear' in the mouth. 'On Monday last Mr. George Gilmore, living on Candin creek had the good luck to come across a very large bear about one mile east of his home.  He drove it toward his house and rope it, and his son held it until a gun was secured to kill it with.  They say it was very fat and nice.  We would like very much for one to come along this way and we would certainly try our hand at roping and butchering.'

Suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, Walter was forced to retire, selling the Sunbeam in 1903.  He died at his home in Cheyenne on Monday morning, February 6, 1905.

Rival newspaper, the Cheyenne Star, published a laudatory obituary in which Walter was described as ‘open and above board in life and character, subtlety and subterfuge finding no place in his thoughts or actions.’

Following a funeral service at the local Methodist church, Walter was buried at the Cheyenne Cemetery.  His name is recorded on the family memorial at Christ Church - Walter George, who died at Cheyenne, Ok, USA, February 6, 1905 aged 52 years.

Images - Swindon Advertiser building courtesy of Collin West visit http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-318829-99-and-100-swindon/photos; William Morris holding a copy of the Cheyenne Sunbeam courtesy of Desmond Morris

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