AS THE title suggests, this paper describes an attempt to solve a mystery. In January, 1931, Chas. F. Scott, publisher of the Iola Daily Register, wrote that Giles E. Miller, owner of the Guymon (Okla.) Herald, possessed the first printing press ever brought to Kansas. Mr. Scott believed the State Press Association would like to present this press to the Historical Society, but first he wanted to check its history. In so doing he made amateur detectives of the Society's staff, for we were soon lost in such a maze of conflicting testimony that it is only now, over three years later, that all the misleading fingerprints may be tabulated. As a detective story should, this account begins with the established facts.
A century ago this year, in February, 1834, Jotham Meeker set up Kansas' first press at the Baptist Shawnee mission, just south of the city limits of the present Kansas City, Kan. On the first day of March he set the first types in the new territory, and on the eighth of that month he made the first press impression. During the next three years Meeker produced about ninety pieces of printed matter, mostly in the form of booklets of a religious nature, translated into various Indian languages by himself and other missionaries. In 1837 he became a missionary to a band of Ottawas who had settled near the present city of Ottawa, being succeeded as printer by Rev. John G. Pratt. In 1846 Pratt removed Meeker's press to Stockbridge, an outpost of the Baptist Shawnee mission north of the Kansas river, near the Missouri. In 1849, Pratt having discontinued the use of the press, Meeker transported it to Ottawa, where he used it spasmodically until his death in January, 1855.
The history of the press to this date may be considered authoritative, for it is based on a journal, now in the possession of the Kansas State Historical Society, which Meeker kept from 1832 to within ten days of his death in 1855. On January 12, 1889, thirty-four years after Meeker's death, Mr. Pratt, in answer to an inquiry from Franklin G. Adams, first secretary of the Historical Society, wrote:
This first Press in the Territory after being used by myself in printing these various books-was removed about July, 1858, to the Ottawa mission,
which had been under Mr. Meeker's supervision since my arrival in the country 1837. After its removal, Mr. Meeker reprinted some of the books which had become exhausted, & some new ones. The Press, on the death of Mr. Meeker in 1854 remained at that point until 1856-7 when, by the direction of the Board of Missions, I sold it, and all the material, to G. W. Brown of Lawrence, Kan., then publishing the well known Herald of Freedom, and it was utterly demolished in Quantrel's raid on that City.Presumably when Pratt wrote 1858 instead of 1849 as the date for the removal of the press to Ottawa, he made a slip of the pen; also, after so many years, he could hardly be expected to remember the exact date of Meeker's death. There has just come to light a letter Pratt wrote to his home office in October, 1857, which verifies this sale and incidentally gives an interesting glimpse at the business methods of its first secular owner:
At Ottawa, I left word with Bro. Jones to sell the Press to any one who would pay him cash $400. A newspaper editor at Lawrence, who had often spoken of purchasing the establishment, sent a team and persuades Mr. Jones to believe I had consented to sell on a six months credit, and took the whole concern away. I have seen him since and he has given me a written obligation to pay the whole within the time specifiedMany years later Brown also commented on his purchase of the press. In a letter to Miss Zu Adams in 1907, he said:
The Meeker press I bought of Rev. Pratt, or Platt, agent for the Baptist Missionary Society, in the spring of 1857. I sold it to S. S. Prouty, who established a small paper at Prairie City, and ran it for a time . . . . I had all the type, with the vowels and ws in terrible excess. They were of pica size. We used the latter for printing the bills for the legislature.From this point, however, the trail becomes as devious as any reader of murder mysteries could desire. For the past three years the staff has worn the spiritual habiliments of Sherlock Holmes in the search for clues. The scent has led all over eastern Kansas, as far west as Cimarron and Dodge City, back into the hills of Missouri, and for a time grew very odoriferous in northern Oklahoma. The stories of the principal witnesses will be given first. You will recognize many of these persons; they are reputable citizens; their worst offense was in their proneness to accept hearsay in the place of evidence.
The first statement is in a letter from S. S. Prouty to R. B. Taylor, dated at Topeka, November 15, 1869. Mr. Prouty says:
On the 25th day of June, 1857, I started the Freemen's Champion at Prairie City . . . . I issued eleven numbers of the Champion when I was compelled to suspend its publication for the want of patronage. The material of the office was purchased of G. W. Brown at Lawrence for $450 and the purchase money was furnished by the Prairie City town company. The press was an old-fashioned Jews-harp press and was brought into the territory in 1834 by Rev. J. Meeker and was employed by him to print tracts thereon for the Indians in their vernacular. The old press is now at Cottonwood Falls and on it is now printed the Chase County Banner.The facts given above are also included in an article on Kansas newspaper history, printed in volume 1-2 of the Kansas Historical Collections.
Six years later George W. Martin, in his Hand Book of the Kansas Publishing House, published in Topeka in 1875, wrote:
The state of Kansas should recover that Meeker press, and preserve it at the Capital. Kansas will have a centennial some day. From Meeker, the press passed into the hands of George W. Brown. In 1857, Brown sold it to S. S. Prouty. Prouty owned the press for years, and used it in the publication of the Freemen's Champion, and the Neosho Valley Register. Prouty sold it to S. Weaver, who used it at Lecompton. From thence it went to Cottonwood Falls, and from thence to Cowley county. It is now supposed to be in the Indian territory, on its march of conquest. It was a Seth Adams manufacture, oval at the top. There were twenty stars on it, indicating that at the time of its manufacture there were twenty states in the Union. This was in 1817, as the twenty-first state was admitted in 1818.
by "Border Ruffians," and its history is full of interesting items. Your society should have it by all means and anything that I can do will be done with pleasure.Six months later Adams wrote again to Kerns, and on February 18, 1878, Kerns replied
The correspondence languished until early in January, 1883, when Kerns asked if the Society was still interested. Adams replied that he thought he could raise the money either by subscription or from the legislature and asked Kerns to set a price on the press. And, with what seems now an undue optimism, he added, "Some of our old printers will readily identify the press." Kerns did not reply, and on the 24th of January Adams wrote again, saying that the legislature was in session and requesting a quotation.
When Kerns received this letter he was in St. Louis in the midst of a private depression. He wrote, " . . . I can only make a proposition without any explanation for its amt. I can urge failure in business in Kansas, losses etc., through all of which I was the owner of the `Old Meeker Press.' If your Society wishes to pay $3,000 for the press I will produce it about Mar. 10th."
Adams replied that the Society "could not think of asking for the appropriation of any such sum. Our entire estimates for all purposes are but $5,450-and this includes $100 which we put in for the press." He informed Kerns that the Society had no means except what was received from the legislature, and that legislatures do not appreciate relics. He closed by offering $150, as the outside sum that could possibly be secured.
Kern's answer on February 9 indicates that his $3,000 dream had been rudely shattered. He brusquely stated that he did not care to make any more propositions. "I shall leave the place where it is unknown," he wrote, "and if the Historical Society is too poor to pay
anything for it I shall bury its history so deep it will never be straightened out."
The next year, August 4, 1884, however, when his disappointment had cooled, Kerns wrote to Adams from St. Louis:
It has been some time since I wrote you regarding the old Meeker press. I am out about $150 on the old thing, and it will cost $100 to get it from the present owner who does not know the history of it. I am the only person living now who can produce it and give the evidence to prove it .... Now, if I am paid my losses, I will secure press for above amts.Adams replied that the Society had no funds, and that unless the directors or the Kansas Editorial Association would contribute, the matter would have to await the next session of the legislature.
This seems to have closed negotiations; at least no further correspondence can be located in the files. No description of the press appears in any of the letters. Adams certainly believed he was bargaining for the original Meeker press, but whether mistakenly there is no way of knowing.
While Adams was still dickering with Kerns, F. H. McGill, of Leavenworth, wrote a letter which was published by John A. Martin, editor of the Atchison Champion, in the issue of June 12, 1878. Mc Gill reported that the editor of the Clifton Journal, while in southern Kansas, "saw a press in the Oxford Independent office which he _ believed to be the oldest in the state, and says also that the same once had lain in the Missouri river and subsequently had been thrown into the Marais des Cygne by a pro-slavery party. "In 1870," McGill's letter continued, "A. J. Patrick and G. H. Beach, of Olathe, purchased an old press and a small amount of type in Cottonwood Falls, which had been used in the publication of the old Banner of that place, and started the Winfield Censor, the first paper published in Cowley county." McGill then stated that he had worked upon the Censor in 1871, and went on to describe it in the same terms Martin had used in his Hand Book. His letter ended with the following paragraphs:
The Censor, of Winfield, was changed to the Cowley County Telegram in 1872, and from that time it is not known what became of the old press, as the Telegram was enlarged to a seven-column paper which could not have been printed upon that press.
It will be noted that McGill's letter introduces several interesting new facts. The old press has now received duckings in the Marais des Cygne and the Missouri, in addition to the occasion when, according to Kerns, it was "throwed" in the Kansas river at Lawrence. It must be remembered that it was originally a Baptist press. But if McGill was correct, and the press was at Oxford, it could not have been subject to sale by Kerns from some unknown place in Missouri.
Before Adams had finished his correspondence with Kerns, the well-known Andreas' History of the State of Kansas (Chicago, 1883), had been published. In a sketch on Meeker, Andreas accepts Martin's statement regarding the disposition of the press, but where Martin said it was "supposed to be" in the Indian territory, Andreas states it as a fact. The History also said: "The type and other material used at the mission farm by Mr. Meeker were scattered broadcast on the prairie by the Indian children, and as late as 1865, handfuls of type could be picked up near where lies buried one of the most zealous missionaries that ever labored in any land."
According to these contemporaneous accounts, therefore, at the time the first comprehensive history of Kansas was published, the old Meeker press was in three places: Oxford, Kan., somewhere in Missouri and somewhere in the Indian territory. That was fifty years ago, and most of the subsequent stories of its wanderings, of which there have been hundreds in the half century, have been versions of the above statements, with an occasional remarkable combination of all three. But there is still another story from which it appears that at the very time the press was in these three places it was actually in Dodge City.
This account. was printed in the Topeka Journal on February 1, 1902, under an Elmdale, Kan., date line. It declared that the oldest printing press in Kansas belonged to Charles Garten, editor of the Elmdale Reporter, who used it every week in getting out that paper. Pictures of Garten and the press illustrated the story. Following a brief sketch of the Mission history of the press, which for the most part was correct, the article stated:
Many little incidents as to the destroying of the office of the Free State are now almost forgotten. Once when the office was destroyed the type were thrown into the street, and the metal was used in making balls for "John Brown's" cannon.
tonwood Falls, Kan., and continued its publication until August 3, 1867, when Theo. A. Alford took charge, running the paper until November, 1868. The paper then went into the hands of a stock company, with Judge W. R. Brown as editor and H. L. Hunt as local reporter, who published the paper for one year. The press was then taken to Winfield, Kan. The next adventure was in 1870 by Beck, Fallett & McClure, who ran an 8-column, 4-page paper called the Kansas Central Index, but at the end of nine months turned the press over to Albert Yale, who, with John Gifford, moved it to Wichita in January, 1871. The press remained in Wichita for a number of years, but was finally exchanged to the Great Western type foundry, of Kansas City, and some twenty years ago was sold to N. B. Klain, now editor of the Dodge City Globe-Republican, but who was then editor of the Dodge City Times. The press was then moved to Cimarron, where it was used in publishing the Cimarron New West. It then became the property of W. C. Shim, but afterwards went back to Judge Klain, and for five years was stored in an old barn at Dodge City. In April, 1890, the press was purchased by Chas. B. Garten, who started the Elmdale Reporter, and the press has been doing good service ever since.Strangely, this version of the history of the press has been reprinted but a comparatively few times. Usually the earlier accounts were accepted. E. C. Manning, in his Biographical, Historical & Miscellaneous Selections (1911), traced it from Lawrence to Emporia, then to Cottonwood Falls, then to Winfield, from where, he said, "it was transported to some town in southwest Missouri." He makes the statement that "the Winfield town company only paid Sam Wood three hundred for the press and the whole printing office outfit."
A news item in the Topeka Capital on May 23, 1925, under a Strong City date line, stated that S. E. Yeoman of that city had helped rebuild the press following its immersion in the river at Lawrence by "border ruffians." According to this article, Mr. Yeoman, aided by F. E. Smith, "soon after brought the press to this county where it was set up in Cottonwood Falls . . . . The paper was originally printed in the interest of equal suffrage, being backed by Eastern stockholders."
A few years after the discovery of the press in Garten's possession at Elmdale, E. D. Smith of Meade, Kan., sent to Geo. W. Martin, then secretary of the Society, a clipping from an unidentified paper stating that Meeker's press had been found in the office of the Guymon (Okla.) Herald. Its history was traced, according to the
usual formula, down to the Cowley County Censor. But here a new note was introduced, for the article stated:
After that a Sedalia (Mo.) newspaper man bought it and took it out of the state, but according to R. B. Quinn, former editor of the Guymon Herald, it again worked its way westward and landed in Liberal in 1888 or 1889 as the property of Lambert Wilsteadt. In 1890 it was moved to Hardesty, Okla., and used in getting out the Times, a paper succeeded by the Hardesty Herald, which later became the Guymon Herald.The discovery of this ancient press aroused new interest throughout Kansas and adjoining states. A year later, on November 3, 1909, the Kansas City Journal reprinted the above article verbatim. On November 21, 1909, the Kansas City Star said: "It is known that the press was shipped from Philadelphia to Leavenworth, Kan., at an early day and that it passed year after year from town to town along the Kansas frontier . . . . Quinn says that the name of the maker was something like `Bronstrub.' " On September 17, 1911, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat printed an illustrated feature story from Hutchinson about the Guymon press, stating that it was the Meeker press. "It is treasured highly," said the writer, "and it was only after much pleading on the part of the Hutchinson Typographical Union that the local organization was given permission to use it on the float to be exhibited by them in the parade during the celebration of the semi-centennial of the admission of Kansas into the Union as a state." In addition to these out-state papers, most of the leading Kansas journals carried news items or feature stories in which the press at Guymon was identified as the Meeker press.
In the summer of 1929 J. T. Crawford, of Topeka, general secretary of the Kansas State Baptist Association, became interested in this press, by that time generally accepted as the one which his church had brought to Kansas. After some correspondence with the owner he went to Guymon, and with the assistance of the employees succeeded in bringing forth from under much debris the major portion of the old press. The old wooden standards had withstood the ravages of time, as had the iron track and upper tympan, with the screw setting firmly embedded in the heavy wooden impression beam. The impression screw and lever, and the
moving bed and frisket were missing, as was also the heavy frame which served as a base, and other small attachments.
The next day the press was expressed to the Kansas State Historical Society, where under the direction of Crawford and Win. E. Connelley, secretary of the Society, who approved its authenticity, the missing parts were made of wood and fitted into their places. Later, on October 15, 1929, the press was put on exhibition and was the subject of a lecture given by Crawford at the Kansas Baptist Convention at Kansas City, Kan. The press was then placed in the museum of the Kansas State Historical Society for several months before it was returned to Guymon. It has since been exhibited in numerous places in Oklahoma and has been the subject of many newspaper and magazine articles.
It is not surprising that this Guymon press was accepted as the Meeker press. The credentials of the other claimants had long been buried in newspaper and correspondence files. It was only by accident, after Charles Scott proposed to secure it permanently for the Society, that suspicions arose. A little digging into the records disclosed discrepancies. Further research brought forth the conflicting accounts just related. It became apparent that until an authentic picture or description, or the name of the maker of the press which Meeker brought to Kansas, could be obtained, identification was not possible.
This realization led to a re-reading of Meeker's journals and correspondence and an examination of the available records of those who had had personal knowledge of the press before it was moved to Lawrence. This search disclosed the curious fact that neither Meeker nor his contemporaries ever mentioned the name of the manufacturer or gave an identifiable description, although it is referred to several hundred times in the journals and correspondence preserved in the Society's archives.
Meeker purchased the press at Cincinnati early in September, 1833. The Baptist Missionary Magazine for 1834 lists an appropriation of $550 for this purpose. Meeker's expense account lists as paid, September 10, 1833, the following: "Printing aparatus including transportation, $468.13." An explanatory note adds: "In the article of Printing aparatus I include $35 worth of Paper and Ink. All wooden articles which can be made by a carpenter belonging to the Printing establishment I concluded to not purchase in Cincinnati." The press was shipped by boat by way of the Ohio,
Mississippi and Missouri rivers to Independence Landing, where it arrived on October 2. Meeker did not get the press ready for operation, however, until after the first of the year, and the first press run was not made until March.
Apparently this was as close as we would ever come to a description of the press. Letters to historical societies in Ohio and to printing establishments and others in Cincinnati failed to elicit any further information. As a last resort the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society in New York was appealed to. This was considered a last resort because it was assumed that in the copies of Meeker's voluminous correspondence with his home society which the Historical Society possesses, all his communications had been recorded. But in this we were mistaken. On August 8, 1933, the Mission Society wrote a letter containing the following brief statement:
In a letter from Mr. Meeker dated February 27, 1&37, he gives a list of articles in the office as follows:
"One Super Royal Cast Iron Smith Press, with Ball rack and Ink block, two Friskets two Bodkins, two pr. points, Sheep's foot, wrenches, etc., but no Roller, Mould nor Frame."
This brief inventory was the long-lost clue. While it would not lead to the hiding place of Meeker's press it would at least test the authenticity of the other claimants. But an unexpected difficulty arose when the attempt was made to secure a picture and specifications of the Smith press. Finally, after correspondence with a number of authorities in the East, Sidney A. Kimber, of the University Press, Cambridge, Mass., furnished a detailed description with pencil drawings. From his letter and other sources the following description of a Smith press was secured.
The Smith press was patented in 1821 by Peter Smith, brother-in-law of Robert Hoe, founder of the well-known firm of that name. Smith and Hoe entered into partnership, and this was the first of a long series of patents granted to the Hoe company. The frame was of cast iron, and in place of a screw with levers, Smith substituted a toggle joint, which made the press superior in many respects to any up to that time. The press was manufactured for many years, but its production was discontinued about 1880, as the Washington press, also made by Hoe, was more popular. The Smith press, like the Washington, obtained its power from the
straightening of a toggle joint, but they differed in one respect. In the Washington the knee-joint was pressed in; in the Smith it was drawn in. A super-royal Smith press had a bed 32½ x 26¼ inches, and a platen 28 x 22½ inches. A type form could be printed the size of the platen if special care was taken; usually the maximum size of the sheet to be printed would be about an inch smaller each way than the platen. These dimensions, however, cannot certainly be applied to Meeker's Smith press, for they were taken from a Hoe catalog of 1854, and Meeker's press may have been smaller.
In the light of this information it is interesting to recheck the statements of those who claimed to have owned or used Meeker's press. Prouty said it "was an old-fashioned Jews-harp press," and that in 1869 the Chase County Banner was being printed on it. He also indicated that he bought it prior to June, 1857, when he started the Freemen's Champion. So far, it has been impossible to determine what a Jews-harp press was. Possibly that may have been a name applied to the Foster hand press, which had a large cast iron harp on the frame under the bed between the legs; or it may have been applied to the Stanhope press, whose iron frame could be said to resemble a huge jew's harp. There is nothing connected with the Smith press, or its history, to indicate that it ever went by this name. There is also a discrepancy between the statements of Pratt and Prouty. Pratt says the press was destroyed by Quantrill, which would have been in August, 1863; yet, Prouty, in 1869, says positively that it was then in Cottonwood Falls.
Geo. W. Martin, in his Hand Book, accepted Prouty's statement that the press was in Cottonwood Falls, but said it was a Seth Adams, oval at the top, with twenty stars on it, indicating that it was made prior to 1818. If it was a Seth Adams press, of course, it could not have been Meeker's press, and if it was made prior to 1818 Seth Adams was a very precocious inventor, for he was then only eleven years old, having been born April 13, 1807. He first began manufacturing presses in 1832.
In none of Adams' fruitless correspondence with Kerns is any mention made of the make of his press. The fact that Kerns said he bought it in Cowley county may mean that he had Prouty's old press. If he could be trusted in his statement that it was the "same press throwed in the river at Lawrence by `Border Ruffians,' " which is doubtful, it must have been another press. Either he or Pratt could have been mistaken about the date of the destruction of
presses in Lawrence. The date of the "Border Ruffian" raid, so-called, was May, 1856, seven years before Quantrill's massacre. Presses were either destroyed or thrown in the river .on both occasions. Since Brown bought the press in the spring of 1857 it is quite probable that it was the destruction of his plant in 1856 which necessitated the purchase of another press.
McGill's letter of 1878 in the Atchison Champion, claiming that the press then reposed in the plant of the Oxford Independent, says it was "an oval lever, six column, and had nineteen stars on the face of the oval." McGill has subtracted one star from the total given by Martin, but there can be no question the type of press was the same, and therefore could not have been Meeker's.
The story of Garten's press at Elmdale, which had arrived there by way of Lawrence, Cottonwood Falls, Winfield, Wichita, Kansas City, Dodge City and Cimarron is disproved by the fact that it was made by Ladew, Peers & Co., and was "of the Washington hand press make."
We come now to the press discovered at Guymon, Okla., which in recent years had been commonly accepted as the Meeker press. Despite the conflicting accounts of its travels, this press alone is small enough and old enough to qualify. But when it was learned that the Smith press which Meeker purchased was made of cast iron the press at Guymon also was eliminated, for it had been made of wood.
All efforts to identify the Guymon press failed, however, until in the American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmaking there was found a picture of an old Ramage press which coincided exactly with the remaining parts of the Guymon press. But about that time the Kansas City Star article of November 21, 1901, came to light, in which R. B. Quinn who bought the press in 1901, was quoted as having stated that when he got the press it bore a plate. The name of the maker, as he remembered it, was something like "Bronstrub." Seemingly this ruled out the supposition that it was a Ramage press. But shortly afterward, in the American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmaking, the following paragraph was discovered:
BRONSTRUP PRESS.--A hand-press formerly made by Frederick Bronstrup of Philadelphia, the successor of Adam Ramage, and having three sizes. The largest is 223/4 by 29½ inches, the next 20 by 26 inches, and the smallest 16 by 22 inches. The material is chiefly wrought iron, and the press stands securely without a stay.
hand when he succeeded to the business, to which he attached his name plates, or he continued to make them for a time after he began manufacturing iron presses. There can be little doubt that the Guymon press is of the old Ramage type, and there is no question that it was sold with Bronstrup's name plate on it. While this disproves the claim that the Guymon press was Meeker's it does not lessen its value as a genuine product of one of America's first press makers. Adam Ramage began business in Philadelphia about 1800 and was the only one of consequence in the country. The press at Guymon is probably an older press than the one Meeker used, it was used many years in both Kansas and Oklahoma, and it should be preserved.
So, after all this elimination, nothing remains to be eliminated. The question may still be asked, as it was when this Society was organized in 1875, "What has become of Kansas' historic press?" Perhaps it was destroyed in one of the raids on Lawrence or was disposed of in some obscure transaction of which, so far at least, we have no record. Possibly Kerns did take it to Missouri, and it may still be in existence in some country print shop. Certainly the myths relating its migrations, if they are old enough to be called myths, are as curious as any in the annals of Kansas-and Kansas history contains some strange myths. But whatever the state does, it does wholeheartedly. Where only seven cities strove for the distinction of being known as Homer's birthplace, Kansas, in the short space of seventy-five years, has furnished ten towns with claims on a press which in all likelihood was never seen in any of them.
1. Read at the annual meeting of the Kansas State Historical Society, October 16, 1934; with some new material added.
2. Extract from letter of John G. Pratt to Solomon Peck, dated October 20, 1857, Delaware, K. T., quoted in letter from Forrest Smith of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, New York City, to the Kansas State Historical Society, October 24, 1934.
3. Extract from letter of G. W. Brown to Miss Zu Adams of the Kansas State Historical Society, August 7, 1907.
4. The Baptist Missionary Magazine, Boston, 1834, p. 238.
6. Letter from Sidney A. Limber, May 9, 1934 A Short History of the Printing Press, printed and published for Robert Hoe, New York, 1902; American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmaking, Howard Lockwood & Co., New York, 1894;
American Encyclopaedia of Printing, Menamin & Ringwalt Philadelphia, 1871; letter from Henry L. Bullen, Typographical Library, Jersey City, N. J., May 21, 1934.
6. American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmaking, p. 9.