Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Arkansas's Bloody German-Language Newspaper War of 1892

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Arkansas's Bloody German-Language Newspaper War of 1892

Article excerpt

ARKANSAS IS NO STRANGER TO NEWSPAPER WARS, including ones in which blood was actually shed. It is perhaps fitting, then, that the inaugural issue of the German-language Little Rock weekly Das Arkansas Echo [The Arkansas Echo] was a spectacular failure.1 Instead of the anticipated eight-page issue, a half-sheet was published on December 31, 1891, barely justifying the newspaper's claim of 1891 as its inaugural year. The editors explained how ruffians had broken into and ransacked the office, scattering the type and wrecking the frames of the finished edition but not without cutting themselves on the twisted metal and leaving a trail of blood droplets-right back to the offices of what had been Little Rock's sole German newspaper, Die Staatszeitung [The State Newspaper], which had offices in the same building.2

The newspaper feud of 1892 is an important reminder that, in spite of a shared language, Arkansas's German immigrant community was not as monolithic and unified as it might seem in retrospect. Pulaski County counted 1364 German-born residents in 1890 and the state as a whole, 6225. Another 11,230 Arkansans were the American-born children of German immigrants.3 Some of these immigrants had lived elsewhere in America before coming to Arkansas, and some came directly to the state. In addition to the German-born, German speakers included Swiss and Austrians, and one could find among them varying cultures, religious faiths, political experiences, and histories. For example, James Woods notes that German immigrants to the state prior to the Civil War had largely been Protestants and Jews but that the vast majority after the war were Catholics. Railroad companies had cooperated with the bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock, Edward Fitzgerald, in recruiting from this population.4 Historians, however, have not made much of this diversity but have instead created an impression of German unity. J. M. Lucey, for example, while noting which settlements were founded by Catholics and which by Protestants, generally portrayed the Germans as a harmonious group of ideal citizens: "There are but few counties in the State that do not rejoice in the possession of some German settlers."5 Dan Durning, in the introduction to his biography of the George family, writes: "Because of their success, German immigrants were welcome neighbors. The Germans had proven themselves to be industrious, productive, enterprising citizens."6 There is certainly little record in current scholarship of the sort of conflict among Germans that is revealed by a close reading of the community's newspapers in 1892.

Before the Echo-SZ feud can be discussed, however, it should be noted that the record of the disagreement is rather lopsided. Every issue of the Echo from 1891 through 1932 has survived, preserved by the German-speaking Swiss monks at Subiaco Abbey in the Arkansas River Valley west of Little Rock.7 Only a few scattered issues of the SZ remain- none from the year of the feud.8 There are occasionally hints at what the SZ published or asserted when the Echo referred to its articles to make a counterargument. And, on some occasions, the fighting among the immi- grants became so intense that English-language newspapers took note. The Arkansas Gazette, in particular, offered additional information and provided a more balanced portrayal of the feuding of 1892.

If the SZ did indeed sabotage the Echo's inaugural issue, as the latter charged, one obvious reason would be to discredit it as a legitimate alternative before it could even launch. However, it would not have been unusual in 1892 for a metropolitan area to feature more than one weekly publication in German. Kansas City, with a population of 132,716, had two newspapers that published in German and two in Swedish. St. Louis, with a total population of 451,770, had seventeen German newspapers, two Spanish-English newspapers, and one Bohemian newspaper.9 Little Rock, with 25,874 residents, was far smaller, but along with Pulaski County's nearly 1400 German natives and its second-generation German Americans, about a hundred residents had been bom in Austria or Switzerland. …

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