Academic journal article Journalism History

Stanley before Livingstone

Academic journal article Journalism History

Stanley before Livingstone

Article excerpt

Henry Morton Stanley's Coverage of Hancock's War against the Plains Tribes in 1867

Before Henry Morton Stanley achieved international fame by finding missionary David Livingstone in Central Africa and contributing "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" to the national lexicon, Stanley had covered Hancock's War in 1867against the Cheyenne for the Missouri Democrat. Stanleys reporting on the war and the subsequent peace negotiations established him as a journalist and put him on the path to worldfame. Because the campaign was Stanley's first extensive experience in journalism, study of his war reporting sheds light on his development into one of the most noted reporters of the age.

It's almost impossible to talk about Henry Morton Stanley without mentioning David Livingstone. The names of the journalist and the missionary became forever linked in 1872 when Stanley, on assignment for the New York Herald, found the missing Livingstone in the Congo and uttered the phrase that has become among the most famous lines in history, although many readers today might not know its origin: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

The self-conscious Stanley, who had been raised in a poorhouse in Wales, thought the world-famous British missionary would want a formal greeting. He had no idea when he included the line in his story that it would quickly become a staple of pop culture. Ordinary people used it as a joke greeting, comedians put it in their acts, and when Stanley received an honorary doctorate at Oxford years later, a wag in the crowd called out, "Dr. Stanley, I presume?" The big band musician Artie Shaw used it as the title of a song, as did the rock band the Moody Blues, and the children's television show Sesame Street used the meeting as the basis of a skit with the characters Bert and Ernie. In fact, the phrase was so popular that some observers thought Stanley, who was known on occasion to stretch the truth, made it up to create a memorable scene for his story. Stanley, however, was always somewhat embarrassed by the attention given to the line. Years later, when he was retired, a visitor asked him if he really had spoken the famous greeting. The aged journalist admitted he had. "I couldn't think of anything else to say," Stanley said.1

It's a strange comment given the fact that Stanley was an astonishingly prolific, one might say almost obsessive writer, who was rarely at a loss for words. And it's a shame that his Livingstone story has overshadowed everything else Stanley wrote, including the subject of this article-his coverage of Hancock's War on the Great Plains in 1867. Stanley's reporting on this conflict is well worth exploring because it was his first full-time job in journalism and shows that early in his career he was an adventure journalist who could immerse himself in a story and make it come alive for the reader. This article examines in detail Stanley's dispatches from the war to shed light on what made him a successful journalist.2

Stanley's path to his job as a war reporter was itself an adventure that could fill a separate article. But it's worth reviewing briefly to illustrate his character and his preparation for journalism. Stanley was born John Rowlands in Wales in 1841. His father never acknowledged him, and his mother left him to be raised by his grandfather. But his grandfather died when the boy was five, and his uncles abandoned him at a workhouse for the poor, where he was raised until he was fifteen. After a brief time working, including a stint as a pupil and teacher at a church school, he decided to work his way to America on a ship. In New Orleans he was befriended by a wealthy merchant named Henry Stanley, who helped him get a job and a place to live. Rowlands took Stanley's name and in his memoir claimed the merchant adopted him, but there is no record of the adoption, and it appears to be evidence of Stanley's constant search for approval and recognition.3

This search was Stanley's motivation in enlisting in the Confederate army when the Civil War broke out. …

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