Monday, May 22, 2017


Will the Real Bela Lanan Please Stand Up?

[Allan's note: Carlos Altgelt is a researcher currently working on an index of the long-running Argentine comic book Patoruzito. When trying to track down some comic strips he found in early issues, which he thought might be from the U.S., our paths crossed. I was able to ID one of the strips as Bela Lanan Court Reporter, but Mr. Altgelt was very curious about the background of the strip. I couldn't help much as I am woefully uninformed about the genesis and creators of this intriguing but quite obscure comic strip. 

Mr. Altgelt was so fascinated with this unusual strip that he went on a mission to uncover its history. Amazingly, he was able to dredge up an impressively complete picture of the strip, its creators, and the story of its creation and end. 

I feel greatly honored that Carlos Altgelt has written up the story of Bela Lanan and consented to having it appear here on the Stripper's Guide blog. Now, finally I'll shut up and let you learn the fascinating tale. Take it away, Carlos ...]

Will the Real Bela Lanan Please Stand Up?

by Carlos A. Altgelt /

Patoruzito, the Argentine weekly magazine of the 1940s, 50s and 60s, marked an era in the history of comic books in that Latin American country.  With 32 large format pages (9” x 11½”), it debuted on October 11, 1945.  At the outset, it carried 25 different strips, of which the large majority (15) were of U.S. origin.  What made it such an important addition to the vast number of comic books circulating in Argentina in those days, was that in time, its editor, Dante Quinterno, paved the way for local artists such as José Luis Salinas of Cisco Kid fame, Bruno Premiani and Alberto Breccia to appear in its pages.  By 1952, only four foreign strips remained.  The U.S. strips present in that first issue included such icons as Captain Marvel Jr., Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and the lesser known Miki and You Be the Judge.  And it is this last one which brought me to write the following article.

What happens is that when Toni Torres, owner of “El Club del Cómic” store in Buenos Aires asked me to write the index of Patoruzito, I knew I was in trouble because, at Toni’s suggestion, I had just published a book listing all the comic books edited by the legendary scriptwriter Héctor Germán Oesterheld (El Eternauta, Mort Cinder, Ernie Pike, Sherlock Time).  There were over 400 issues, and I detailed each one of the strips that appeared in each number, the artists and writers, and its origins if foreign, including a color photograph of the covers. But while Oesterheld’s magazines carried an average of 5 strips per issue, Patoruzito boasted four to five times that amount and it ran for 892 issues!

From Patoruzito #1

The challenge was made, however, and I accepted it by first attacking the seemingly impossible to find origin of a strip titled Júzguelo usted. Impossible, that is, until Frank Motler put me in touch with Allan Holtz’s Strippers Guide. He was able to identify the strip as Bela Lanan, Court Reporter.

Original US versions of the Bela Lanan story above - note the differing panel order

Bela Lana, Court Reporter (a.k.a. You Be The Judge) was an American newspaper daily comic strip which ran from the mid-1930s to the early 1940s.  It was written by Leopold Allen Heine, drawn by Robert Wathen and syndicated by Carlile Crutcher of Louisville, Kentucky.

In an era dominated by adventure, humorous and family life strips, Bela Lanan was one of the few non-fiction entries, along with strips like Rex Collier’s War On Crime and James Carroll Mansfield’s Highlights of History.

Practically forgotten today, what made it unique was its “hook.”  Every week it presented a court case in six episodes where the reader, acting as judge and jury, was challenged to deduce the outcome.  At the end of each weekly  installment, the actual verdict appeared in a text column on a separate page.

The cases were based on actual legal suits, not only from the United States but from around the world.  The characters’ names were changed, however, to protect the innocent so to speak.  If one was interested, all one had to do was to send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the editor to find the true details of the litigation.

The strip was easily recognizable among the six or seven that appeared on each page in those golden days because the first panel, with a height 2½ times its width, always carried, not a drawing, but the title of the episode. This was preceded by the words “The Strange Case of…” (sometimes “odd” or “tragic” were used instead of “strange”).  At the bottom of this first panel, the reader was reminded that the story was in six episodes and, below it, the number of the daily installment.  With few exceptions, the title of the strip itself was shown at top left with the name of its writer as “L. Allen Heine” on the right.

The story of its inception is just as interesting as any of the cases themselves.  It all began when Carlile Crutcher, recently graduated from Centre College in 1926, became the secretary and personal assistant to powerful judge Robert Worth Bingham, politician, diplomat and newspaper publisher of the progressive Louisville Courier-Journal.  As a publisher, the judge championed women's suffrage, the League of Nations and labor unions.  Soon Crutcher learned the ins and outs of the law as well as the publishing trade.

He developed an interest in copyright law and approached Harry Robertson, editor of the paper, with the idea of publishing a daily short column highlighting, in no more than 20 lines and headed by a single picture panel, the odd proposals granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  Robertson accepted the concept and Freak Patents debuted on Monday, April 22, 1935, at the bottom of page 2 of the Courier-Journal.  The texts were written by Crutcher, with line drawings by Thomas Harvey Peake, a local freelance writer and artist.  It was copyrighted under the name Carlile Crutcher.

First Freak Patents, 4/22/35

Last Freak Patents, 8/8/36

The feature was readily accepted by the public, but soon Crutcher began toying with another idea based on real life.  While searching for the odd patents, he came across a 62 year-old resident of Louisville, Lawrence S. Leopold and, through him, also met Leopold Allen Heine.

According to Stephen J. Monchak, in an article titled “How A Hobby Became a Feature Is Told” (Editor & Publisher magazine, March 30, 1940):

"[Heine] had in his possession a trunk full of manuscripts dealing with unusual law cases.  The manuscripts were written in longhand by the late William Lanahan, a former Louisville reporter who became an itinerant newspaperman.  Lanahan not only worked on newspapers in this country but abroad.  He made a hobby of collecting tricky court cases.  When he died he willed his possessions, including the manuscripts, to Mr. Heine.  [He] began briefing the Lanahan manuscripts so the cases could be condensed into a six-day picture serial. (…) In order to get fresh material, Mr. Heine reads law cases continually and each 100 cases usually nets one suit that lends itself to dramatization.”

Enthused with this wealth of information, Crutcher convinced Heine to become the writer of a new daily comic strip, You Be The Judge.  Robert Wathen, a local watercolor artist, was to be the illustrator.  His son, Joe Wathen, said in a comment on this blog that his dad “found characters to draw into the strip by visiting bars in downtown Louisville” (August 5, 2009).  Neither Wathen nor Heine had any experience in the comic strip field nor would they have any additional ones in the future.  That, however, didn’t deter Crutcher from marketing it.  To that extent, still employed by the Courier-Journal, he ambitiously launched the Carlile Crutcher Newspaper Feature Syndicate, nominally a news service but mostly dedicated to the distribution of the new comic strip, which made its first appearance on July 6, 1936.  Its first installment was titled “The Burning of the Golden Gate,” not referring to the famous San Francisco Bay bridge, but to the sinking of a steamship of that name bound for Panama. The Wilkes-Barre (PA) Record was one of the few newspapers that carried it that day. Freak Patents continued for another month but on August 8 was published for the last time.

Week 1 of You Be The Judge, 7/6 - 7/11/1936
Week 1 court decision

Shortly after launching You Be The Judge, a Chicago radio station complained that they were using that title in one of their shows.  Rather than argue, Crutcher asked the newspapers that carried the strip to change its title to Bela Lanan, Court Reporter and used this name to solicit further subscriptions.

In the 12th weekly episode, the one starting on September 21 1936, Heine gives a slightly veiled tribute to his mentor, William Lanahan.  In the story he explains the reason behind the odd new name for the strip by narrating the story of Bela Lanan (recall that no real names were used in the strip).  He tells us that Lanan/Lanahan was born in Budapest in 1881. That should explain the origin of the name ‘Bela’ since it was and still is a very common given name in Hungary, and perhaps was William Lanahan's real given name, anglicized when he came to the US. At any rate, ‘Lanan’ is not an anagram as many thought, but a shortening of the Magyar traveling reporter’s family name.

Bela Lanan's biography in You Be The Judge, 9/21 - 9/26/1936

Bela Lanan’s comic strip biography begins with Heine’s affectionate show of gratitude to his friend.  He considers it a duty to tell his story, which was a source of inspiration for his writings.  As told in the third episode, Lanan left Hungary at the age of 20 because, after being accused five years earlier of stealing a purse, he was a marked man.  He tells his mother: “The courtroom has cast its spell upon me.  The judge, the jury, the fiery prosecution, the heroic attempt of the defense.  I can never be a great lawyer.  My voice is weak, but I will be a great reporter.  But never in Budapest! My friends, my arrest, they will not forget.  I am going away!”

And so he does.  He spends five years roaming “the rolling hills of Scotland, the lonely moors of England, the African veldt and the Australian bush” collecting all sorts of bizarre legal suits which were to appear decades later in the strip.  We find him then in Bombay, India, where he has just reported an important case and he is told by the British Mercantile Office to go to Buenos Aires.  The year is 1905 and, while the strip doesn’t mention it, it probably had to do with the Argentine revolution of that year.

He continues tramping the world, always looking for the odd judicial case.  In 1916 he is in Verdun during the First World War.  A piece of shrapnel hits his eye and his optic nerve receives a severe shock.  He is blinded for life.  He then emigrates to the United States, where he dies in California in the early 1930s.

In the words of Heine, he was “a man of strange make-up, odd, eccentric, a world traveler and—before he died—a recluse, alone and almost forgotten.”  But he is quick to add that “he had the courage of his own convictions.  He knew his weakness and he knew his strength—even at the early age of 20—and that’s something that many of us would like to be able to say. (…) His records are all that remain and they will unfold, from week to week, the strange and interesting, but sometimes tragic, revelations that came to this man of mystery.  As Bela Lanan traveled, he collected these true stories, and saved evidence to prove that even the most unusual in his collection are true.”

The week after this dramatic introduction to the public, on October 5 1936, Crutcher applied for a trademark which was properly granted on April 13 the following year.   By the end of 1936, six months after its debut, Bela Lanan was carried by 40 domestic newspapers.

Three years later, Crutcher changed his mind regarding the name of the strip and advised his local and overseas subscribers to use the name You Be The Judge again.  The Wilkes-Barre Record reverted to the original name on April 24, 1939.

Then in May of 1942 Crutcher entered the United States Army Air Force and, in his own words, “thereafter found it impossible to manage the sale and distribution” of the strip.  According to a 1956 legal transcript, the last distribution was furnished to domestic subscribers on September 4, 1942 (a questionable date since this is a Friday, and such dates are normally given as Mondays or Saturdays). Crutcher apparently never used the name or produced the strip beyond that time. In all 322 weekly stories would have appeared in the United States by that time.  According to Crutcher, by that time only five domestic subscribers were carrying the strip and he didn’t publicly identify which ones they were. That makes it difficult to know the last time Bela Lanan, Court Reporter was published in the U.S.  However, on the basis of the episodes that appeared abroad, specifically the Argentine magazine Patoruzito, which carried strips that most probably never appeared in the U.S., I estimate that the total number would have been 337, enough material to last until December 19 1942. I have been able to document the first 295 stories in U.S. newspapers (last appearance on March 1 1942 in the Longview (TX) News-Journal).

    By the end of its run, 71 domestic newspapers—among them the Wilkes-Barre Record, Brooklyn Eagle, Abilene (TX) Reporter-News and Longview (TX) Daily News—and 21 abroad (one being the Lethbridge Herald of Alberta, Canada), had purchased the feature.  Curiously, the Louisville Courier-Journal, professional home of Carlile Crutcher, never carried the strip.
     Once World War II ended, Crutcher was released from the Air Force in January 1946.  He soon found out that because of shortages of newsprint, newspaper publishers were a tough market for selling new strips.

Samples of the Saturday Evening Post version of You Be The Judge, 1951-52

In 1948, the Curtis Publishing Company began, in its weekly magazine The Saturday Evening Post, a one panel drawing titled You Be the Judge with a short statement of facts inviting the readers to solve the case.  This brought in 1950 a lawsuit by Crutcher for infringement of his trademark.  He lost the case because in the opinion of the court, “the plaintiff has failed to establish a right to the exclusive use of the name. (…) ‘You be the judge’ is an expression in common use, containing no element of novelty or fancy, and is by no means unique.  For a name which is merely descriptive to have the protection of the law, it must be established that the name has acquired a secondary meaning identifying it with the goods.” An ideal case for a Bela Lanan series! 

Carlile Crutcher was born in Jefferson Kentucky on November 9, 1906 and died on April 19, 1966 in Louisville.  

Sources: Crutcher’s obituary from the Louisville Courier Journal (April 20, 1966, page 40); newspaper accounts and strips of that era; Allan Holtz’s online Stripper’s Guide articles; Argentine Patoruzito comic book (1945-1950); Lawrence S. Leopold family information from the1940 US Census; Crutcher v. Curtis Publishing Company legal suit (January 11, 1956); Trademark application #353,497 (October 5, 1936).

Personal notes: I wish to express my gratitude to Mr. Allan Holtz for his help in finding the original source of “Júzguelo usted” and his encouragement to write the preceding article.

I have compiled an Excel spreadsheet  listing all the story titles for Bela Lanan, their running dates, and the newspaper sources in which I found them. Researchers wishing to get a copy of this list are invited to email me at

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Saturday, May 20, 2017


Herriman Saturday

February 7 1909 -- Finley Peter Dunne, the political humorist who wrote his famous "Mr. Dooley" articles in an imitation of working-class Irish-American dialect, does a piece on the end of Theodore Roosevelt's final term as President for the Sunday papers. Herriman is called upon to illustrate the essay with the three cartoons above. As far as I know, Herriman's cartoons were not distributed along with the articles nationwide, but were only used in the LA Examiner.


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Friday, May 19, 2017


Wish You Were Here, from Gene Carr

Gene Carr did a whole series of postcards featuring street urchins playing with firecrackers, the cards being intended for use around Independence Day. The cards were issued by the Rotograph Co. (this one bearing the inscrutable designation "F.L. 219/1"). Although copyrighted 1906, the cards were evidently issued in 1907, as they have divided backs. 


"Style F - Includes many techniques and subjects such as artist signed, illustrated cards and cartoons. Other prefixes include FD, FK, FL, FR. Also included are views with a printed wooden frame."

Listing of others from series 219 here:

Carr also did some St. Patrick's and Easter sets for Bergman in NY. One of the Easter ones has his Lady Bountiful character
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Thursday, May 18, 2017


King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 3 Part 1



King News by Moses Koenigsberg

Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941

Chapter 3

The Deadline that Led to a Crusade (part 1)

link to previous installment   link to next installment

“The tall cypress of the Ouachita” was an arresting appellation. It had been given to Charles Merritt Barnes when he made his first excursion into San Antonio politics. It was intended as a derisive hint that he should return to his Louisiana habitat for political favors. The title became exceedingly irksome to him as city editor of the San Antonio Times. But it didn’t abate his flair for pontifical utterance. He wrapped a mention of the weather in the same sonorous gravity with which he clothed a labored aphorism.

It was Barnes’s duty to outline my first daily newspaper assign­ment. Intensive concentration on his words could not exclude notice of a piebald individuality. In his presence the eye always competed with the ear. A giant in height, he was slender almost to emaciation. His slimness was said to explain why he carried around only five of the six bullets an adversary once fired at arm’s length.

The new reporter found it difficult to interpret the city editor’s constant smile. Fringed with a straggling amber mustache, it ran the gamut of a restrained risibility. It was a hide-and-seek game between immature smirks, grins and sneers. Close observation later solved the conundrum. Barnes’s habitual guise of imminent levity was a suspense between anticipatory and retrospective con­templation of the merits of mint julep.

“Talk to everybody,” he instructed. “Question them about what they have done and heard. Glean from them every bit of informa­tion that may be new or interesting. Then write up what you believe we should publish.

“I shall cover the city hall and the hotels. You will take the rest of the city. Go to the federal court, the post office, the county commissioners, all the offices in the county courthouse, especially the clerk’s offices—where you will get the daily list of real-estate transfers and new suits filed together with decisions in cases that have been tried—police headquarters, the railroad offices and depots, the sheriff, the constables, the justice of the peace, the undertakers’ shops, the hospitals, the headquarters of the foreign consuls, the real-estate board, the clubs, the stockbrokers and all organized centers of activity such as the Live Stock Exchange, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the Epworth League and the Y.M.C.A. Call at the banks and insurance offices. Also, I shall look to you for sporting news. You’ll find items of that kind at the baseball club and the leading saloons and gambling joints. And, remember, a newspaper reporter knows no hours. While this is an afternoon paper, news is news no matter at what hour you get it. It only ceases to be news after it is published. The items you get at night you can write before starting out on your beat in the morning.”

A bit of chagrin is associated with those instructions. I didn’t know enough to ask the city editor, with incisive sarcasm, whether he had possibly overlooked anything. Instead, the eager cub sought even more exertion.

“What,” he asked Barnes, “is the quickest way for a reporter to distinguish himself?”

“There isn’t any quickest way,” came the rejoinder in a bored voice. “The newspaperman must be thorough and accurate to begin with. Next, he must write his reports clearly and interest­ingly. In time, doing these things will win recognition, more pay and advancement to higher positions.”

“But,” persisted the importunate tyro, “there must be special achievements for which a reporter can set his aim, besides doing his regular work satisfactorily.”

“Oh!” and at that instant Barnes’s smile divided itself between a broad grin and a covert sneer. “It is the goal of every reporter to get a scoop. The item that you land in your paper before any competitor gets it is a scoop. The bigger the story, the bigger the scoop.”

The valor of ignorance sped the stride of the newspaper recruit. It never occurred to him that he was tackling a routine that three trained men could not complete in a day. He was a full-fledged reporter. Nothing else counted. Of course, there was much ground to be covered, but every step led toward a scoop. Jason did a good job finding the golden fleece, but he wasn’t a newspaperman. And Jason won only one guerdon. Each scoop would be like a golden fleece and from scoop to scoop the heights would be scaled.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton
It was an era of pomposity in speech and print. Grandiloquence was common. Floridity was prized above clarity. High-sounding effects were sought often at the cost of lucidity. Bulwer-Lytton had enchanted me. From the ponderosity of his style one slipped readily into the orotund diction currently affected. Even my day­dreams pranced on stilted phrases.

A complication from which evolved a permanent lesson came in the first morning of reportorial experience. The nascent news-getter had entered the United States District Court with all the aplomb of an envoy extraordinary. A trial was about to start. A number of prisoners were being arraigned en bloc. One of them, the tallest, turned to whisper to his lawyer. A glance identified him. It was the officer who had accompanied Eusebio Barrera on his farewell visit to the little adobe house in Encinal.
The courtroom was thronged with Mexicans. Some were merely watching the proceedings. Others were witnesses. Faces emerged reconstructing the snickering circle around Captain Hernandez’s tent on the Nueces. Felipe Rodriguez was doubtless among the crowd. He would surely recognize the hated gringo kid. There would be an embarrassing confrontation. From that scene the American boy might be yanked into the line of defendants before the bar.

The blithe reporter became for the nonce a harried skulker. Edging into the hall, he made his way to the office of the court clerk. There the facts of my predicament were confirmed. The prisoners were General Francisco Ruiz Sandoval and a batch of his followers. They had been extradited from Mexico for trial in a United States court.

The trial consumed eight court days. One could pass in and out of the clerk’s office without being observed by those in the courtroom. Thus, the story of each day’s proceedings was obtained for the Times. The neophyte reporter was in daily agony of mind. He knew one of the highest traditions of journalism required that he “get the story first hand.” He knew it was his task to question the principals and lawyers and even the judge instead of relying on the haphazard or casual recollections of non­participants. Every furtive trip past that federal tribunal etched deeper in his mind a newly formed resolution. Eventually it became the primary canon in a professional code based on pre­cepts extracted from actual crises. It reads:

The gathering and reporting of news constitute a function affecting the progress of civilization. Perform­ance should be limited to those fitted for the responsibil­ity. Such fitness is inseparable from singleness of devotion to newspaper duty. It can subsist only in complete independence from divergent accountability or commitment.
This debars any participation in which loyalty to one’s fellows or to one’s stake may conflict with the obligations of journalism. My own adherence to the rule may have at times approached the borders of fanaticism. But from its safe shelter, I have again and again observed how the practice of contempt for this principle has led to the crashing of brilliant careers, to the corruption of newspaper institutions and to the collapse of great journalistic enterprises.

An elaboration of this monitory shield evolved from another criminal trial. Here, too, was the clamp of personal entanglement.

Adam Brown, a huge black Negro, was on trial for the killing of a policeman. The slain officer, a mulatto, had been one of the most respected darkies in town. His beat was in the heart of the business section. He had known me from infancy. He had actu­ally pleaded for permission to subscribe to The Amateur. When my long trousers and a clerkship in a law office came, he appointed me his “special counselor.” A week before he was shot to death, he had drawn me aside for a curbstone conference. His wife, a buxom wench fifteen years his junior, was breaking his heart. He was so deeply stirred that he couldn’t marshal the facts he seemed eager to present. The consultation was abortive. We never met again.

The prosecution of Adam Brown was based on the theory that he had been the paramour of the murdered man’s wife. During the trial the young journalist flitted in and out of a seat beside the district attorney. The defendant eyed him suspiciously. He questioned his lawyer about the busybody. When Brown learned that the young fellow was a reporter and a friend of the slain policeman, he remonstrated. His counsel protested against “this intrusion of an element prejudicial to his client.” The protest was ignored. By the time the jury retired, Brown had whipped his resentment into a fiendish hatred.

The verdict of guilty was expected. The murderer listened stolidly to the announcement. A few moments later he whispered to the deputy sheriff adjusting his manacles. The officer beckoned to me. “The prisoner wants to talk to you,” he mumbled. A tingle of excitement vied with a sense of foreboding. The doomed Negro leaned over until his mouth was close to my ear.

“I’d like to fry your guts in a skillet and make you eat ’em!” he hissed.

The malignity of that malediction remains unmatched in my experience. The deputy sheriff stared for a moment at the prisoner and then savagely jerked the handcuffs.

“Well, cross a tarantula with a rattlesnake!” he exploded. “Now ain’t that something ?”

Was Brown’s rancor in any degree justified? Had friendship for the murdered policeman trespassed on the role of the journal­ist? These were qualms that twisted an hour of introspection. They were to be turned into real torment at Brown’s hanging.

A new scaffold was built for the Negro’s execution. An un­painted white-pine platform, it rested on four rough-lumber posts. Eight feet above the prison yard, it looked more like a stage than a gallows. Prisoners, leering through the windows of the second tier of cells, bandied ribald jests about “the brand new band­stand.”
It was the boy reporter’s baptism of horror. There had been a moment of nausea when the iron gates of the jail clanged behind him. A violent constriction of nerves and muscles balked a dash for the outside. He was approaching for the first time the spectacle of ordained death. Under any circumstances, consider­able obduracy would have been required from which to extort calmness for such a mission. But here it was impossible to assume the callousness of a detached observer. One glance from the doomed man would instantly dissolve such an assumption. This was not merely the snuffing out of a murderer’s life. It was the extinction of a soul threaded with strands in which the young journalist had become himself entangled. Could the reporter, watching the operation of justice, exclude from his consciousness the boy’s anguish of mind and spirit ?

He was on tenterhooks. The jocular obscenities of the men in the cells turned the scene into a phantasmagoria. Was this lumber frame the gallows? How was it to be used for a hanging? To the newspaper novice’s unpracticed eye there was no sign of the scaffold’s macabre facilities. He questioned a deputy sheriff.

“There’s a trap door, thirty inches square, in the center of the platform,” the officer explained. “It’s scarcely visible from here. It can be plainly seen from under the scaffold. It works on a hinge released by a wooden trigger. The prisoner will be taken up that plank staircase opposite us. Then he will be put in posi­tion on the trap door. While he is standing there his hands will be bound behind his back and his legs will be trussed together. This is done to prevent them from catching on the sides of the trap and to keep them from flopping around while he’s hanging.

“At the same time that Brown’s being trussed up, the rope will be slipped through the swivel in the middle of that cross beam that runs from the cell house to the jail wall. That swivel is directly above the trap door in the center of the stage. It will be less than two feet above the top of Brown’s head when he’s stand­ing on the trap.

“He weighs two hundred pounds. We figure that a six-foot drop will break the backbone of a man his weight. Otherwise, he’ll have to die of strangulation. The Negro will shoot through the open space and if he’s lucky the jerk will snap his spine.”

The picture this evoked only addled the listener’s malaise. He must get away from this informant whose chill verity was as distressing as it was helpful. A quick inspection of the death structure from underneath the trap door would furnish a logical pretext. There the young journalist stood while Adam Brown mounted the scaffold.

The lethal functions on the platform overhead were swiftly performed. The trap door crashed open. The startled reporter caught a flash of a rigid form hurtling through. It came with the force of a battering-ram. The slippered feet, bound tightly to­gether, formed the point of the ram. It was a veritable bolt of death. It struck the boy on the shoulder. Spun completely around, he was hurled against the brick wall of the cell house.
The county physician came forward to examine the swaying body of the hanged man. It was his duty to announce when life had finally departed. His task was momentarily delayed. He had stumbled over the prostrate figure under the gallows. A shout brought the sheriff and several deputies running. The stunned reporter was carried to the little room beyond the cell house that served as the prison dispensary.

Weeks elapsed before the newspaper neophyte attempted an appraisal of that day’s professional experience. His physical aches and pains obtruded less upon his reflections than recurrent night­mares. The headless body of Adam Brown was always seated on the judge’s bench in the district court. In one of the black hands rested the head that should have been on the shoulders. The other fist gripped a skillet in which a furious blaze of many colors sizzled around tantalizingly familiar but never wholly recognizable images. The spectral pattern was unvaried except for the evanescent outlines of the wraith-like figures in the flames.


The pendulum of the cub reporter’s zeal swung between the odium of crime and the amenities of cultural pursuits. The circuit of human concerns was the outer boundary of his beat. And at nearly every turn, across that entire range of news, he encountered the same queer quirk of humanity—a disgusting zest for noto­riety. Hands upraised to the limelight cast their shadows across every field of reportorial endeavor.

Avidity for one’s “name in the newspaper” was diagnosed as a psychopathic phenomenon. A revealing incident instilled in the boy an abiding distaste for this type of exhibitionism. It forged the links of his armor for a lifelong crusade, first against the publicity pirate and then against the mercenary hordes that have emerged in successive waves from the parasitic chrysalis of the press agent.

Tlie basic example of exhibitionism grew out of an innocent lawn-party. It was a conventional gathering with Chinese lanterns and dancing on the green. The hostess was the wife of Andy Stevens, a rising young banker. She had no idea of rivalry with the musical soiree the same evening at the home of W. Ballantyne Patterson. Indeed, she would have canceled her party rather than offend that enterprising capitalist, who had done so much for the real-estate development of San Antonio. Her husband often sought Patterson’s favor. And she never learned that because of her suc­cess as a hostess that night, Patterson exploded a crisis in a news­paper office.

It was the cub’s assignment to cover both social functions. He did not expect to see the host at the Patterson mansion. There was acid in the hope that he would not. It was sharpened by the sour memory of their last meeting. The lad had lifted his hat to the magnate while he was escorting a woman to her carriage at the curbstone. His companion, apparently amused, nodded toward the young fellow. “Oh! That’s an errand boy in a law office,” boomed the chivalrous gentleman. “He shouldn’t presume to address me in the company of a lady.”

“The anatomy of courtesy” was in the newspaper novice’s mind as he approached the Patterson mansion. He shrank from another clinical demonstration by the same lecturer. But the misgiving with which he entered the house gave way to amazement. Over­whelming civilities were heaped upon him. No attention was suitable for the boy unless ministered by the patrician hands of the host himself. The climax was reached when Patterson volun­teered to collect for the reporter the descriptions of the costumes worn by the women guests. There could be but one explanation. The capitalist rated an errand boy among the untouchables and a journalist among the Brahmans.

Two days later this conclusion came up for reconsideration. It was at a special conference of executives of the Times. The advertising manager had that morning reported an abrupt cancel­ation of the Patterson advertising schedule. The pretext given was obviously fatuous. And the underling who notified the Times representative was extremely careful to explain how regretful the firm would be if many of its associates and clients adopted a similar attitude toward the paper.

This was no minor threat to the Times’s advertising revenues. The situation was thoroughly canvassed. It was a worried group that summoned the city editor. How did it happen, he was asked, that the report of the lawn-party at Andy Stevens’ home got more space and prominence than the account of the soiree at the Pat­terson residence? The policy, he explained, was to use all the names of guests at such affairs, and the excess of the Stevens list over the Patterson roster accounted for tire longer story. Then the mechanical exigencies of make-up entailed a higher position on the page for the larger item.

The reporter who wrote both stories was also questioned. Could he tell anything to amplify the city editor’s explanation? Of course, he couldn’t.

Out of a prolonged shaking of heads, a strategic course was evolved. The managing editor would call on the disgruntled ad­vertiser personally. There would be an adroit explanation of the blunder about which Mr. Patterson had remained so magnani­mously silent. Next, the city editor would be presented, together with a request that data be made available for him for the writing of a special article. The Times was going to great lengths to pub­lish proof of his social, business and civic preeminence. Patterson’s pique would be salved with a fanfare of flattering publicity.

The solemn conclave cast the fledgling journalist into an abyss of chaotic chagrin. What was this incomparable calling of jour­nalism if its masters wriggled and cringed at the threat of a peevish advertiser? Of what demesne did the vaunted Fourth Estate really consist? Was it a sovereign realm or was it merely the back yard of haughty hucksters? Was the servile obedience of an editor wrapped in each parcel of advertising space?

These were parlous questions. Again the tyro was goaded into the travail of inner search. But the outer ramparts of a fervent idealism still stood. Patterson’s sack of the Times sanctum might prove only a detached episode. Florid phrases did not piece to­gether the splinters, but they refreshed a flagging spirit.

The journalist would carry on. The power of the press was no flimsy chimera to be flouted by tortious tradesmen. It was an unconquerable force measurable only by the might of the society it served. And in that service lay the solution of what a moment before had seemed a baffling problem. Did not the newspaper dedicate an undivided allegiance to its reader? Did it not pro­claim this devotion as the sole charter of its existence? Did not these pledges constitute the articles of a covenant between the publisher and the public?
Such a regime left no alternative for the editor. It marked for him a course none could mistake:

At all times and in all things the editor must serve the reader to the exclusion of everyone else.
This should be the paramount rule of journalism. It precludes from consideration in the selection and display of news the selfish concerns of advertisers and publicity schemers. It reduces to the single yardstick of the reader’s interest the appraisal of publication values.

Here was a comforting picture. It discounted the Patterson muss as a paltering blunder. High hope again took command. But at its saddle-girth rode an imp of indignation—hostage of my first brush with buccaneers of the newspaper main—out-rider of an outraged journalism. Each ensuing year piled vindication on the tyro’s dudgeon. Patterson’s publicity coup had been piffling in scope, but everywhere its pattern ran through constantly multi­plying and expanding operations.

The metamorphosis of the press agent was proceeding. The publicity expert appeared. Exhibitionism was capitalized at a con­tinually rising scale. Wherever a craving for conspicuousness be­trayed itself, a harpy of the press swooped down. The passion for prominence was harnessed to the vehicles of commerce. The public relations counselor entered. A new art developed. It gave employment to talents hitherto unknown. The furtive press agent had been only a prospector. His tentative essays dwindled into amateurish experiments beside the masterly techniques that fol­lowed. The publicity pirate grew into a Titan. His vast loot of space and time came by cozening or extortion from every vulner­able agency of publication. A Gargantuan shadow descended on a nation’s news. In its folds swarmed the pestilential larvae of the secret propagandist.

Behind the chameleon camouflage of public relations labels, mustered the mercenaries of subversion. Under cover of the bat­talions of ballyhoo, the squadrons of alien sedition deployed. Myriad forces applied their energies to the adulteration or per­version of public intelligence. They penetrated every center of social and economic congregation. They cruised every channel of multiple communication and attacked every medium of human exchange.

New fields had opened up for invasion. The cinema and the radio were aligned abreast the press. This was no trinity of strength to oppose the beleaguering hosts. It was, instead, a tre­bling of booty to whet their rapacity. Propagandism swept the nation. It brought to the public relations experts new sets of strategies. It supplied to the publicity plunderers new depots of audacity. On a thousand battlefronts the guardians of news in­tegrity were pressed back to their last lines of defense. On every side, the attacking legions outnumbered and outflanked the sorely pressed garrisons.

In the newspaper sector dismay seeped into the trenches. There were hints of defection in the high command. Principles were contrasted with profits. Compromise was discussed. Breaches showed in walls hitherto impregnable. Salients and scouts were withdrawn. There remained only one protecting barrier, the phalanx of editors through which runs the life-line of journalism. On that gallant company fell the sole guardianship of a world’s bounty—the essence of progress—the untrammeled flow of un­tainted news.

Chapter 3 Part 2 next week    link to previous installment   link to next installment


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Wednesday, May 17, 2017


Obscurity of the Day: Penn's Place

Penn's Place has the dubious honor of being the newest feature to be a Stripper's Guide Obscurity of the Day. It ended just a little more than a year ago. To be fair though, it's no obscurity if you live in Philadelphia because the strip enjoyed the primo position on the front top of the Inquirer's Sunday comic section every week.

Signe Wilkinson, the editorial cartoonist for the Philadelphia Daily News, created the Sunday-only strip shortly after she gave up her syndicated comic strip Family Tree (still in reruns on GoComics). Penn's Place debuted in the Sunday Inquirer on November 20 2011. The strip is about Hannah, a Philly resident, and the gags are almost always about some aspect of Philadelphia living, whether traffic, tourists, local events, or whatever.

What I don't understand is why most newspapers don't have a strip like Penn's Place. Everybody loves humor that makes reference to your own 'hood, and if it is done reasonably well it can easily become 'water-cooler' fodder. That translates to circulation building, which frankly is more than you can say for all that plain vanilla syndicated content on the comics pages. Nobody makes sure to read Garfield every morning before they go to work, in case the strip comes up in the morning chats. I can definitely see strips like Penn's Place being 'appointment-reading'. Wake up, newspaper editors!

Penns' Place had a nice 4+ year run before Signe pulled the plug on February 14 2016. She bowed out with a valentine message to her readers, which led to a long string of Facebook replies from disappointed fans.

Thanks very much to Mark Johnson who supplied the sample tearsheets of Penn 's Place.


There was a time when many papers, if they were big enough, might run a local only Sunday strip, but this is an extremely rare practice in the last fifty years. With the dying off of comic sections at all, Maybe Penn's Place could be the last one.
The statue of William Penn atop Philadelphia's wonderfully grotesque city hall figures prominetly in the strip, and the 1 Feb 15 sample happens to be the focus of the gag. 117 years earlier, the same statue was shown howling in laughter on the cover of the very first Sunday comic section in the city of brotherly love, published in the Philadelphia Press.
Signe Wilkinson is not just the editorial cartoonist, but the Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist for the Philadelphia Daily News.
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Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Penny Ross

Marion T. “Penny” Ross was born in Illinois on June 6, 1881. The birth date is from his World War I draft card. According to the 1880 U.S. Federal Census, Ross’s parents and four older siblings resided in Galesburg, Illinois, on Cherry Street. It seems likely Ross was born in Galesburg. Records at show that his father was a Civil War veteran who enlisted in the Wisconsin 5th Light Artillery Battery on December 7, 1861, and was mustered out June 6, 1865.

According to the 1900 census, student Ross resided in Cicero, Illinois, with his parents, two sisters, a brother and niece. His father was a salesman.

The Oakland Tribune (California), July 7, 1937, said Ross was a “graduate of Chicago art schools and a former instructor at the Louis Art Institute, in Chicago.”

The Cook County, Illinois, Marriages Index, at, recorded Ross’s marriage to Myrtle May Barnard on April 2, 1907 in Oak Park.

In the 1910 census, newspaper artist Ross and his wife lived in Chicago at 5911 Frink Street.

The origin of Mamma’s Angel Child was told by Ross in a Chicago Tribune advertisement published in Editor & Publisher, May 1, 1919. 

Ten years ago Penny Ross was a young illustrator on the Chicago Tribune doing a few fashions and miscellaneous routine drawings. An artist doing a page for the comic section, died suddenly and the gap had to be filled. Ross was asked to attempt something. One of the greatest influences in his life had been a little girl in the neighborhood named Esther, whose pranks had been startling in their number, originality and lack of malice. He began drawing the actual events in which Esther had been the heroine….
American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Mamma's Angel Child ran from March 1, 1908 to October 17, 1920. Ross was one of several contributors to Foolish Limericks that was created by A.D. Reed in 1910. Ross drew at least one strip (dated September 17, 1911) of Frank King’s Honest Harold, Do You Mean What You Say?. Ross created Mrs. Stout and Miss Slim that ran from September 10, 1911 to February 25, 1912. Ross drew Beatrice and Her Brother Bill from January 11 to May 31, 1914. 

Ross illustrated children's books including The Flower Babies’ BookThe Flower ChildrenThe Butterfly Babies BookBird Children and Animal Children.

Ross created art for the Armour Company who produced Armour’s Grape Juice. Ross’s trade character was reported in Printers’ Ink, August 14, 1913.

Advertisements with Ross’s art appeared in the trade publication Southern Pharmaceutical Journal. Apparently, Ross produced at least six illustrations of the Armour girl.

Ross also illustrated the Armour’s Grape Juice advertisements as seen in The Saturday Evening Post, August  9, 1913, and Collier’s, May 16, 1914.

On September 12, 1918, Ross signed his World War I draft card. The Chicago Tribune cartoonist resided at 416 Wesley Avenue in Oak Park. The same address was in the 1920 census that said Ross had a son and daughter.

Ross formed an advertising company. It was reported in Editor & Publisher, July 3, 1919, and Associated Advertising, August 1919. Editor & Publisher, September 18, 1919, elaborated on the company’s location and services. The National Corporation Reporter, November 25, 1920, published this entry: “Penny Ross Advertising. Incorporated, Chicago; capital from $9,000 to $40,000; name to Penny Ross Advertising Company.”

Bill Blackbeard wrote in his book, Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics (1977), that Ross “assisted Outcault on Buster Brown and possibly ghosted that strip on occasion.” It’s not clear when Ross met Outcault. American Newspaper Comics said Ross worked on the Buster strip (late in its run) when it was syndicated by the American-Journal-Examiner. (The National Corporation Reporter, February 21, 1907, had this entry in the New Corporations column: “Outcault Advertising Company, Chicago; $6,000; Clark S. Reed, C. N. Goodwin, James M. Given.” Outcault traveled from his home in New York City to Chicago where he developed licensing merchandise for Buster Brown as well as other advertising projects for clients. Outcault died in 1928.)

A 1922 Oak Park city directory listed commercial artist Ross at 531 South Elmwood Avenue. According to trade magazine The Shears, Ross was the art director at Artcraft Paper Box Company in Chicago. The Shears, June 1922, said Ross appeared with the W.C. Ritchie & Company at a trade show.

The Oakland Tribune said Ross moved in 1926 to California.

Ross lived in Oakland, California, at 473 College Avenue, as recorded in the 1930 census. Ross was a self-employed artist who worked on private homes. The Oakland Tribune said “Ross planned the interiors of many large homes in the Bay area. He was called as a consultant for the Century of Progress Exposition at Chicago and recently had done designing for Hollywood studios.”

Lambiek Comiclopedia claims Ross “was one of the first co-workers of Walt Disney”. Disney moved to California in 1923. Other biographies of Disney make no mention of Ross.

Ross passed away July 6, 1937, at his home in Oakland, according to the Oakland Tribune.

—Alex Jay


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Monday, May 15, 2017


Obscurity of the Day Revisited: Beatrice and Her Brother Bill

We covered Beatrice and Her Brother Bill as an obscurity way back in 2007 (surprisingly, I didn't write the post in ancient Greek). I was recently riffling through the still large numbers of unprocessed scans Cole Johnson sent me back in the day and discovered that I had the first two episodes of the series, plus a later one in which Cousin Percy had been added to the mix. How could I resist sharing them?

M.T. "Penny" Ross wasn't much of a gag-writer -- he relied on slapstick for most of the humor -- but wow, what a great cartoonist he was. Love his art deco sensibility here in 1914, long before the movement had even gotten its name.


I agree, pretty great cartooning from Ross.
-Evan Schad.
It's said that Ross was a ghost for Outcault, and you may recall way back in Jerry Robinson's book, he had a Buster Brown sample that was obviously done by Ross,and apparently also an original art as well. Perchance senility has caught up to me, but I can't remember any actually printed BBs that were done by Mr. Ross.
I would agree that it's the art that puts the gags across; it's still funny, a century later.
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Saturday, May 13, 2017


Herriman Saturday

February 5 1909 -- An unusually clear photocopy allows me to reproduce the whole article that goes along with these Herriman cartoons, so I'll let you read all about the big feud.

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Friday, May 12, 2017


Wish You Were Here, from Percy Crosby

Here's a Percy Crosby card issued in 1911 by S.A. Solomon. The back adds no information about the maker or series. Imagine that you finally get done sending out your Christmas cards, and now the postcard makers would like you to send out another batch for New Year's! Sheesh.


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Thursday, May 11, 2017


King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 2 Part 3

King News by Moses Koenigsberg

Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941

Chapter 2

A Don Quixote of the West (conclusion)

link to previous installment   link to next installment

Thanks to the incredible resilience of youth, there was high excitement in the boy that jogged along beside Eusebio Barrera that evening on the highway of historic adventure. All the equip­ment of cavalrymen in marching order, save a carbine and a saber, had been provided. A shelter tent, a poncho, a canteen, a blanket, underwear, socks, chaps, brogans and a .38-calibre Smith & Wesson revolver were included in the kit. They were handed to a lad who said he was eighteen and looked it, but who had passed his twelfth birthday only two months before. The heavy shoes didn’t fit me. They were thrust into the knapsack pend­ing any enforcement of inspection regulations. We wore tunics and trousers of blue jeans.

Eusebio was the treasurer of the two-man expedition. He car­ried one haversack for both of us and filled it liberally from a grocery store at which we stopped at the southern edge of San Antonio.

My mount was a mustang of considerable spirit but easy gait. It would have passed as an average cow-pony on any western ranch. Its sorrel hide betrayed no hint of the murderous envy the broncho was to engender. Eusebio rode a larger and sturdier horse.

There had been hunting trips and pecan-picking jaunts on which I had camped out for a couple of days at a time. But the third night out of San Antonio on the road with Eusebio Barrera marked my longest absence thus far from the parental roof. He seemed to sense the possibility of nostalgia. If his companion betrayed the slightest inclination toward revery or meditation, he launched into song or rollicking raillery or flights of poetic recitation.

His solicitude may have been wasted. Every hour was bringing us nearer to the great battlefield manifestation—the moment when his comrade would step forth into the role of a full-fledged war correspondent. The countless facets of that vision shone with too much luster to admit retrospective shadows. During the day Eusebio had no misgivings. There was too much gaiety of speech and liveliness of occupation to invite introspection. But at night, under the stars, when the plaintive yowl of the panther beside the brooding mystery of the chaparral flung a prickle along the spine, Eusebio worried about his companion. The fact, too thinly dis­guised to escape detection, served as a stimulant. It put the boy on his mettle. Eusebio could not be sure whether it was his in­spiriting influence or the young fellow’s native cussedness that suppressed any show of nostalgic qualms.

On the fourth day we reached Cotulla. We had covered eighty-five miles. Eusebio had been directed to find a pecan grove on the Nueces River three miles west of Cotulla.

A gurgling exclamation drew my eyes to Barrera’s face. It wore a smile of exquisite pleasure. “They are on the alert,” he said. “Scouts are out. We are being watched.” A moment later three horsemen galloped up. They wore blue-jean outfits similar to ours. They carried carbines. Eusebio saluted. His companion’s imitation was a bit grandiose. “Juarez” was the countersign. We spoke it in unison. The foremost of the three riders rode along­side Barrera and embraced him.

There was a babbling of Spanish, a wheeling of horses and then we were galloping westward.

A jolt came when we cantered up to the edge of the pecan grove. Eusebio had depicted a large army in leash. Here were not more than fifty men. And the only military color in sight was in the gaudy trappings of one man—a captain, evidently the com­manding officer. His epaulets would have shamed a minstrel-band leader. There was nothing to reflect military discipline. There was not even an alignment of the tents.

There was little time to digest the discouragements of this pic­ture before the two recruits were called before the commanding officer. He received us in the only wall tent in the encampment. The captain snorted a reluctant salute. Then he turned to Eusebio.

There was an immediate change in his demeanor. He drew Barrera aside and talked with him in undertones. Occasionally he glanced at me with undisguised disapproval. I caught mention of years and parentage. The captain shook his head in emphatic negation.

But it was all arranged!” Barrera insisted, showing a letter. The officer was impressed. A curt nod ordered my withdrawal. In the hour that followed there was abundant reason for uncom­fortable speculation.

A score of men lolled around the captain’s quarters in small groups. The American boy sprawled on the grass in painful pre­tense of nonchalance. Every eye was on him. He was awaiting the judgment of the summary court and the onlookers were plainly hoping for the worst. Perhaps Barrera had been too optimistic.

At last Eusebio came out. His face was very grave. He beckoned and I followed him away from the circle of curious loungers.

“There has been a mix-up,” he whispered as we walked to­gether. “This is not the officer to whom I was advised to report. All my arrangements were made with Colonel Martinez, a very close friend of the general. He has been detained at the head­quarters near Encinal. We shall go there tomorrow. This Captain Hernandez does not want to accept American recruits who have not had active military service.”

Barrera was not talking with his accustomed readiness and fluency. He was picking his words slowly. He was hiding some­thing. There was an apparent strain on his nerves and it was growing momentarily.

“Will you talk more freely, Eusebio,” I asked, “if we get our horses and ride toward the river?” A look of utter despair twisted his face.

“I did not want to tell you,” he moaned. “I hoped you might not have to know. But I can’t lie to you. We are forbidden to go outside the camp limits. You are a prisoner in my charge. The Captain first notified me that I was under arrest. Then, as a courtesy to Colonel Martinez, he put me on parole with the duty of guarding you. All this, I believe, is political. The Captain wants to distinguish himself for vigilance. When his action has reached the attention of the General he will be satisfied. At least, that is my hope.”

“But why did he put you under arrest?”

Eusebio threw up his palms in surrender.

“I’ll have to tell you everything,” he went on. “Captain Her­nandez said I must have deceived Colonel Martinez to get the letter I showed him. He said the Colonel must have thought the American boy I was bringing had been a free agent long before I proposed his enlistment. He said the Colonel could not have known that you had run away from home to come with me.”

“But what is so important to him about my running away from home?” I persisted.

“He thinks your father will report your disappearance and that it will set the Texas Rangers on our trail.”

There was a gleam of encouragement here. We would convince Colonel Martinez that Captain Hernandez had dug up a mare’s nest—that he was in grievous error about any hazard from any action my father might take.

“But the Captain does not stop there,” Eusebio resumed. “He accuses me of the military crime of betraying important informa­tion, such as a countersign and the location of an armed camp.”

And Barrera sank down on a pile of saddles at the corral gate. Even his profound dejection failed to squelch his companion’s sanguine spirit. Colonel Martinez was still a tower of hope. There were too many evidences of his fondness for Eusebio to permit a fear that he would forsake the young patriot. But a chilling thought intervened.

“Suppose Colonel Martinez is not at Encinal tomorrow. What will happen if the General has detailed him elsewhere?” I asked.

“Captain Hernandez said that in any event the case will be presented to a court-martial of the rank of field officers within forty-eight hours after reaching our next encampment.”

That was a sockdolager. With my sympathy for Eusebio it might be well to mix some concern for myself. No; they dare not handle me roughly. If they were worried about what the Texas Rangers would do on account of an unharmed boy, they’d surely be afraid to aggravate the situation by harming him.

Reveille aroused a grim and silent Eusebio. It was at roll-call that the gravity of our plight became undeniable. Up to that moment I had witnessed no formal action. The impression lin­gered that we were in a jam the nature of which had been confined to a confidential chat between two friends. The infor­mality ended with a peremptory wave of Captain Hernandez’s arm. We were ordered out of line. Eusebio Barrera and his recruit had been detached from the Army of Liberation.

Ten minutes later, the squadron was breaking into squads of eight, each in charge of a sergeant. Eusebio and I were counted in as Numbers 2 and 7 of the same unit. It was a delicate way of serving notice of our status of restraint. A soldier would always be on either side of each of us. We were to reach Encinal by sunset. The distance of twenty-eight miles entailed no real hard­ship if too many detours to avoid attention were not required.

That ride was the severest trial of self-control to which the brash neophyte of journalism had yet been subjected. None of the men spoke to me. Occasionally Eusebio flashed a comforting smile; but it had been agreed that we should not converse in the hearing of the others. The best safeguard against a breakdown lay in concentration on Colonel Martinez.

A word burst upon this reflection like the crackling of a whip— “gringo,” the lingual distillation of Mexican contempt for an American. I looked at the speaker. He was ahead, on my left, speaking to the man on his right. His half-turned face permitted our eyes to meet. He poured into his glance the venom of a bitter hostility. That was when I first noticed Felipe Rodriguez. He looked about twenty-two, of a nervous temperament, with a sardonic cast of features. There was no reason at that moment to appraise the importance of his unfriendliness.

When the sun reached its zenith, a halt was called for food. Turning to look for Eusebio, I confronted Felipe Rodriguez. Beside him stood the sergeant, Gonzales, who it developed was his uncle.

“When we remount,” said Sergeant Gonzales to me, “you will change horses with Felipe.”

“Why?” I asked impulsively.

“It is my order,” came the brusque response.

Eusebio stepped up. “What is this?” he demanded.

“Why should this snotty-nosed gringo have the best horse in the company?” broke in Felipe. “I want it and I’m going to have it.”

“Why don’t you get the Captain’s horse?” Eusebio retorted. “You have as much right. As for your quarrel with my friend— he’ll answer you.”

“There is no quarrel here,” the sergeant rasped. “I have ordered these two to exchange mounts.”

“But hold on!” Barrera spoke earnestly. “This horse my friend rides is not the property of the army. It is not under your orders. Until my friend is sworn in, his mount and his outfit belong to the patron who supplied them. They are private property. You have no authority over them.”

The validity of the argument was not so important as its nov­elty. It stumped Sergeant Gonzales. He was still sputtering when Eusebio remembered his letter. He showed it to the sergeant. Fortunately, Gonzales could read. Astonishment piled on frus­tration.

“The Colonel’s request is an order,” he mumbled, saluting Barrera.

But Felipe was not so easily overcome. If the sergeant didn’t enforce his demand, he’d take his own measures.

“I’ll fight the gringo for the horse!” he screamed. “If he wants to be a soldier, let him act like a soldier. Is he afraid to fight?”

The absurdity of the proposal flustrated me. Protest on my lips was hushed by a motion from Eusebio. He held my eye for an instant and then asked Felipe, “How do you want to fight?”

“Any way—with knives or fists or anything the gringo chooses.” Felipe was on the verge of hysteria.
“Very well, then, if the sergeant approves.” Eusebio spoke with dignity. “You may fight with your fists. At least, that will settle the quarrel between you. About the horse—the Colonel must decide.”

The wisdom of Eusebio’s action needed no discussion. Any other course would have forfeited whatever chance that remained for comradeship in the Army of Liberation.

“Don’t try to hurt him,” Eusebid whispered. “Get him down and hold him down.”
Felipe was fully four inches taller but he was no heavier. And he lacked the advantage of two years of constant training in muscular development. He landed several blows before the clinch that brought him to earth. Eusebio’s instructions were being followed. It had not been difficult. My left eye might close up for a while under an azure decoration, but that would be a mark of soldierly behavior.

Felipe’s hands were firmly gripped by the opponent who knelt astride his torso. He tugged and squirmed for a minute or two and then gave himself up to an orgy of hissed invective. It was a mixture of arabesque imagination and sheer filth. At cursing, Felipe was a master craftsman.

An arm encircled my throat from behind. I was being raised to my feet. Turning, I faced Sergeant Gonzales just as he released the grip on my neck. Assumably, this was the end of the fight. Felipe was still on the ground.

Eusebio’s hand stretched out to draw me away. I collapsed at his feet. Pincers of fire had paralyzed my left leg. Consciousness returned before Barrera could stoop to lift me. Blood was spurting from a wound half-way between the knee and the hip. Gonzales stood with gaping mouth in overwhelmed amazement. Felipe was running toward his horse, a blood-stained dirk in his hand.

So ended my first freelance adventure as a war correspondent.

With the tenderness of an affectionate brother, Eusebio bound a makeshift tourniquet above the wound. Gonzales and the other members of the squad turned from acid disdain into friendly helpfulness. The sergeant himself brought from a little farm near at hand a rickety cart on which, on an improvised litter of mesquite boughs, the wounded boy was hauled to Encinal. After all, a helpless muchacho who had presented himself for enrolment in the Army of Liberation was quite a different person from a gringo suspect.

Colonel Martinez fully justified Barrera’s faith. Felipe Rodri­guez had shown the way to solve Eusebio’s problem. There was no longer any reason to consider his protege a source of hazard. Before the boy was able to move about, the army would be across the Rio Grande, beyond the pursuit of Texas Rangers.

The soi-disant war correspondent was billeted in the adobe home of a Mexican patriot under special instructions from Colo­nel Martinez. There Eusebio bade me a tender adios. An officer of distinguished appearance stood in the doorway for a moment with an orderly and the owner of the humble dwelling. The party had barely made its way out of the place before my host was back in lively excitement.

“That was the General himself,” he whispered. “He came to make sure. It is a great honor.”

The leg wound, under the care of a physician assigned by Colonel Martinez, healed rapidly. Felipe’s savagery had lessened the effectiveness of his thrust. The penetration would have been deeper had he not been so eager to twist the blade inside the cut. No permanent disability was inflicted. Ten days after my parting with Eusebio, the doctor dismissed his patient. It was a sober-minded boy that boarded the train for San Antonio with ten silver dollars and a dose of sententious advice from the doctor.

“The tongue,” he said, “reveals the wisdom of men and the folly of children. You should be especially careful in speech. The same loose talk that will bring ridicule to you may embarrass your friends.”

The purport of this cryptic advice seemed clear. It was a warn­ing to shield Eusebio. It was a comforting adjuration. It meant the means of requiting, even though in a painfully slight degree, some of the unforgettable devotion of my beloved chum.

On June 22, 1890, General Francisco Ruiz Sandoval, with a following of Mexican insurgents, marched up the west bank of the Rio Grande from Laredo. The strength of his forces was conjectural. Estimates ranged from 500 to 5,000. Twenty miles north of Laredo they came into contact with government troops— a regiment of the famous Mexican Rurales. By nightfall, the Army of Liberation was scattered in complete rout. General Sandoval and 142 of his adherents were captured. On the same day, I returned to San Antonio. Nearly a year elapsed before I learned that Eusebio had escaped.

Letters to my parents from Encinal had allayed any fear for the safety of their absent son. They had also confirmed the paternal resolution to “let the boy make his own bed.” Tenders of journal­istic enthusiasm to the San Antonio dailies were uniformly de­clined. Each answer included an intimation of prematurity.

“First grow a beard,” advised one rather unsympathetic city editor.

Evidently time interposed a gap that must be bridged or hur­dled before I could enter professional journalism. This obstacle would have vanished had the venture in war correspondence suc­ceeded. But bitterness over that failure would not sprout a beard.

Funds were necessary to cover the gap that only ripening years would close. Parental aid would debar my goal. But a job with living wages would keep open the gates to newspaperdom.

It was a highly auspicious providence that led me to the law offices of Shook & Vander Hoeven. I was hired immediately. For service as an office-boy and clerk, sleeping quarters were furnished in a rear room, with a regular meal ticket at a first-class family restaurant. To this were added $5 in cash weekly and a practical course of instruction in law. The liberality of that arrangement opened an index to the unusual personalities of my first employers.

John R. Shook was a rare character. Poetry and philosophy were his secret dissipations. Self-discipline wrestled with benevo­lence for his mastery. Thomas T. Vander Hoeven, half his age, was both his partner and his son-in-law. The junior member of the firm labored with the task of hiding his geniality behind his mask of dignity.

Routine with Shook & Vander Hoeven was a singular alterna­tion of cold verity and glowing imagery. Duty was discharged with an ascetic fidelity to promptness and detail. The interludes of personal intercourse became all the more refreshing. It is doubt­ful whether a full college course would have yielded so rich a treasure of human values as the ten months I spent in that law office.

It was during a dissertation on the practice of law that Colonel Shook clinched another set of rivets fastening my ambitions to journalism. An entirely different purpose was in his mind. He had laid out for me a schedule of work, study and relaxation.

“Never fail to read at least one local newspaper every day,” he enjoined, “and go through every page thoroughly.”

My eagerness to pursue the subject led him into an extended disquisition. As he spoke, I jotted down memoranda of his state­ments. The action enhanced the warmth of his interest. He paced back and forth in the throes of an oration. In all the succeeding years I have sought in vain for some member of the Fourth Estate to match in eloquence and cogency that tribute to journal­ism.

“News,” he said, “is the procession of civilization. Without it progress would falter. We would relapse into barbarism.

“The local newspaper is a community convention. Selfish duty commands the attendance of every progressive citizen at this social, industrial and civic exposition. In the main hall—the large headings and extended narratives—appear the principals of the day—those who have stepped off the curbstone of privacy or been jostled into noticeable activity. There are auxiliary auditoriums and entertainment lobbies, the lesser items of group, class and neighborhood concerns. There are also special lecture-rooms and trading booths. And, unlike any other meeting or assembly, it is held in session for the spectator so that he may observe or study the proceedings at his convenience. He need not miss any of the speeches or performances. The show always awaits him.

“Our roads were puddles of impassable mud. They are being paved. Our chief thoroughfare was too narrow to let two ox-teams pass. It has been widened. The streets were so dark at night that we were afraid to venture out. Now they are brilliantly lighted. Parks are being laid out where only a short while ago rattlesnakes slithered among the cactus and weeds. Note the con­struction of a waterworks system. Observe the bridges that span the river, the streetcars that speed our shoppers and workers and all the other public improvements that quicken the usefulness of our municipal resources. Thrift and enterprise are marshaled into the establishment or expansion of public and private institutions. A metropolis grows out of the prairie. To what or to whom can we attribute these blessings of progress?

“The growth of a city is like a miracle encircling the miracle of life itself. It is outside the range of individual achievement or individual responsibility. It is like the growing of an infant, as mystic as it is manifest. It is a confluence of human forces feeding a reservoir of common purpose. Durable mains are necessary through which this vast basin may pour the power of its ever-renewing ambitions and hopes. Those arteries are the columns of your local newspaper. For them human ingenuity has evolved no alternative agencies.

“The newspaper is unique. It has no substitute. It is the organ of civic growth. It is the chief instrument of community service. And it is also the principal source of equipment for useful citizen­ship.

“Have I given you enough reasons for reading the local news­papers regularly and carefully?”

The vigor of my affirmation probably puzzled Colonel Shook. He didn’t know that the emotion he stirred was not for the read­ing but for the making of newspapers. Nor did he know that pursuit of his advice would hasten my abandonment of the study of law for the practice of journalism.

It was a paragraph in a local newspaper that apprised me of the $100 cash prize offered by Gen. George W. Russ for “the best original essay on San Antonio’s advantages.” There were three conditions for the contest. The composition must consist of not more than 1,200 words, it must be printed in a periodical publica­tion and it must be distributed on the grounds of the forthcoming State Fair, the first ever held in San Antonio.

There was no hesitation about writing the essay; but a means must be found for publication within the terms prescribed. The Amateur would have met the requirements. Why not revive it for this purpose?

It was a literal burning of the midnight oil by which my opus was produced. Announcement that the prize had been awarded to me was, of course, the biggest event thus far in my life. But even the happiness of that triumph was to be exceeded the next day.

A messenger brought an invitation to call at the office of the San Antonio Times. That newspaper had but recently passed into the ownership of Sam Maverick. A member of the famous Texas family of that name, his activities embraced banking, ranch­ing and real-estate development. He was resolved to make his newly acquired newspaper a ripsnorting metropolitan daily. He had imported editorial and circulation experts from larger cities to expedite his plans. W. A. Stinchcomb, fresh from a series of journalistic successes in Denver, Colorado, was installed as pub­lisher and managing editor.

Little of this was known to me. It would have made no dif­ference if I had been fully informed of these changes. There would have been no thought of again applying for a newspaper job until I was prepared literally to beard the editor in his den. And the hirsute equipment essential for such an invasion had not yet appeared.

Stinchcomb first assured himself that I was the winner of the $100 prize. Then he was delightfully direct.

“You’ve shown that you can write English,” he said, “and you know the city. That means that you ought to make a good re­porter. We can offer you a job at $12 a week.”

Even though the world whirled through rainbows of delirious joy, there came a flash of business caution.
“I’m thirteen years old and I believe I should get $13 a week,” I blurted.

Stinchcomb laughed heartily. “That seems logical and fair,” he answered. “You’re hired.”

Chapter 3 Part 1 next week    link to previous installment   link to next installment


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