The First Choctaw Newspaper

In the early years people of the Indian Territory had to rely on outsider newspapers for news, but slowly an increase in commerce and a more-educated people made local newspapers more viable.

Established in 1820, The Arkansas Gazette was always a reliable, well-respected newspaper. Thirty years later, a list printed in 1849 named sixteen pre-Civil War newspapers including the Cherokee Advocate from Tahlequah, in its fifth year of publication. Lastly a brand new newspaper was mentioned – Choctaw Telegraph, published at Doaksville.

1849 list of newspapers

[In case you might be wondering, the first paper printed in the Chickasaw Nation was the Pauls Valley Enterprise, begun 1887. The Eufaula Indian Journal holds the record as the oldest continued publication in the state – as of 1935.]

The Northern Standard out of Clarksville, Texas, was another regional paper which began publishing in 1842, reporting on military movements, river trade, important Choctaw happenings, and even the schedule for the occasional ball games.

In May 20, 1848, the Northern Standard briefly mentioned the plans for establishment and publication of a newspaper at Doaksville:

NEWS FOR THE CHOCTAWS. We understand that a newspaper press is about to be established at Doaksville; Mr. Ball, heretofore a Merchant in that place, having passed through here, yesterday morning, on his way to New Orleans for materials.”

Indeed, six months later, in November 1848, Arkansas newspapers kindly published the prospectus at the request of its editor Daniel Folsom:

1848 Prospectus for the Telegraph

 

Apparently enough subscribers were found and the first issue of the Choctaw Telegraph rolled off the press on Nov. 2, 1848 [this initial publish date from the researcher James D. Morrison].

Newspaper circles helped to announce the new publication; among them the Arkansas Intelligencer (Van Buren, Arkansas), Sat, Nov 11, 1848, Page 2 (top) and the Washington Telegraph (Washington, Arkansas), Weds, Nov 15 1848, Page 3 (bottom). Subscription rate was three dollars per year.

1848 -11 Van Buren-paper announced1848 -11 paper is announcec

Journalist Frances Imon, of Hugo, Okla., later described the likely printing process for the four-page newspaper:

“Equipment and supplies were brought up Red River by boat from New Orleans. No description of equipment has been found, but the papers reflect only one type face was purchased, although body type was in both English and Choctaw. In that period of time, the “type” [set of alphabet letters], a pageform in which type was locked, and a hand-operated press capable of printing one page at a time usually were enough to go into business.” ~~from The Paris News (Texas), Sunday, Dec 22, 1974, Page 12B.

SDC14766

NINE prominent men of the Red River region were listed as agents of the paper including:

  • John H. Heald, New Orleans, a former partner of Choctaw plantation owner Robert Jones and Joseph Berthelet;
  • Thompson McKenney, Choctaw Agency, Skullyville, and father of Susan Priscilla McKenney, future wife of Antlers businessman Victor M. Locke [Not the same man as Chief Thompson McKinney.]
  • L. Gooding, Fort Washita (most likely the oldest son of the Fort Towson sutler George Gooding. Lawrence S. Gooding, born 1831 in Illinois, was in later years an on-and-off newspaper man himself in Lamar County).
  • Charles F. Stewart (the surviving spouse of Tryphena Stewart, who died of tuberculosis in 1849). Mr. Stewart was a widely known merchant, formerly at Doaksville, then at Mayhew, an old settlement north of Boswell in Choctaw County. Mr. Morrison gives the location of his mercantile as “located at the crossroads where the Fort Towson-Fort Washita road was cut by a north-south road from Fort Smith to Beale’s Ferry on Red River.”

1849-05-13 Telegraph Agent list

Sadly, none of the first twenty-four issues of the Choctaw Telegraph are known to exist. The Library of Congress holdings in Washington, D.C. contain twenty-five surviving issues, starting May 3, 1849. Researcher James D. Morrison examined copies of the paper and found written on the margin of many of the pages the name “Peter Force,” an American archivist and historian of the mid-1800s, whose collection of historical material was sold to the Library of Congress just before the Civil War for $100,000.

Most of the Choctaw Telegraph issues mentioned the river conditions and recent boat traffic, always of interest to the merchants at Doaksville:

December 20, 1849 – “The Weather and River.—The weather continues disagreeable and cloudy, with alternate changes of rain and snow, though every now and then a fair sky—furnishing a glimpse at Old Sol, but for only a short while. The River is in fine boating order. The Texas, Capt. Clayborne, came up Tuesday morning last, laden partly with commissary stores for Fort Towson, and goods for this place. The Texas is a new boat, strongly built, and is in every other way well adapted for running in Red River. And from the experience in boating on this river and the accommodating conduct of Capt. Clayborne, that he will no doubt prosper. Success to the Texas Red River Packet.”

Every issue included a list of unclaimed letters and a reminder of the mail schedule for Doaksville:

  • Eastern—Arrives every Wednesday & Saturday at 6 o’clock PM.
  • Departs every Thursday & Monday at 6 o’clock AM.
  • Southern—Arrives every Thursday at 6 PM; departs Friday at 6 AM.
  • Northern—Arrives every Friday at 10 AM; departs the same day at 1 PM.

School News – May 17, 1849: “There will be an examination of the following schools, on the days specified, previous to the vacation of the terms, viz. Armstrong Academy, Tuesday July 24, 1849; Iyanubbi Female Seminary, Friday, July 24 [sic]; Koonsha Female Seminary, Friday, June 28; Pine Ridge Female Seminary, Saturday, July 28; Norwalk Male Seminary, Monday, July 30; Wheelock Female Seminary, Tuesday, July 31; Spencer Academy, Thursday, August 2; Choctaw Academy, near Robinsons, Saturday, August 4. The parents and friends of the students, are requested to attend at the places, and on the days above mentioned. G. W. HARKINS, Trustee.”

Illegal possession of liquor was already a big concern and a main focus of the Choctaw Lighthorse. When the Choctaw Division of the Order of the Sons of Temperance was organized in Doaksville, both the editor and publisher of the Telegraph were listed among its officers – June 20, 1849. Citizens became alarmed when the Lighthorse killed three men for refusing to give up their liquor. It was the editor Daniel Folsom, who explained the Choctaw law:

July 19, 1849 – “Light horsemen are justifiable in taking the life of a person, who having whisky ….and resisting the efforts of the officer, from taking and destroying it.” An 1834 Choctaw law stated “that if any person refused to allow his ardent spirits to be destroyed by the Light Horsemen, he did so at his own risk. If such person was killed, the Light Horsemen were protected by the laws of the Nation…Approved by Chiefs J. Kincaid, T. [Thomas] LeFlore, and Nitakiche.”

Prior to the new constitution of 1859,  the Choctaw Nation was still governed jointly by four districts, with no principal chief. The newspaper gives us a glimpse on how the government was managed.

October 18, 1849 – The General Council, which convened on the 3rd, adjourned on the 13th. inst., being in session ten days. A feeling of harmony appeared to pervade both branches of the Council, and a union of action among the members, to labor for the benefit of their country. “

The first day the Chiefs delivered their Messages. The two succeeding days were occupied, principally in presenting petitions, the reports of the different schools, and appointing Committees. After the several Committees were organized, upon School & Laws & Claims, they retired to a convenient place, when the petitions, etc., were taken up in order and read. Whereupon such laws were drafted, as seemed to be required, and presented to the House of Representatives and Senate, for their approval.”

Elections of District Officers were reported – October 18, 1849:

For Apekshinubi District (old spelling)

  • Alfred Wade – National Judge
  • Brazil Leflore – Treasurer
  • Lewis Garland – Auditor

For Poshimataha District (old spelling)

  • Brashears Turnbull – Supreme Judge
  • William Harrison – Treasurer
  • Jonathan Cogswell- Auditor

For Mosholatvbi District. (old spelling)

  • Canada McCurtain – Supreme Judge
  • James Trahan – Treasurer

For Chickasaw District

  • George D. James – Treasurer
  • Henry McKenney – Auditor

The last two editions of the Choctaw Telegraph – December 13 and December 20, 1849 – contained 38 laws passed by the current session of the General Council. They were printed in Choctaw only. Following most of these laws was the name of the “anumpa ikbi” or “law maker” – who was author of each – done in phonetic spelling used by the Choctaws, with substitutions for the letters such as D, J, and R, which have no equivalent in Choctaw language.

  • Law No. 31, “Taniel Fvlsom” for Daniel Folsom, Telegraph editor;
  • Law No. 35 was “Labet Chons” for Robert Jones;
  • Law No. 36 was “Wilim Pichlin” for William Pitchlynn;
  • Law No. 37 was “Sampsin Fvlsvm” for Sampson Folsom;
  • Law No. 23 was “Chisi Wal” for Jessie Wall, brother of Tryphena Wall Stewart;
  • Law Nos. 25 & 29, the phrase “N Kukna anumpa ikbi,” for Nicholas Cochenauer, legislator.

On occasion happier events were reported – the issue of November 29, 1849 made mention of the marriage of C. F. Stewart, agent for the Telegraph at Mayhew, to “Miss Juliette Slate, both of Connecticut,” five months after Tryphena’s death. Tryphena on her deathbed had made the request of Miss Slate, a young missionary at Pine Ridge, to marry her beloved Charles and to take care of her four young children, which Juliette lovingly did by all accounts.

1849-11-29 Stewart marriage

Daniel Folsom, Editor

The editor for the Choctaw Telegraph was a member of one of the largest and most famous of Choctaw families. Daniel Folsom was the son of Capt. Jeremiah Folsom, and grandson of the white trader, Nathaniel Folsom and a Choctaw woman Aiahnichih Ohoyoh, (per the Folsom Family Genealogy website). Daniel was born around 1817 in Mississippi. He attended the famous Choctaw Academy in Kentucky, completing his studies in September 1829 and returning home to Mississippi with a new suit of clothes and his own horse.

A few weeks before the sale of the Choctaw Telegraph, Daniel Folsom set down his thoughts on the whole experience.

December 6, 1849: “The practicability of publishing a paper and the necessity of one in the Nation, as a means of communication, we believe, is not now doubted by any: and to aid in supporting national interests, and in developing the resources of the country, together with the proper regard for morality, temperance, education, industry, etc.; a paper is indispensable.—And in giving our attention to these subjects, we will also try to make the Telegraph, as far as possible, a welcome visitor at the fireside of the farmer, by presenting such a variety of instructive and amusing reading, as the literature of the day, and that our position will admit—giving a prominent place in its columns to whatever we may meet with of value, or calculated to advance the interest of agriculture.”

When his newspaper was sold, he moved further west, most likely with the Nail family to the Kenefic area (now Bryan County). Daniel’s first wife was Lucinda ‘Sina” Nail. Several of his Folsom cousins settled in the nearby town of Caddo – for example, Loring S.W. Folsom and Alfred E. Folsom. Daniel died in Blue County prior to the 1885 Choctaw census.

Some genealogies state that Daniel’s brother was the famous Joseph Pitchlynn Folsom, five years his junior, and also well-educated, having graduated from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. A lawyer by training, in 1869 he produced the first written volume of Choctaw laws.

D. G. Ball, Publisher and Owner

The publisher of the Choctaw Telegraph, D. G. Ball, seems to leave no trace of a prior life or of a later life. First documented evidence of D.G. Ball as a businessman in Doaksville appeared in the Northern Standard on June 10, 1846, just as the Mexican War was getting underway:

“By Mr. Ball of Doaksville, who left New Orleans on the 30th ult., and arrived in Town on Monday last, we learn that Troops were pouring into the City, from the upper Country.”

The report referred to troop movements soon after the outbreak of the Mexican War. Ball’s route to Doaksville through Clarksville no doubt took him from New Orleans by water to Shreveport, Louisiana, or Jefferson, Texas, and then overland, the usual route of travel from New Orleans when water in the upper Red River was too low to allow steamboat travel all the way to the ferry landing at Doaksville.

A public notice in the Northern Standard through the summer and fall of 1846, identified a Doaksville merchant D.G. Ball, who had sold “thirty- six cords of Bois d’Arc Wood, at the mouth of Boggy, on Red River, and sixteen cords, at Horse Prairie, on the bank of Red River.” [From Northern Standard, July 15 through October 10, 1846.]

1846-07 firewood sale by DG Ball

Mr. Ball’s paper, the Choctaw Telegraph, lasted a little over one year. Its collapse appeared to happen suddenly. On Dec. 13, 1849, Ball had seemed optimistic about the future of his year-old newspaper, when he wrote, “We are truly thankful to our friends and greatly encouraged by the new additions to our subscription list that are daily coming in. And are especially under obligation to the generous friend who sent us five new subscribers.”

The next issue, number 52, dated December 20, 1849, set a different tone.  Page 2 had this item: “There will not be any paper issued from this office next week, Christmas.” Perhaps the holiday advertisements did not materialize for the paper, or Mr. Ball grew tired of the penniless life of a newspaperman.

In spite of the efforts of friends, the Telegraph never appeared again. The property of the Choctaw Telegraph was sold to new owners early in 1850. The name was changed to the Choctaw Intelligencer. The new publisher was L. D. Alsobrook; the new editors were J. P. Kingsbury, son of the Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury, and J. E. Dwight. More than five months elapsed between the last issue of the Telegraph and the first issue of the Intelligencer, which was dated June 6, 1850.

Upon leaving the newspaper business, Mr. Ball’s next venture was opening a hotel called the Clarksville Hotel, which was described as a well-kept house by the Northern Standard [from Clarksville Standard, March 12, 1853, name of the paper changing Oct 1852 to just The Standard.]

1853-03-12 Ad Clarksville Hotel p3

As of March 1854 Mr. Ball ceased his advertisements for the Clarksville Hotel. In January 1856 the hotel announced new ownership by a Mr. William B. Sims who charged a nightly fee of $15 for board plus lodging.

Where Mr. Ball moved next is unknown, along with the identity of any family members. He may have moved to Shreveport, based on a notice appearing in The Shreveport Times, Wednesday, August 25, 1880.

1880 Notice of revocation-DG Ball-Louisiana

Another article refers to exploratory oil and gas drilling on lands in the D.G. Ball Estate in the Rhonda Survey, one mile northeast of Turlington, Texas, near Palestine [from The Shreveport Times, Thurs, Jan 1, 1942, page 15.]

Despite these two recent discoveries, the final circumstances of Mr. D. G. Ball still remain shrouded in mystery.

50

***YAHOKE, ikana! Thank you, friends. Much GRATITUDE for spending time on a Choctaw Journey with me. ***

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Sources:

  • List of Arkansas newspapers is from Arkansas Intelligencer (Van Buren, Arkansas) Saturday, Nov 24, 1849, page 2.
  • Folsom Family Genealogy website HERE.
  • James D. Morrison, “News For The Choctaws”, Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Mar 1949), Page 207-222.
  • James D. Morrison, ed., “Notes From the Northern Standard 1842-1849,” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Mar 1941), page 82-93.

The Northern Standard was published in Clarksville, Texas, just across the river from Doaksville. The publisher Charles De Morse became known as the Father of Texas Journalism. Its first issue was August 20, 1842. Mr. De Morse closely followed events at the military posts of Fort Towson and Fort Washita, as well as the trade along the Red River.

The Texas newspaper was so popular that the fourth issue of the paper, dated Sep. 10, 1842, announced for the first time that their “Agents” included the post master and sutler at Fort Towson [military post], G. C. Gooding. Perhaps the popularity of the Northern Standard encouraged D. G. Ball to start his own newspaper for the Choctaw Nation.

Complete files of this periodical, from the first issue in 1842 to the last in 1888, are housed in the library of the University of Texas, Austin, Texas. They were donated to the University by Mrs. Isabella Gordon De Morse Latimer, daughter of Charles De Morse.

Issues of the Northern Standard from 1842-1852 are available for free through The Portal to Texas History. The Clarksville Standard is available from Oct 1852 through 1888.

  • Online newspaper catalog, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society has one microfilm reel (Roll #34607-272) for the Choctaw Telegraph, date range May 3, 1849 through Dec 20, 1849 – twenty-five issues.
    • vol. 1, no. 25 (May 3, 1849)
    • vol. 1, no. 26 (May 10, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 27 (May 17, 1849); missing issues 28 & 29
    • vol. 1, no. 30 (July 19, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 31 (July 26, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 32 (Aug 2, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 33 (Aug 9, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 34 (Aug 16, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 35 (Aug 23, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 36 (Aug 30, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 37 (Sep 6, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 38 (Sep 13, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 39 (Sep 20, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 40 (Sep 27, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 41 (Oct 4, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 42 (Oct 11, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 43 (Oct 18, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 44 (Oct 25, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 45 (Nov 1, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 46 (Nov 8, 1849); missing issue 47
    • vol. 1, no. 48 (Nov 22, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 49 (Nov 29, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 50 (Dec 6, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 51 (Dec 13, 1849);
    • vol. 1, no. 52 (Dec. 20, 1849); LAST ISSUE
  • Library of Congress “Chronicling America” online entry for Choctaw Telegraph erroneously states the first publication date was Sep 13, 1948.
  • Centenary of Printing in Oklahoma,” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Sep 1935), page 251-252.

The first printed book in Oklahoma was only 24 pages, a Muskogee-language primer, Istutsi in naktsokv, or The Child’s Book, printed August 22, 1835 by printer John F, Wheeler under the guidance of the Rev. Samuel A. Worcester (1798-1859), using a press called the Washington Hand Press shipped from the east to Rev. Worcester.

“The year 1935 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the beginning of printing in Oklahoma. This was an epochal event and denoted the greatest step toward education, progress, and civilization.

There is in the archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society a small book [at the time of this article in 1835], the first ever printed in Oklahoma. It is only a child’s book and is printed in the Muskogee (Creek) Indian language, but every page is illustrated with wood cuts which were so common in old time children’s books. Only upon the front page is there a word of English, but it is fortunate that the date of its printing is plainly shown on that page. The Union Mission where the first printing press was set up, and where the first printing was done, was in what is now Mayes County, Oklahoma, and a few miles southeast of Pryor, the county seat.”

  • See also “Primitive Textbook, First Work Printed in State,” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), Sunday, May 26, 1918, Page 30.
  • Granite Marker at Union Mission near Pryor, Oklahoma – “ERECTED IN 1935 BY OKLAHOMA LIBRARY ASSOCIATION. PHOTO BY THOMPSON STUDIO, PRYOR, OK.” From the Thomas J. Harrison Collection, Photo 7930.1, courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society.Marker in full- First Press 1835 Union Mission-OHS

2 thoughts on “The First Choctaw Newspaper

  1. Just wanted to report that as a Chickasaw historian / archaeologist, I served as the first curator of the Fort Towson Historic Site, as well as for the Thomas LeFlore “District Chief’s House” and also had involvement with old Doaksville back in the 1972-73 period for the OK Historical Society. In purchasing and re-assembling the property for the historic Fort Towson (1824-65), I also re-identified and restored the post cemetery containing the family graves of the Post Sutler, George Gooding. I was reassigned from Fort Towson to Fort Washita in 1973-74 before moving on to the Museum of the Great Plains in Lawton and the Fort Sill Museum.

    I returned to Fort Towson on a contract basis for the OK Historical Society in 1983 to conduct archaeological investigations on the original Sutler’s Store for purposes of developing the architectural design for a restoration project of the building. The Post Sutlers in the pre-Civil War period were civilians who contracted on a franchise basis with the US Government to provide certain goods and supplies to the military as well as to Native or civilian residents of the area.

    Of interest to this article, among the many items recovered from my excavations of the Sutler’s Store were some early metal printing type used in the publication of newspapers, books, etc at the time. I would assume either the printing type were supplied by the Sutler to the publisher of the “Choctaw Telegraph” or the Choctaw Intelligencia” newspapers being published in Doaksville, or, the actual publication of the latter was actually accomplished at the Sutler’s Store by Mr. Gooding during the time when the fort was the center of Choctaw activity. Either way, the fort was abandoned at the close of the war and it is doubtful any such activity was conducted thereafter.

    The Oklahoma Historical Society has the artifact inventory from the Sutler’s Store which would include the antique printer’s type as well. I thought this might be of interest to someone in regards to this article on Choctaw newspapers.

    Towana Spivey

  2. Thank you, Towana. Very interesting information. I would love to see the artifact inventory from the Sutler’s store and the printing equipment. It seems like a very labor-intensive process. Thank you also for restoring the gravesites. Glad to have that history saved.

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