Kansas Journalism – American Travel

EVERYTHING I had ever heard of Kansas, every one I had ever met from Kansas, every-thing I had ever imagined about Kansas, made me anxious to invade that State. With the exception of California, there was no State about which I felt such a consuming curiosity. Kansas is, and always has been, a State of freaks and wonders, of strange contrasts, of individualities strong and sometimes weird, of ideas and ideals, and of apocryphal occurrences.

Just think what Kansas has been, and has had, and is! Think of the border warfare over slavery which began as early as 1855; of settlers, traveling out to “bleeding Kansas” overland, from New England, merely to add their abolition votes ; of early struggles with the soil, and of the final triumph. Kansas is to-day the first wheat State, the fourth State in the value of its assessed property (New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts only outranking it), and the only State in the Union which is absolutely free from debt. It has a more American population, greater wealth and fewer mortgages per capita, more women running for office, more religious conservatism, more political radicalism, more students in higher educational institutions in proportion to its population, more homogeneity, more individualism, and more nasal voices than any other State. As Colonel Nelson said to me : “All these new ideas they are getting everywhere else are old ideas in Kansas.” And why should n’t that be true, since Kansas is the State of Sockless Jerry Simpson, William Allen White, Ed Howe, Walt Mason, Stubbs, Funston, Henry Allen, Victor Murdock, and Harry Kemp; the State of Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Nation, and Mary Ellen Lease —the same sweet Mary Ellen who remarked that “Kansas ought to raise less corn and more hell !”

Kansas used to believe in Populism and free silver. It now believes in hot summers and a hot hereafter. It is a prohibition State in which prohibition actually works ; a State like nothing so much as some scriptural kingdom—a land of floods, droughts, cyclones, and enormous crops; of prophets and of plagues. And in the last two items it has sometimes seemed to actually outdo the Bible by combining plague and prophet in a single individual: for instance, Carrie Nation, or again, Harry Kemp, “the tramp poet of Kansas,” who is by way of being a kind of Carrie Nation of convention. Only last year Kansas performed one of her biblical feats, when she managed, somehow, to cause the water, in the deep well supplying the town of Girard, to turn hot. But that is nothing to what she has done. Do you remember the plague of grasshoppers? Not in the whole Bible is there to be found a more perfect pestilence than that one, which occurred in Kansas in 1872. One day a cloud appeared before the sun. It came nearer and nearer and grew into a strange, glistening thing. At midday it was dark as night. Then, from the air, the grasshoppers commenced to come, like a heavy rain. They soon covered the ground. Railroad trains were stopped by them. They attacked the crops, which were just ready to be harvested, eating every green thing, and even getting at the roots. Then, on the second day, they all arose, making a great cloud, as before, and turning the day black again. Nor can any man say whence they came or whither they departed.

Among the homely philosophers developed through Kansas journalism several are widely known, most celebrated among them all being Ed Howe of the Atchison “Globe,” William Allen White of the Emporia “Gazette,” and Walt Mason of the same paper.

Howe is sixty years of age. He was owner and editor of the “Globe” for more than thirty years, but four years ago. when his paper gave him a net income of sixty dollars per day, he turned it over to his son and retired to his country place, “Potato Hill,” whence he issues occasional manifestos.

Some of Howe, characteristic paragraphs from the “Globe” have bee. collected and published in book form, under the title, “Country Town Sayings.” Here are a few examples of his homely humor and philosophy:

So many things go wrong that we are tired of becoming indignant.

Watch the flies on cold mornings; that is the way you will feel and act when you are old.

There is nothing so well known as that we should not expect something for nothing, but we all do and call it hope.

When half the men become fond of doing a thing, the other half prohibit it by law.

Sometimes I think that I have nothing to be thankful for, but when I remember that I am not a woman I am content. Any one who is compelled to kiss a man and pretend to like it is entitled to sympathy.

Somehow every one hates to see an unusually pretty girl get married. It is like taking a bite out of a very fine-looking peach.

What people say behind your back is your standing in the community in which you live.

A really busy person never knows how much he weighs.

Walt Mason is another Kansas philosopher-humorist. Recently he published in “Collier’s Weekly” an article describing life, particularly with regard to prohibition and its effects, in his “hum town,” Emporia.

Emporia is probably as well known as any town of its size in the land. It has, as Mason puts it, “lien thousand people, including William Allen White. Including Walt Mason, then, it must have about eleven thou-sand. Mason’s article told how Stubbs, on becoming Governor of Kansas, enforced the prohibition laws, and of the fine effect of actual prohibition ii, Emporia. “No town in the world,” he declares, “wears a tighter lid. There is no drunkenness because there is nothing to drink stiffer than pink lemonade. You will see a unicorn as soon as you will see a drunken man in the streets of the town. Emporia has reared a generation of young men who don’t know what alcohol tastes like, who have never seen the inside of a saloon. Many of them never saw the outside of one. They go forth into the world to seek their fortunes without the handicap of an acquired thirst. All Emporia’s future generations of young men will be similarly clean, for the town knows that a tight lid is the greatest possible blessing and no-body will ever dare attempt to pry it loose..”

Having spent a year in the prohibition State of Maine, I was skeptical as to the feasibility of a practical prohibition. Prohibition in Maine, when I was there, was simply a joke—and a bad joke at that, for it involved bad liquor. Every man in the State who wanted drink knew where to get it, so long as he was satisfied with poor beer, or whisky of about the quality of spar varnish. Never have I seen more drunkenness than in that State. The slight added difficulty of getting drink only made men want it more, and it seemed to me that, when they got it, they drank more at a sitting than they would have, had liquor been more generally accessible.

In Kansas it is different. There the law is enforced. Blind pigs hardly exist, and bootleggers are rare birds who, if they persist in bootlegging, are rapidly converted into jailbirds. The New York “Tribune” printed, recently, a letter stating that prohibition is a signal failure in Kansas, that there is more drinking there than ever before, and that “under the seats of all the automobiles in Kansas there is a good-sized canteen.” Whether there is more drinking in Kansas than ever before, I cannot say. I do know, however, both from personal observation and from reliable testimony, that there is practically no drinking in the portions of the State I visited. As I am not a prohibitionist, this statement is nonpartizan. But I may add, after having seen the results of prohibition in Kansas, I look upon it with more favor. Indeed, I am a partial convert ; that is, I believe in it for you. And whatever are your views on prohibition, I think you will admit that it is a pretty temperate State in which a girl can grow to womanhood and say what one Kansas girl said to me: that she never saw a drunken man until she moved away from Kansas.

Three religious manifestations occurred while I was in Kansas. A negro preacher came out with a plat-form declaring definitely in favor of a “hot hell,” an-other preacher affirmed that he had the answer to the “six riddles of the universe,” and William Allen White came out with the news that he had “got religion.”

Now, if William Allen White of the Emporia “Gazette” really has done that, a number of consequences are likely to occur. For one thing, a good many Americans who follow, with interest, Mr. White’s opinions, are likely also to follow him in this; and if they fail to do so voluntarily, they are likely to get religion stuffed right down their throats. If White decides that it is good for them, they’ll get it, never fear! For White ‘s the kind of man who gives us what is good for us, even if it kills us. Another probable result of White’s coming out in the “Gazette” in favor of religion would be the simultaneous appearance, in the “Gazette,” of anti-religious propaganda by Walt Mason. That is the way the “Gazette” is run. White is the proprietor and has his say as editor, but Walt Mason, who is associated with him on the “Gazette,” also has his say, and his say is far from being dictated by the publisher. White, for instance, favors woman suffrage; Mason does not. White is a progressive; Mason is a standpatter. White believes in the commission form of government, which Emporia has; Mason does not. Mason believes in White for Governor of Kansas, whereas White, himself, pro-tests passionately that the “Gazette” is against “that man White.”

Says a “Gazette” editorial, apropos of a movement to nominate White on the Progressive ticket :

We are onto that man White. Perhaps he pays his debts. He may be kind to his family. But he is not the man to run for Governor. And if he is a candidate for Governor or for any other office, we propose to tell the truth about him—how he robbed the county with a padded printing bill, how he offered to trade off his support to a Congressman for a Government building, how he blackmailed good citizens and has run a bulldozing, disreputable news-paper in this town for twenty years, and has grafted off business men and sold fake mining stock and advocated anarchy and assassinations.

These are but a few preliminary things that occur to us as the moment passes.. We shall speak plainly hereafter. A word to the wise gathers no moss.

That is the way they run the Emporia “Gazette.” It is a kind of forum in which White and Mason air their different points of view, for, as Mason said to me: “The only public question on which White and I agree is the infallibility of the groundhog as a weather prophet.”

White and Colonel Nelson of the Kansas City “Star” are great friends and great admirers of each other. One day they were talking together about politics..

“I hear,” said Colonel Nelson, “that Shannon (Shan-non is the Democratic boss of Kansas City) says he wants to live long enough to go to the State Legislature and get a law passed making it only a misdemeanor to kill an editor.”

“Colonel,” replied White, “I think such a law would be too drastic. I think editors should be protected during the mating season and while caring for their young. And, furthermore, I think no man should be allowed to kill more editors at any time than he and his family can eat.”