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"History of Eau Claire County Wisconsin, 1914, Past and Present"

Chapter  37 - The Newspapers of the County

The Free Press

(-as transcribed from pages 499 - 501)

The pioneer that made the hit for nearly half a century was the Eau Claire Free Press, October, 1857, Republican in politics; C. G. Patterson, editor.  He turned it over to G. E. Porter a few months later, who popularized it and in 1864 sold it to J. B. and H. M. Stocking.  Mr. Porter held one of the United States land offices here for several years and later was an active and fortunate participant in the lucrative lumber industry of that period.  Porterville, which ceased to be a village soon after the dismantling of the big mill, was named for him.  The Stockings continued the paper with success until 1870, when a Mr. Rodman and J. M. Brackett, as business manager and editor, acquired control; and on February 19, 1871, a stock company capitalized at $15,000, for the publication of both daily and weekly issues, was organized, with J. M. Brackett, president and editor; John Hunner, vice-president and city editor, and J. B. Stocking, secretary-treasurer and business manager.  The business was increased and the Republican party became numerically strong.  Mr. Brackett, in recognition of service in the Union army and for his party, having been appointed postmaster in 1879, J. A. Whitmore, who had acquired an interest in the company, was editor of the paper little more than a year.  George A. Barry was business manager and also editor after Mr. Whitmore's retirement, until September 1, 1881.  Mr. Brackett was postmaster until August 20, 1886, and thereafter moved to Nebraska, where he died November 11, 1888.  Mr. Hunner, on the Democratic ticket, in 1890 (the year of "The Little Red School House" campaign), was elected state treasurer, re-elected in 1892, and thereafter moved to Spokane, Washington, where he is prominent in the real estate business.  J. B. Stocking was deputy collector of internal revenue for several years, and passed away twenty-odd years ago.  H. M. Stocking is prominent in St. Paul lumber circles.  Mr. Barry is in the newspaper business at Monrovia, California.

J. H. Waggoner, of Richland Center, and J. H. Keyes, of Watertown, successful newspaper men, acquired control of the Free Press September 1, 1881, by purchase of the stock held by Brackett and Whitmore and by W. A. Rust, and subsequently bought the stock held by J. B. Stocking and John Hunner.  Mr. Waggoner became president and treasurer of the Free Press Company, and editor of the Free Press; Mr. Keyes, vice-president and secretary and business manager.  Mr. Waggoner bought the stock of Mr. Keyes and of J. G. Thorp in October, 1887, thus becoming the sole owner; but he continued the business in the name of Free Press Company until - impelled by the handicap of impaired sight - he sold the plant and paper to H. C. Ashbaugh, March 9, 1880.  As sole owner he discharged the functions of editor, business manager, mechanical superintendent, bookkeeper, etc., and once a carrier boy.  His safe and sane party leadership was manifest in the result of the campaign of 1886, when as editor of the Free Press and chairman of the Republican county committee, the election of the entire Republican local ticket was triumphantly scored, for the first time in Eau Claire county, and at one-fifth of the expense of the presidential campaign preceding it.  Mr. Waggoner had been chief clerk of the state senate for several years, and was chief clerk of the state land department, and Mr. Keyes' clerk of the insurance department at the state capitol in recognition of honorable service in the Civil War and for their party, when they became interested in the Free Press, but each preferred the more onerous though less remunerative activities of newspaper work.  The former, in 1902, after seven years of exceptionally gratifying newspaper experience at Oconto, returned to his Eau Claire residence.  Having three papers in smaller towns part of the time, and other interests elsewhere all the time, he has lived here in voluntary retirement from active participation in community affairs except an occasional requisition by friends and neighbors, to which he has willingly responded.  Mr. Keyes bought into the Eau Claire Linen Mills Company after sale of his interest in the Free Press Company, and was its manager for some years.  Later his stalwart body yielded to the ravages of a wound received in battle, and thus he gave up his life that the Union might live.  Such sacrifice is the supreme test of courage, patriotism and loyalty.  Mr. Ashbaugh came to the Free Press with experience in the publication of a daily in a small city, and his ownership of a dozen years may well express a compliment to him.  He christened the daily issue the Evening Free Press with experience in the publication of a daily in a small city, and his ownership of a dozen years may well express a compliment to him.  He christened the daily issue the Evening Free Press, continued both issues until 1902, when he sold the lists and good will to C. W. Fiske, the court reporter, who merged his purchase with the Evening Telegram.  The equipment of the Free Press was converted into a job printing outfit, successfully developed by the Ashbaugh Printing Company.  Mr. Ashbaugh lives in comfortable retirement at Denver, Colorado.  The city reporters for the Free Press now recalled were John Hunner, Henry Slingluff, George A. Barry, Ira Flagler, F. W. Phillips, C. M. Hyskell, W. P. Welch, Frank C. Dougherty, Claude Dunlap, of whom Slingluff and Phillips are dead.

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