By Don McAlavy: Local columnist
Editors, as a whole, are usually decent, hard-working and totally dedicated to their task. Editors of small town newspapers in the old days, not too unlike their counterparts today, often found it difficult to please everybody.
On April 23, 1909, in the first issue of Clovis’ first daily newspaper, “The Pony Post,” editor H. A. Armstrong summed it up neatly this way:
“The pathway of the small town editor is not gorgeously bestrewn with pansies, mignonettes and violets — not noticeably — but is much beset with many varieties of burrs, smart weeds and touch-me-nots. The burrs are much given to pricking the poor editor at every turn. The smart weeds all know more about the editor’s business than does the editor himself; the touch-me-nots they are much too sacredly classical for mention in an undignified, everyday, news sheet. O, this is a cruel, cruel world, and will the other world be blyther? Nay, they tell us — not for the one-hoss editor.”
Arthur Curren, the late publisher of the Clovis News, also felt the wrath of some of his more critical readers. In 1909 he reported in detail some of the trouble leading to the John Childers-Gus Von Elm shootout. What he wrote angered Childers, who, it was reported, already had five notches on his gun and was under indictment in another country for a killing.
Out for revenge, Childers’ first stop on his way to the fateful meeting with Von Elm at the Clovis News office. Childers came to seek out the editor. “Fortunately I was out!” exclaimed Curren.
A reporter once said Clovis was a wide-open, saloon-ridden town with dance halls and gambling places where calico queens, shysters, rum-tums, drifters, pimps, con men, extracting women, and shade dwellers lived. Course that was back in 1909.
Texico became the wild-n-woolly shoot-’em-up town you saw in the old western movies, catering to cowboys, gamblers and bawdy house operators. Even those who worked for newspapers managed to get into serious trouble back then.
Between 1907 and 1909 J. Claude Wells was a part-time reporter and part-time printer for the now-defunct “Texico Trumpet” newspaper. His trouble arose when his bosses — city editor R. D. Edgell and managing editor Leroy P. Loomis — lambasted one of the bawdy house operators whose house of ill-repute was just across the street from the “Trumpet” office.
The bawdy house operator came stomping into the newspaper office.
“Where is the man who wrote about me?” were his greeting words.
When J. Claude Wells tried to explain he was neither owner nor editor, the bawdy house operator beat him with a poker and shot him with pistol — the bullet missing his head by a mere fraction of an inch.
Hearing someone coming into the office, the brawdy house operator fled out the back door. He was brought back to Texico and then taken to the county seat in Portales where he spent the next six months in jail.
His father, a district judge in Texas, came to defend his son. He managed to get his son off with a $1,000 fine by agreeing to take him back to Texas and be responsible for his future actions.
Sometimes editors worry about being sued because of something a reporter or columnist says that might be considered slanderous or libelous.
I, too, have written about people — like a column I did on the “Madam of Clovis.”
Before I began, I checked with a lawyer — actually the Madam’s lawyer — and was informed that in all likelihood neither myself nor the newspaper would be sued.
When you write about a “public figure” such as the “Madam of Clovis,” an editor, reporter or columnist has a broad leeway in what can be said about that person. That person chose to be “noted” and his or her life is “of public knowledge” for the way he or she lives.
We ought to create a “Be Kind to Editors Week” and show them some respect.
Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org