Teton Valley News

By Wayne F. Moss

Read all about it!

On April 15, 1909, James F. Blumer tightened the quoins,
locked the chase, rolled on the ink, pulled the large lever, and printed Volume
1, Number 1 of the Teton Valley News.
For almost a hundred years henceforth, “The Voice of the Valley” has offered a
weekly snapshot of daily life on the Idaho side of the Tetons.

Blumer, a veteran printer, quit the Jackson Hole Courier, calling the owner “a lazy no good coward and
a cheat.” With a few fonts, a hand press, and a determination to publish his
own paper, he set up shop in the Fairbanks Building on Driggs’ muddy Main
Street. A single sheet of paper, middle-folded to make four pages, with six
columns per page crammed tight with text, formed the fledgling paper. The first
issue was free; afterwards, five cents for a single issue and $1.50 for a year.

Blumer, a virtuoso of hyperbole, posted his first headline:
THE BEAUTIFUL TETON VALLEY, ITS WONDERFUL RESOURCES. The Land of Prosperity and
Plenty—Prosperous Farmers and Ranchers—Thriving Towns and Villages—Coal Mines in
Operation—A Railroad Promised for the Coming Summer—A Paradise for Sportsmen.

In Blumer’s mind, the valley lacked nothing but a newspaper.
“Not a businessman in the valley but has often felt the need of a ‘home’ paper
and never a day passes but some individual wishes that there were a paper near
at hand,” he wrote. Typical of pioneer newspapers, boosterism, promotion, and
publicity were job one. Hard journalism could wait.

MOST POPULAR YOUNG LADY CONTEST headlined a July 1909
edition. Will Be the Most Interesting Event Ever Held In the Valley—Every Young
Lady Should Be In It. In a thinly veiled ploy to sell subscriptions, Blumer had
young women vie for a gold watch, garnering points from either selling
subscriptions or having customers designate points to their favorite entrant. Summer
headlines tracked the points. Twenty-nine entrants dwindled to nine by
mid-September, when at a Grand Ball attended by three hundred people, Miss Ella
Rigby from Alta was declared the winner.

Blumer, self-appointed defender of community values, aimed
his paper at what he considered the town’s den of iniquity. “The pool hall is
the twin brother to the saloon and the saloon is in league with the devil, and
the devil is ruination of mankind.” He promoted a petition for citizens to
choose between “wet” or “dry.”

“It is safe to say that the saloon will receive such a blow
at this election it will never more trouble the good people of this district,”
Blumer wrote. In Driggs, the 143 to 11 vote was so dry that he called it
“dusty.”

Driggs saloon and pool-hall proprietor Ed Hammond seethed.
His threats against Blumer and the newspaper resulted in an arrest and a $250
fine. “Any time anyone thinks they can muzzle the Teton Valley News, by threats, when the question is of right, that
party makes a mistake, because we positively refuse to be muzzled,” Blumer
wrote.

Things escalated. Hammond’s father, Ben, was Blumer’s
landlord. Hammond sent Blumer a nasty letter demanding overdue rent on his
father’s behalf. “He is so ignorant he does not know he has laid himself liable
to U.S. Postal authorities by sending threatening letters,” Blumer wrote. “A
man will tolerate the barking of a cur at his heels just so long then something
will happen. So if this pup has any friends, they had better chain him up.”

BLIND PIG IS NO MORE—Was Forced to Leave Town crowed
September 1909 Blumer headline. Cutting a deal with
the district attorney, Ed Hammond agreed to leave town in lieu of charges of
selling whiskey to a minor and selling liquor without a license. Blumer took
credit for closing the pool hall and hounding the owner out of town. “The
entire Hammond outfit pulled out of Driggs Wednesday afternoon bound for Twin
Falls. Thus endeth the first lesson.”

Lesson two? Shop local. Told by a subscriber she could get
butter wrappers from mail order for two dollars per thousand, Blumer
editorially retorted, “Now right here is where we have a kick coming. The News was established for the Teton
Valley for the purpose of filling a long-felt want, to boost the valley and
further the interests of all its inhabitants individually and collectively.

“Mail order fiends” should support home industry even if it
costs a little more, Blumer said. Buying locally gave individuals the satisfaction
of contributing a “little mite” toward the support of a hometown paper working
overtime for their interest and welfare.

Using the editorial “we,” Blumer verbally jabbed and sparred
weekly. “We wish to inform readers of the pack of damable [sic] lies published
in the Jackson Hole ‘Curio’ which originated in the brain of the lazy shiftless
pigheaded slubberdegullion over the hill.” Douglas Rodeback, editor of the Jackson Hole Courier, had accused the Teton Valley News of soliciting
subscriptions and selling advertising space in Jackson. Blumer claimed his
former employer owed him $38.15 in back wages, to boot.

Editor, owner, and printer all being he, Blumer thought
nothing of writing personal opinion “news” stories.

“We see a spirit of jealously between different towns in
Teton Valley,” he wrote. Miffed Darby citizens complained of poor coverage for
their Fourth of July celebration, while Victor and Driggs people accused Darby
of “butting in” on the holiday activities. “We, as “The Voice of the Valley,’ extends
an invitation to the towns and wards to ‘kiss and make up’—let bygones be
bygones.”

In December 1909, a rocky eight months and thirty-eight
issues into his enterprise, James F. Blumer threw in the towel, selling the
paper to J.R. Fairbanks and C.G. Campbell. Telling the new owners he was “tired
of trying to reform the county,” he left it altogether.

The new owners vowed to run a more amiable paper, writing,
“He threw his whole soul plus a little carbolic acid into his torching
editorials. The nasty scowls people gave on the street went to the heart of the
good Mr. Blumer. He had to load up his shotgun and call his dogs to go out and
get a bucket of coal. In the afternoon he carried loaded pistols to check his
mail at the post office.”

In reality, aggrieved readers of the day sometimes did assault
newsman. Ambrose Bierce of the San
Francisco Argonaut wrote, “There is no recorded instance of punishment for
shooting a newspaper man. The restriction of the game law does not apply to
this class of game.”

That the Teton Valley
News
survived while dozens of weekly papers in the Intermountain West
failed was largely due to a civic-minded printer-turned-editor named Fritz Carl
Madsen. He bought the paper in July 1911 from Fairbanks and Campbell, and for
the next three decades used it to extol the valley’s bright future.

Born in Denmark in 1863 and apprenticed to a printer at age
fourteen, Madsen landed in New York in 1884, where he learned English working
on Danish-American newspapers. Pursuing printing jobs in the West, he turned up
in Driggs as a printer of the News
briefly in 1910. The next year he bought the paper.

That fall, forty-eight-year-old Madsen married
twenty-two-year-old Mabel Pearson. Her name soon appeared as
co-publisher/editor. Each week the husband-and-wife staff wrote editorials,
edited local news, solicited advertising, gathered news from other sources, set
the type, printed the paper, and delivered the printed word about the county.

EVERYBODY IN TETON VALLEY SHOULD SUPPORT THE HOME PAPER
headlined Madsen’s first issue. “If the people of the Basin wish a good, live
sheet and are willing to come forward and say so with the long green, then we
shall attempt to do better and better each week.”

Madsen explained a “live” newspaper added to the prosperity
of the county. “We are not speaking for the paper’s sake alone, but the whole
county in which we have cast our lot. We want it to prosper; to become more prosperous,
we need a larger population, and we cannot get others to locate here unless we
make a good showing.”

Optimistic and energetic, Madsen believed Teton Valley was
destined to become an important and influential place in the West. To attract
new settlers, he often relied on exaggeration without hesitation; after all,
the success of his paper depended on the growth of the towns.

Drums for subscriptions and advertising needed beating frequently.

“The better support a paper receives, the more good it can
accomplish; cut off an editor’s income and reduce him to a struggle for
existence, and however willing he is unable to properly represent your
progress,” Madsen wrote in 1912. “The local paper will always be taken as an
index to the community it represents; if up-to-date and prosperous, the
community will be considered flourishing and progressive.”

Regarding Victor’s lack of support: “To take your patronage
to a newspaper sixty miles distant scarcely is the right way to boost your
town. It is on par with sending your money to a mail-order house. … Victor
should consider starting their own newspaper.”

And on charges of Driggs favoritism: “In the matter of
advertising, we get next to nothing from any other town in the valley. The
newspaper business, like any other, is a bread-and-butter proposition. It is
impossible for us to expend money to gather news from Victor or Tetonia or any
other point unless there is an income to warrant such an expense.”

“When things improve we’ll get out a paper worth the price
of subscriptions.” Madsen once apologized, citing that lack of revenue and the
high cost of materials were responsible for a lack of local news coverage.

Local merchants often bought advertising as charity,
recognizing the importance of a local newspaper. They would run the same
advertisements week after week. This helped the paper since the ads didn’t have
to be re-typeset.

Cajoling, praising, lecturing, haranguing, and contest ploys
paid off. Within a year, circulation had doubled.

Madsen replaced laborious and expensive hand typesetting
with what became the standard look of early weekly papers. Sheets arrived
printed on one side, while the News
printed the first and fourth pages on the blank side. Typesetting time was
halved. Readers received these “ready print” stories written, edited,
illustrated, and headlined by professionals from around the world. Ready print
pages produced a part-national newspaper, foreshadowing USA Today.

In 1921, Mabel died, leaving Madsen with four young
children. In October of that year, at fifty-eight years of age, he married
Mabel’s sister, Elsie, and her name replaced Mabel’s as co-editor, thus
continuing the mom-and-pop nature of the business.

The linotype machine and precast metal plates, known as
boilerplates,” replaced ready print pages, allowing Madsen to expand the paper
to eight and occasionally sixteen pages. A huge time saver, boilerplates
arrived with text and illustrations ready for printing. Features from around
the country and the world provided a cosmopolitan air, and syndicated columns
by Walter Winchell, Drew Pearson, Grantland Rice, and Henry Dworshak served up
editorial-page content.

Boilerplate material pandered tobacco for Lucky Strike
(“It’s Toasted”) and Camel (“I’d Walk a Mile”). Week after week, readers
eagerly devoured realized stores like The
Story of the Santa Fe Trail. “Just Between You and Me” by Helen Brooks and
“Kathleen Norris Says” fed the advice appetite, and the likes of Mutt and Jeff and Lala Palozza brought a full page of weekly chuckles.

Judging from advertising, readers were obsessed with
personal health concerns. Large illustrated ads pitched Sloan’s Liniment,
Castoria, Syrup of Figs, Elxir of Senna, and Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable
Compound, a brew for women’s “special ills.” Many of the patent medicines
contained opiates or alcohol; Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters, as a “a cure for
headache, nervousness, indigestion, dyspepsia, constipation, and malaria” boasted
an alcohol level of 44 percent.

Bearing out Horace Greeley’s iron law of journalism—most readers
want to see their own names in print, or those of people they know—Tetonia, Sam,
Haden, Richvale, Chapin, Bates, Victor, Driggs, Darby, Clementsville, Cedron,
Badger (later Felt), Palisades (later Judkins), Cache, Alta, Clawson, and
Hunnidale submitted weekly columns. Many readers subscribed for no other reason
than to find out what their neighbors were up to.

No item was too trivial for these columns, usually written
by someone in the community. For examples:

From Victor: Ed Rice
is moving into the pink house Otto Lumbeck has been occupying for the winter.
Otto has moved across the street in the white house.

Haden Toots: The
Knight boys of Clawson were in town Wednesday buying harnesses.

Tetonia: Mr. A.J.
Anderson has left for Rock Springs, Wyo., for the winter. The blizzards are too
much for A.J. He says Rock Springs might sound hard, but they are softer than
snow banks.”

Over the years, the News
detailed a surprising number of violent deaths: drowning in lakes and streams,
lightning strikes, avalanches, fires, guns (both accidental and not), war
casualties, car wrecks, childbirth, disease. In the wake of each fatal event, a
complete recap of the funeral appeared on the front page.

On July 24, 1942, the paper’s headline read: F.C. Madsen,
78, DIES MONDAY AFTER SHORT ILLNESS. Funeral speakers talked of the man’s
newspaper and his influence. He had kindled interest in breaking Teton County
off from Fremont County, with Driggs the county seat. A vigorous advocate for
bringing the railroad into the valley and establishing a hospital. Madsen was
the Driggs mayor, on the Teton High School Board for fifteen years, and charter
member of the Lion’s Club.

Madsen’s wife, Elsie, and her son-in-law, Vincent Butler,
kept the presses rolling for another three years before selling the business to
Victor E. Lansberry in September 1944. Landsberry, an outspoken
thirty-five-year-old, learned the newspaper business while working on his
brother’s paper, the Ashton Herald.
Having spent the previous twelve years as a job printer in San Francisco, he jumped
at the chance to move his family from Berkeley to Driggs. The Lansberry family,
in the Madsen mode, spearheaded the Teton
Valley News for the next thirty years.

Editor/publisher Vic relied on wife Ora for editing help,
while son Jim ran the press and daughter Joyce folded papers. “The main
printing press was big for the time and the paper folding, after printing, seems
to take forever,” recalls Bob Fulton, who as an eleven-year-old in the
mid-1940s worked at the News as a
printer’s devil. Fulton, now seventy-five, in a July 2006 letter to the paper
remembered his boss and the linotype: “Vic would run the linotype machine and
compose articles as he typed.”

In a room thick with hot metal fumes and ear-shattering noise,
Vic sat at the ninety-character keyboard of the gargantuan mechanical metal
monster. Keys actuated a mechanism releasing matrices, small pieces of brass in
which the characters, or dies, were stamped. The matrices clanked and rattled
from the magazine channels, by means of a miniature conveyor belt, into the assembler
box to form lines of text.

“The best job,” remembers Fulton, “was casting out in the
old shed behind the office with lead melted in the wood-heated round pot. The
mats were placed on a flat plate with sideboards and top. Lead was poured into
the rectangular slot.” The molten metal, heated to 550 degrees, flowed from the
melting pot into the letter or character molds, and a complete line of type was
cast and ready for the press.

The Lansberrys found success combining boilerplate content
with what Madsen had earlier labeled “live” coverage. “High School Notes” from
both Driggs and Victor gave budding journalists opportunities to brag about
their schools. Student grades and individual class standing were published
regularly, for all to see where everyone stood academically. (Today, grandma’s
and grandpa’s school records can still be examined in back issues.)

Lengthy letters from LDS missionaries, a weekly staple,
brought a local perspective of the world to the valley. Front-page faces of
young military men reached a peak during World War II, including pictures, of
those leaving, being promoted, coming home—and sixteen who didn’t make it home.
Three movie theaters, the Paramount in Victor, Orpheum in Driggs, and Rex in
Tetonia, plugged weekly features on the back page.

Check into Teton Valley Hospital and people would read about
it in the following week’s front-page “Hospital Notes.” Tonsil removal seemed
the procedure of choice, followed by blood poisoning, appendectomies,
pneumonia, and burns.

His family grown and health failing, in the early ‘70s
Lansberry sold the News to Jackson
Hole newsman Fred McCabe and moved himself to Soda Springs.

Originally from Pennsylvania, but lately of Cheyenne and seeking
a semi-retirement job, sixty-year-old McCabe bought the Jackson Hole Guide in 1970. That same year he married Elizabeth and
put her on as staff photographer, a position she still enjoys today in her
nineties for the Jackson Hole
News&Guide
. A couple of years later, the McCabes bought the Teton Valley News, continuing the
tradition of family ownership for another twenty-eight years. “Hardest job I
ever had was running a country newspaper,” McCabe often told people, revealing
that his semi-retirement strategy obviously didn’t pan out.

J.F. Blumer might not believe the McCabe makeover to his
paper, shrinking to 10 ½ by 17 inches and growing to forty-eight pages. Ads
disappeared from the front page. Comics, train schedules, syndicated columns,
serialized stories, and national news were scrap heaped with the boilerplates
they came on, victims of technology and a media-rich world. The lumbering
linotype, bottles of glue from cut-and-paste days, and the greasy press followed
them to the dump in the early ‘80s. Word-processing computer and digital
printers cranked out copy, which rode over the pass to be printed in Jackson.

Eighty-seven years of family ownership of the paper ended
with McCabe’s death in 1997 and Elizabeth’s subsequent selling of the paper. It
changed hands again in 2001 and yet again in January 2006, when Pioneer
Newspapers, Inc., owners of a number of weekly and daily papers in five western
states, became the owners. Today, the News
goes out below for printing in Preston, Idaho.

“We venture to say
there will always be a Teton Valley News
as long as there is a Teton County and a Teton Valley in Idaho,” F.C. Madsen
prophetically announced in 1923.

More effective than elegant during most of its life, the
Basin’s only long-running newspaper has been a major unifying element in the
development of Teton Valley. It was, and remains, a plumb line regularly
touching nearly every county resident’s life. The yellowed papers of tattered
surviving copies, like a reverse time machine, furnish intriguing insights into
Teton Valley’s romantic past. The events are gone forever, but the newspaper
carries evidence of lives well lived.