Newspapers have long been an important part of any community. In the community of Blackfoot, the history of newspapers goes back to 1880 when William E. Wheeler published the first newspaper in eastern Idaho. It was called The Idaho Register when it first came off the press on July 10. Blackfoot had a couple of general stores, two banks, a lumber yard, several eating establishments, a railroad station, a meat market, and five saloons when the offices of The Idaho Register were added to the list.
After just a few issues the paper’s masthead was changed to read The Blackfoot Register, to better reflect its location. Subscriptions ran $3 per year.
The old real estate saw, location, location, location, was just as true in the 1880s as it is today. Publisher Wheeler was a savvy man who kept his eye on business opportunities and in 1884 he determined that opportunities were popping up more often in Eagle Rock. The railroad headquarters had moved to that tiny town, so Wheeler decided he’d do the same. The last issue of The Blackfoot Register rolled off the press on March 22, 1884. Wheeler changed the name back to the Idaho Register. Eventually the paper’s name changed to The Post Register, which still publishes today in the town that changed its name to Idaho Falls.
So, Blackfoot was without a newspaper. It would remain so for the next three years.
In 1887, the Jones family started The Idaho News in Blackfoot. Colonel J.W. Jones, then Norman Jones, then Percy Jones (his sons) were listed one after another as publishers of the paper in the first few weeks of its existence. In 1891 the masthead would change to The Blackfoot News.
In the beginning the paper was published weekly in a seven-column, four-page format. That changed to an eight-page, six-column format in 1888.
Newspapers of that time were often unabashedly partisan. The Blackfoot News was a Democratic newspaper. The paper served the town until 1901 when Percy Jones stopped publishing it, with little evidence of the reason for its demise. He continued to run a printing shop for a few years.
In 1904 the publisher of The Mackay Telegraph noticed that the town of Blackfoot was without a paper. Byrd Trego came on the scene with The Idaho Republican. And, yes, it was a Republican paper, though Trego claimed it was “above petty partisanship.”
In 1907, The Blackfoot Optimist began publishing in direct competition with The Idaho Republican. Karl P. Brown was the publisher, though his life up to that point would not have made his choice of careers obvious. Born in Ohio he left home at 14 to find adventure in the West. He was a cattle rancher in Montana before moving to Blackfoot to work as a canal builder. When the canal was built, he suddenly turned into a newspaper publisher.
In doing research on Blackfoot papers it was at this point I found a surprising connection to publishing history that I did not know I had. I’ll pick up with that story tomorrow.