It’s hard to think of this part of the world as the “frontier,” yet the settlers here worked just as hard, if not harder, than any of those in those early movies (which came along about 50 years too late) ever portrayed.
They faced the same hardships and dangers, endured droughts and storms, lived in periods of real and imagined terrors and still made Kandiyohi and Monongalia Counties the land they had sought for years — a dream come true.
Kandiyohi County’s first newspaper was the Willmar Republican. Its first issue was published at the end of January 1871. Like most, if not all, of the early papers much of the space was filled with “boiler plate ” which was news from around the country printed on paper which local publishers purchased from print houses.
This left local editors with about half of the space for local news, local politics (very important reading in those days), and local advertising.
Papers like that were pretty dull reading, but they were the best the frontier papers could offer and were read avidly by the English-speakers who shared their information with newer settlers who had not yet learned their new language.
There were quite a few newspaper men running loose 150 or more years ago. They’d come into a community start setting up the first edition of a newspaper which might last through a couple of issues before folding or go on to be published for years to come.
Some of those publishers would come into a town, find a vacant building in which to set up shop and really go to work. There were some who moved from one town to the next, with their presses coming along in a horse-drawn wagon. They could move out of town in a flash if that was necessary.
One early publisher, in Atwater, was chased out of town with horse whips wielded by the women of the town. At this late date no one knows what made the good ladies of the town angry enough to get out the whips.
Their husbands went along as witnesses and to see that they were not attacked, and to lend helping hands if needed. The publisher left town the next day — as soon as he could pack up his press and type case. He stopped in Willmar but was persuaded to move on.
Another publisher started another newspaper in Atwater that seems to have been a one of a kind. Half of his papers were printed in English and the other half was in Norwegian. That one didn’t remain in Atwater long — it came to Willmar, but moved on to greener pastures.
Most people around here are of the opinion that what is now the West Central Tribune was Willmar’s first newspaper. Actually, it was the fifth. Dr. Johnson, who liked publishing, got Victor Lawson, then the publisher of the New London Times to join him in Willmar.
Victor turned the Times over to his brother, Eben Lawson, who ran that paper for several years before coming to Willmar to work with his brother on the Tribune. Several years passed, with the Tribune growing steadily all the time.
Lawson was interested in politics at all levels, and used his paper to improve the lot of the working man.
The paper was moved several times settling, finally, in a brick building on Fourth Street which had been built as a cooperative venture. The newness ended quickly when political fanatics painted it yellow. That didn’t change the editorial policy one bit.
At first the paper was published weekly, then twice a week then back to once a week again. When the Trib became a daily, it kept the weekly, but produced a paper different from any other. All the local news type in the daily was kept and made into a special Tribune which was produced once a week, with no advertising, and sent to distant subscribers. Later an early edition was published in the forenoon and mailed to subscribers outside of Willmar, and a still later edition was published in the afternoon for people in Willmar and immediate surroundings. That way everyone received their paper on time. Most of today’s subscribers receive their papers on time through paper carriers in Willmar and area towns. Auto routes complete the distribution system, and the goal of on-time deliveries is met.