Telegraph and Texas Register, Early Texas Newspaper
The DRT Library has an extensive collection of newspapers dating from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While this collection contains some papers published in cities around the United States and even Mexico, the majority were printed in Texas towns and cities. Included in this collection are some of the earliest newspapers available in the state.
According to Marilyn McAdams Sibley in her work Lone Stars and State Gazettes (1983), in the nearly fifty years between the first attempt to print a newspaper in Texas in 1813 and the Civil War, “more than four hundred newspapers appeared.” Notably, argues Sibley, while “in style and format those papers represented an extension of the Anglo-American frontier press,” they also “peculiarly reflected the course of history in Texas” (3).
Several short-lived newspapers were printing prior to 1830, but it was not until the eve of the Texas Revolution that Texans established sustainable enterprises for publishing. First was the Texas Gazette, which was published between 1829 and 1832; according to the Handbook of Texas, it was the “first enduring Texas newspaper” and the “earliest Texas newspaper of which more than one issue is now extant.” Second, the Telegraph and Texas Register, first printed in October 1835, was “the first newspaper in Texas to achieve a degree of permanence.”
The DRT Library has almost one hundred volumes of the Telegraph and Texas Register dating from October 1835 to April 1838. Initially, the newspaper was published by Gail Borden, Jr., Thomas H. Borden, and Joseph Baker; by the spring of 1837, ownership passed to Francis Moore, Jr., and Jacob W. Cruger. Originally printed approximately once each week and measuring 19.5 inches tall by 12.5 inches wide, each volume was four pages in length (two pages front and back) and each page contained three columns of text.
Primarily, the newspaper covered activities of the government of the Republic of Texas by printing acts and laws, proclamations, election information, government reports, and minutes from legislative sessions. For example, the March 12, 1836 edition reprinted William Barret Travis’s famous letter written nine days previously at the Alamo in which he described the dire situation at the old mission, requested reinforcements and other supplies, and ended with the defiant declaration “Victory or Death!!”. Likewise, the Telegraph printed the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 12 and the Constitution on August 2. In addition to informing readers of governmental matters, the newspaper also included stories reprinted from American newspapers; descriptions of towns written to attract new residents; and letters, editorials, or other pieces submitted by readers. Finally, the Telegraph also contained notices or advertisements about a variety of subjects such as recent births, marriages, and deaths; goods and services available; land available for purchase or rent; lost items; and arrivals of steamboats.
According to Sibley, this relative lack of local news was characteristic of Texas newspapers at this time. Editors considered much local news to be “unprintable” for several reasons. First, “most of the papers appeared weekly in towns of a few hundred population.” In towns of that size, newspaper editors had little need to print “sensational local news and important news from afar” because this information had already “circulated by word of mouth before the newspaper appeared.” Moreover, “prudence dictated that [an editor] handle local items with care. By merely noticing certain events, he could antagonize advertisers and subscribers or possibly involve himself in personal vendettas not his own” (7). As a result of these circumstances, argues Sibley, the average newspaper editor “seldom went in search of [news], and instead waited in his office for acceptable news to come to him.” Editors received news for their publications from several sources, including letters that were “sometimes addressed to him and sometimes [written] to local citizens who shared their news with him. Travelers from distant points stopped at the press office to inform him of happenings at their point of departure or along their route.” Most importantly, however, “fellow editors in other towns sent him exchange papers, from which he clipped enough items to fill his pages” (7-8).
For further reading about the history of the Telegraph and Texas Register and other early Texas newspapers, please see:
Imagining Texas: Pre-Revolutionary Texas Newspapers, 1829-1836 by Carol Lea Clark
Lone Stars and State Gazettes: Texas Newspapers before the Civil War by Marilyn McAdams Sibley