J. J. METHVIN
A MANUSCRIPT NEWSPAPER OF THE EARLY DAYS
Much of Oklahoma History is due to interesting characters, who, in the adventurous days of the past century, in the “wild and wooly west,” were conspicuous in daring adventure.
I give here a bit of history in the life of old Ft. Washita back in the 50’s of the past century. It has not the thrill of the clash of arms and bloody deeds, but the joy of a far more glorious venture and holy conquest in the higher and more peaceable pursuits of life.
It was in the summer of 1855, that John B. Beall of Newman, Georgia, a callow youth, in the spirit of adventure volunteered in the United States army. He says that he perhaps was driven to this rash act by a morbid despondence induced by a chronic indigestion.
But there was, perhaps, unconscious to himself, an inherited military instinct running through his nature, for his forefathers rendered service in the old revolutionary war, and his own father had fought in the war of 1812-1815, and was subsequently Assistant Adjutant General of the Georgia troops.
The young man had the advantage of the best schools of that day, and was a lover of the best literature, and especially the ancient classics. He had in his nature much of the genius of the poet and wrote and published numerous poems of merit.
Soon after joining the army, he was, with others, transferred to the west with headquarters at Ft. Leavenworth. He was in “bleeding Kansas” during the days of her greatest turmoil.
With a varied experience in the army, his command was called out often to put down lawlessness so common to the west, and especially Kansas at that time.
After months of such service, his command under Col. J. E. Johnston (who became the noted Confederate general) was detailed to accompany and protect the government engineers as they surveyed and established the southern boundary of Kansas, between that state and the Indian Territory.
The account before me says that the engineers ran the line along the thirty-seventh parallel north latitude and reaching from the Missouri border to New Mexico. The distance was 462 miles and 1001 feet, the corner stone being established near the source of Willow Creek, a small tributary of the Cimarron.
After this duty was performed and the command returned to Ft. Leavenworth, his command was detached and ordered to Ft. Washita. The squadron appointed for this duty consisted of Company C, Capt. Thomas J. Wood, and Company I, Capt. Eugene A. Carr, Capt. Wood in command. The squadron took up its line of march late in December, and after more than a month of slow marching hindered by much rain and swollen streams, Ft. Washita was reached late in January, 1859. The location of this post is described as being at the edge of a skirt of timber bordering the river—Washita three miles from a ferry crossing the river, twenty miles from the confluence of the Washita with the Red River, and a few miles above Preston, Texas,—“a place of quiet, every thing wearing the air of repose truly soothing and delightful to the contemplative mind.” This was Beall’s statement and doubtless he felt a keen sense of appreciation of his surroundings after the strenuous life on the Kansas frontier. Here begins the story of the “Fly Leaf.”
There were in this squadron, besides Beall, three other comrades whose literary attainments in earlier life created in them a desire for literature beyond what an army post afforded. Having no way of gratifying their desire for more extensive reading, their pent up urgings must find expression in some way, and the issuing of the “Fly Leaf,” a manuscript newspaper, was the result. It came about in this way:
Young Beall, who had sometime before resigned his office as sergeant, had been appointed Hospital Steward and was also put in charge of the mail. This brought him in frequent contact with the various characters of the post, and soon those of a literary turn, by a common intuition, became intimate.
Among these was a young Prussian named Frederick William Reeder. He was of an ardent nature, restless, impatient of dictation and thereby unfitted for military service. His father had intended him for the medical profession and had provided for his education in that line. But when the
time came for him to enter upon his studies, he was so averse to that course that he rebelled. This so offended his father that he bound Frederick for service to a merchant. This was so galling to the boy that he ran away and stole his way on to a ship bound for New York.
With a varied experience in America, he was making some success in business, when one day he discovered his uncle on the streets, and, fearing lest he was searching for him with the purpose of taking him back to Germany, he slipped away and enlisted in the U. S. Cavalry, and now we find him at Ft. Washita.
He had learned the ways of dissipation, but after some severe rebukes from Beall, he refrained and lived a more consistent life. He was an adept in the French language and Beall took lessons from him. That brought them into close intimacy. One evening after lessons, the two fell into talk about literature. Beall spoke of a manuscript newspaper issued some years before by the Hiwassee College and what an inspiration it proved to be to all concerned. Reeder, his eyes sparkling with delight, and slapping his hand down upon his knee, spoke up and said, “By George, let’s do that here.” He went at once and brought in two other comrades who were interested in literature.
This constituted a club of four. L. A. Reese, the eldest of the four, had been the editor of a country newspaper, and had for a while published a magazine but had failed in his enterprise.
Preferring the excitement of an army life in the west to brooding over his failure in his literary efforts, he joined the army. To him was assigned the classification of the material for the paper, and the position of each article. Irwin was the youngest of the group—a bright, jolly, red-headed young Irishman, of rotund body and ruddy face, big-hearted and generous, eager for anything for the improvement of self and others. To him was assigned the local news column and answers to correspondents. He agreed also to do most of the copying. Beall and Reeder were left to write according as their fancy dictated.
We find no record of the first issue, but the second was dated March 15th, 1859, and had for its motto:
“Devoted to Moral and Mental Development.”
It consisted of two sheets 13 by 21 inches. Each page was divided into two columns by a double line in red ink. Similar lines were drawn across the top of each page. In the margin above, enclosed in figures written or drawn in red ink, or red and black, were written quotations relating to the subject matter of the page or column above which it was placed.
The caption and the signatures were underscored with red, and the several articles were separated by double lines of the same color. The four members of the club were bound to secrecy as to who was doing the work and getting out this unique venture. Each one took a nom de plume. Reese as expressive of his romantic nature took “Guy Oakleaf,” Irwin took “Mutus,” indicating his reticence, Reeder that of “Ranger” and Beall that of “Error.”
They made and distributed through the post office six copies, one for each company, and one each for the commanding officer, the chaplain, the officers’ mess and the sutler. The whole affair was carried on in secret in the pent up quarters of the hospital steward and the club was able to conceal its identity till one day the commanding officer, Capt. Wood, sent for Reese, whom he suspected as being the projector of the enterprise. He questioned him about it, but Reese gave adroit and evasive answers, and this confirmed Capt. Wood in his suspicion. But the wily old captain was as adroit as Reese, and he complimented highly an article in the paper that he was sure Reese had written.
This appealed so to Reese’s vanity that he divulged the whole secret. The Captain was so pleased with the venture thus begun and carried on in his command, that he gave Reese authority to take possession of a vacant house on the campus with such conveniences as needed for their work, and permission also to keep lights after taps. The club house thus secured consisted of two rooms of hewed logs with a stack chimney between. Here was romantic and ample room for their work. In addition to these improved conditions, the Chaplain, Rev. Mr. Burke, gave the club free access. to his library.
The following is an extract from the first page of the second issue of the Fly Leaf:
“Having thought, when the idea of the Washita Fly Leaf first occurred to us, that such an enterprise would meet with
just encouragement among those men in the army who, while performing every military duty, feel yet that the culture of the mind, the development of the intellect—in a word the higher aims of life—should not be entirely lost sight of, we entered into it earnestly and in good faith; not however, we admit, without some misgivings about the propriety of the undertaking, and not a few doubts concerning the reception which so novel an affair would meet with among the mass of readers.
That our enterprise has, on its first appearance, awakened at least a friendly interest, we are assured; but this may be only the result of the dress and air of novelty with which it presents itself; and which, when it is thrown about in future stages, and becomes a familiarity, must be torn off; leaving it to stand upon the merit of its intrinsic value, or wanting such support, to fall and be forgotten.
Conscious of this, we might well shrink from an undertaking the pleasures of which, at the best, may fall far short of being proportionate to its toil; but having “set our hands to the plow,” as our motto is “onward” we are determined not to be easily discouraged.”
Here follows a paragraph of sound philosophy not necessary to this article, and then the editorial continues:
“We shall continue our paper, presenting it from time to time to a small circle of readers not expecting them to receive it as a substitute for any amusement in which they may have found something of the spice of life’s pleasures, but modestly hoping that it may meet with their approbation as adding in some slight way to their means of entertainment during the intervals of duty. And we wish it understood that our columns are open to those who have time and inclination to use the pen on any subject, be it grave or gay, poetry or prose, If our own articles should appear cramped or wanting in that literary or political, provided always that it be impersonal. ease of style or graceful flow of language which characterises the productions of the professional writer, it will be remembered that we are novices in the literary field, and that our researches are limited to a very narrow circle. But as from time to time, our errors in style, philology, or diction shall be pointed out by friendly critics, we hope to improve and, as we gather confidence, to bring new zeal to the work, seasoning
our productions with a warmer zest, and a refinement of polish more commensurate with the literary attainments of our readers.
Following this editorial by Error, Guy Oakleaf has on the second page a full page article on “Serenades and Serenaders,” and on the third page Ranger has an essay on “The drunkard’s doom,” followed by “The cavalry man’s song,” under the imposing title of “Camp Fire Song of the Cavaliers.”
On the fourth page Error indites an “Epistle to N. J. C.” occupying the full page, but on the fifth page Ranger gives an article on “Stray Thoughts,” followed by one from Guy Oakleaf on “Review of Current Literature.” This article fills three columns and runs over on to the seventh page.
Then Error, the poet of the club, indites a poem, “To Likely,” and “Lilly’s Reply,” after which Mutus writes a paragraph to “Correspondents.” This is continued on the eighth page, closing with notice of “Divine Services Sunday morning at half past ten o’clock, Rev. I. Burke, Pastor.”
The paper was issued twice a month and it became a pleasing episode in the routine life of old Ft. Washita.
It was issued regularly until later on in the year the troops at Ft. Washita were called out to re-inforce the garrison at Ft. Arbuckle against the warlike Comanches, who were constantly making raids and committing depredations throughout the country. It was late in the year when the command returned to Ft. Washita, and the circle being broken and the expiration of the time of their enlistment being close at hand, the publication of the paper was not resumed.
What became of three of the club, we have no record, but sometime after his return home, the war between the states began and Beall enlisted in the Confederate Army and became the commanding Colonel of a Georgia regiment.
It is from his writings in a book he published, “In Barracks and Field,” that the information in this article is gleaned.
Col. Beall at a ripe old age died a few years ago in Birmingham, Ala. Old Ft. Washita with the scenes of those wild days of the last century has passed away, but will lend interest to us as we pick up fragments of history connected with these times.
J. J. METHVIN.