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First newspaper

The Nebraska Palladium was the territory's first newspaper, published in Bellevue on July 15, 1854. Although for circulation in Nebraska, the first edition was actually printed in St. Mary, Iowa.

After the establishment of a general store, blacksmith and saloon, one of the next businesses in almost every Great Plains village was a newspaper. The newspaper was considered so important that the townsite owners quite frequently offered cash grants, free building rent or free town lots to encourage their presence.

Because of the inducements, papers that were not actually owned by the town’s promoters often became the voice of those most interested in a community’s prospering and early editorials waxed poetic on how the village was growing.

A large percentage of these early papers was devoted to advertising with a small space actually covering local news though whatever there was, was well reported. One could read of dog bites, social visits and what was going on at local meetings. These stories often read more like a letter from the editor to his readers than actual news.

Because boosterism was a big part of most papers’ reason for being, large portions of the stories lauded the land, weather, local prices, availability of water and timber along with the growth and prosperity of the community. Promoters and individuals, ever eager to attract others, often bought and mailed east more copies than were read locally.

Because of excellent record keeping and extant correspondence we know that shortly after the Mormons established Winter Quarters north of Omaha at Florence in September of 1846, Brigham Young sent word to Nauvoo asking for two printing presses, type, etc.

Thus the Mormons did the first printing in what would become Nebraska. Although what still exists of these printed words are primarily religious publications, it is a good assumption that some sort of news organ was probably published as well.

No sooner had President Franklin Pierce signed the act creating Nebraska Territory on May 30, 1854 than newspapers were considered. It is universally agreed, with a possible Mormon paper exception, that Nebraska’s first newspaper was the Nebraska Palladium and Platte Valley Advocate. The Palladium was owned and edited by D. E. Reed & Co. and published by Thomas Morton with its first issue dated July 15, 1854.

The Palladium’s self-proclaimed primary purpose was to promote the village of Bellevue and its bid for the capital of the Nebraska Territory. With the Mormons having moved their presses to Utah, however, there were none left in the territory so early issues of the Palladium were actually “printed at the steamboat landing of St. Mary, Iowa.”

The first issue contained two poems, four articles on newspapers including one titled “Support your local paper” and ads for “Peter A. Sarpy’s ferry boat” and, not surprisingly, ads for stores in Council Bluffs, Glenwood and St. Mary, Iowa.

In the fall of 1854 the printing press and “a shirt-tail full of type” were rowed across the Missouri River and established in a log cabin near the Presbyterian Mission House. When No. 16 became the first issue actually printed on Nebraska soil, the printing was supposedly coincidentally witnessed by Governor Cuming, Chief Justice Fenner Ferguson and a score of dignitaries.

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When Governor Cuming chose Omaha over Bellevue for the capital site the Palladium was unabashedly in opposition to him and any subsequent action he took. The last issue of the Palladium was printed on April 11, 1855 and editorialized “we have against our own desires and that of many ardent friends made up our mind to suspend the issue of the Palladium until a sufficient amount of town pride springs up in Bellevue to pay the expense of publication.”

Omaha’s first newspaper was the Omaha Arrow which was also printed in Iowa but by Joseph Johnson, a Mormon who had returned from Utah in 1854, and while also practicing law, operating a general store, selling insurance and owning a blacksmith, published the paper to promote Omaha. He wrote that he would take anything of value for advertising or subscriptions including produce, eggs or chickens. The Nebraska Advertiser said bring anything “ ‘tis as good as gold” and another said they would take any “produce except babies.”

At the end of 1857, 13 newspapers were published in Nebraska but all were along the Missouri River, however, with the railroads and telegraph lines, papers quickly moved westward within the state during the next decade.

When the Palladium ceased publication, Thomas Morton moved to the Nebraska City News which, like Charles Gere’s Nebraska Commonwealth, now the Lincoln Journal Star, still exists and prospers.

Historian Jim McKee, who still writes with a fountain pen, invites comments or questions. Write to him in care of the Journal Star or at jim@leebooksellers.com

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