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S. H. Newman: Pioneer Newspaperman Fought Vice
By Kristi Smith
Educator. Entrepreneur. Journalist. Pioneer. Unafraid of new challenges and more than willing to challenge others, S. H. Newman was a Southwest renaissance man. He brought his newspaper, the Lone Star to El Paso and began his crusade to bring lawfulness, morality and progress to the small Texas city.
Born January 12, 1846, in Richmond, Kentucky, Simeon Harrison Newman was raised in St. Louis because his father, a physician, wanted a better education for his children. At 20, Newman decided to go West.
Image caption: Simeon Harrison Newman
His long journey landed him in Fort Union, New Mexico. After working as a commissary clerk and gold miner, Newman started the first English-language school in the territory at Monton De Alamo, N.M., and taught there until 1871 when the Las Vegas Lyceum convinced him to come to Las Vegas, N.M. to open the territory's first public school. While teaching, Newman went to work as a translator for the Spanish language newspaper, the Las Vegas Mail.
An aggressive journalist, Newman feared no one, not even the "Santa Fe Ring," a group of men involved in range wars, land fraud, cattle rustling and political corruption. Newman's editorials gave the group unwanted exposure, so they utilized their political clout to have him jailed.
Newman refused to pay his fines and continued to edit his newspaper from his jail cell where he remained for 63 days. After a long frigid winter, Newman agreed to pay a reduced fine and was freed. By this time, his adversaries had gained control of the newspaper, and he left town.
Newman sold fire insurance in Colorado before settling in Mesilla, New Mexico, where in September 1878 he began publication of El Demócrata. Benito Baca became New Mexico's first Democrat to be a delegate to Congress, and Doña Ana County went Democratic for the very first time because of the paper's endorsement. The victory was achieved by thirty-four votes, precipitating the paper's name change to The Thirty-Four and its relocation to Las Cruces, New Mexico.
In his editorials during the 1870s, Newman bravely pursued such territorial outlaws as Billy the Kid and the Apache leader Victorio. Newman's coverage of Billy the Kid brought numerous death threats from Billy's supporters. El Paso Herald reporter Norman M. Walker wrote, "While in jail, Billy declared that he would be willing to hang if he could only kill Lew Wallace, Judge Newcome, and S. H. Newman."
Newman rode with the U.S. Army on its chase of Victorio throughout New Mexico. When he was captured and scalped in Mexico, the bloody knife used in the scalping later found its home on the wall of Newman's office at the Lone Star.
In 1881, Newman moved his newspaper to El Paso, Texas, where he changed its name to the Lone Star to show allegiance to his new home. Some say local businessmen had offered Newman $1,000 to relocate his newspaper to El Paso. However, his grandson, S. H. Newman III, wrote that the editor's silent partner, Henry Arnold, had become a staunch Republican and wanted to gain control of the paper and change its name and political slant.
The Lone Star was a reputable paper that gave its competitors a run for their money while keeping El Pasoans current with local and national news. According to John J. Middagh's article, " The Fighting Editor of The Lone Star," the paper quickly grew from only seven columns to four full pages in 1882. It was circulated on Wednesdays and Saturdays to avoid competition with daily papers, the El Paso Herald and the El Paso Times. Subscriptions ran $5 annually, 60 cents monthly or 10 cents per issue.
Image caption: The Lone Star was first published in this building at 10 W. Overland Street. Photo courtesy of Fletcher Newman
Newman sold and regained ownership of the Lone Star twice. On November 1, 1884, John F. Edwards and James Kibbee bought the paper and renamed it the El Paso Morning Star. Financial difficulties forced the men to turn the paper back to Newman after only two months.
From March 17 to August 4, 1885, Gary E. Porter owned the paper. During this period, Newman unsuccessfully pursued the position of U.S. Marshal for the New Mexico Territory. He then regained ownership of the Lone Star.
The one consistency in Newman's journalism was his politics. In the Lone Star, Newman continued to support the Democratic Party. In the 1883 mayoral race, the paper backed Democratic candidate Joseph Magoffin, who would be victorious, while the El Paso Times supported the Republican candidate, Captain J. H. Bate.
By this time, many considered Newman a prominent political leader in both New Mexico and West Texas, so his take on current events was of particular interest to readers. Writer Clyde Wise, Jr., called Newman a "severe critic of local government" and also wrote that examination of the Lone Star "and the outcome of most of Newman's crusades is evidence that he was honestly interested in El Paso's welfare and was not attempting to merely increase his newspaper's circulation through sensationalism." Middagh called Newman a crusader and a fearless, courageous man. Historian W. H. Timmons dubbed Newman El Paso's "self appointed watchdog."
Newman's motto was, "Hew the line and let the chips fall where they may." His adversaries were likely to feel his sting. When El Paso Times editor Richard Hinton accused Newman's reporter, Nicholas Biddle, of being involved in killing local police officer Tom Mode, Newman responded by attacking Hinton's integrity. In a series of editorials, Newman suggested that as an influential editor, Hinton was dangerous, and Newman was determined to rid the city of such evils. Before he could finish the editorials on Hinton, the editor resigned and left El Paso. The Herald became Newman's new journalistic adversary by accusing Newman of backing the change of venue for the trial of H. H. Doughty, accused of killing Tom Mode. The paper also implied that Newman was not qualified to represent public opinion in this case because he was out of touch with the community.
Newman used his newspaper to attack the signers of the affidavit that would block the venue change. These opinions later became the base of a libel suit against Newman. Charges were eventually dismissed.
Politics aside, Newman became El Paso's moral voice. Among the targets of his attacks on vice were prostitution, public intoxication and violence. Although Newman spoke out against the brothels, he understood that fines from the "shady ladies" paved El Paso's streets and paid for local law enforcement. Newman wrote, "The frail ones were again before his honor this week and contributed something for the benefit of the city."
Newman wrote that gunfire in the night had become far too commonplace and endangered law-abiding citizens. He felt alcohol made gunfire and profanity commonplace, and he encouraged the movement to prevent cowboys from using pistols.
When Marshal Dallas Stoudenmire proceeded to cause havoc in El Paso's streets, Newman insisted that the city council either make him behave or fire him. They chose the latter.
The Lone Star 's editor had one ultimate goal for El Paso: to awaken and develop it into a thriving city. Newman was instrumental in such history-altering events as the moving of the county seat from Ysleta to El Paso and the beginning of the White Oaks Railroad. He hand wrote the charter for the Southwest System, one of El Paso's best-known railroad lines. He continually addressed the city fathers in person as well as in print. Newman saw them to be remiss in such areas as the city's lack of a permanent public school, quality utilities and a fire department.
El Paso's only school often changed locations and offered students inconsistent periods of schooling. Newman fought for the acquisition of a permanent school building. His persistence resulted in the opening of Central Elementary School at the corner of Myrtle and Campbell Streets on September 29, 1884.
Newman began his mission to bring El Paso a bona fide fire department after seeing the ineffectiveness of the town's bucket brigade. On November 15, 1882, El Paso's first real fire department was formed, including a chief and two assistants to man the house. (See story on the beginning of the fire department)
Newman found the city council's misappropriation of franchise grants to be responsible for El Paso's substandard utilities. According to local historian Fred Morales, Newman targeted Sylvester Watts' water works. The pipes and the water were of extremely poor quality. The editor felt it his duty to combat high taxes and exorbitant utility prices, so he printed the rates of Watts' water works along with those of comparable cities. His crusade against Watts' unsanitary water continued until the Lone Star ceased publication. Newman also witnessed El Paso's first building to be illuminated by electricity.
In its latter days, the Lone Star no longer launched political or personal attacks. On January 6, 1886, Newman's newspaper went out of business. The departure of the Lone Star has been attributed to the early city's inability to support financially all of its newspapers.
Another theory states that the influential politicians and businessmen who had previously endorsed Newman withdrew their support after becoming the objects of Newman's confrontational editorials. Historian Leon Metz stated that the newspaper had suffered because of Newman's stand against vice. In spite of the Lone Star's closure, Newman continued to contribute to the betterment of El Paso.
At 40, Newman went to work for the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York. After retiring in 1909, Newman dedicated most of his free time to the El Paso Pioneer Association of which he was a charter member and secretary. Many El Pasoans knew him as "Pioneer Newman." Newman died in El Paso of cancer on March 2, 1915. He is buried in Concordia Cemetery along with his wife, Jessie Geck.
Newman and Jessie had three children. Simeon Harrison Newman became a doctor. Robert "Lee" Newman was in real estate, and Marie Ellen Newman taught school, according to Newman's grandson, Fletcher Newman. His grandson, Simeon Harrison (Bud) Newman III was an author, regional historian and also served as the Assistant Director of Special Collections for UTEP. Fletcher Newman, a retired UTEP librarian, presently resides in El Paso, as do many other Newman descendants.go to top