A Creed for My Profession: Walter Williams, Journalist to the World

A Creed for My Profession: Walter Williams, Journalist to the World

by Ronald T. Farrar

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This superb biography provides for the first time a candid look at the remarkable life of Walter Williams, the man who founded the world's first school of journalism and perhaps contributed more toward the promotion of professional journalism than any other person of his time.

Williams, the youngest of six children, was born in Boonville, Missouri, in 1864. Never an athletic child, he always had a love of books and of learning; yet, he scarcely had a high school education. He began his journalistic career as a printer's devil at seventy cents per week and eventually became editor and part- owner of a weekly in Columbia, Missouri. During his time as an editor, Williams became convinced that journalism would never reach its potential until its practitioners had the opportunity for university training in their field. After years of crusading, he established the first journalism school, on the University of Missouri campus. Later, he was chosen president of the University of Missouri, which he led with distinction during the Great Depression.

Williams was an unwavering advocate of high professional standards. His Journalist's Creed became one of the most widely circulated codes of professional ethics. Williams inspired the confidence of his fellow journalists, and he carried his message to nearly every country in which newspapers were published. Not only did he invent journalism education, he also created global organizations of journalists and spread the gospel of professionalism throughout the world. His death, in 1935, was mourned throughout the United States, and editorial tributes came from around the world. As one British editor succinctly put it, "Williams was not born to greatness. Neither was it thrust upon him. Literally, he achieved greatness."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780826260413
Publisher: University of Missouri Press
Publication date: 12/24/2013
Series: Missouri Biography Series , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 264
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Ronald T. Farrar, a former newspaperman, is Reynolds-Faunt Memorial Professor of Journalism and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. He is the author of numerous books, including most recently The Law of Advertising and Public Relations.

The Missouri Biography Series, edited by William E. Foley

Read an Excerpt

A Creed for My Profession

Walter Williams, Journalist to the World

By Ronald T. Farrar

University of Missouri Press

Copyright © 1998 The Curators of the University of Missouri
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8262-6041-3



Next to a good woman on the farm is a good road to get to the farm. The whole problem of country life is a transportation problem.

—Missouri farmer, interviewed near Boon's Lick Road

In the summer of 1805, two sons of Daniel Boone, driven as he had been by restless energy and adventurous spirit, pressed beyond the thin line of civilization along the Mississippi River and into the wilds of what would become central Missouri. Their objective was to find salt, which was both scarce and precious in that remote part of the world. For some months they tramped through the woods alongside unmapped waterways, sometimes following faint paths of the region's Indian occupants, more often cutting their own trail. Well over a hundred miles west of their starting point, the tiny Femme Osage district settlement near St. Charles, young Nathan and Daniel Morgan Boone would find the resources they needed: a series of springs so strongly impregnated with salt that deer and other wild animals convened there to drink the waters and lick the salty concentrate off the rocks jutting out of the stream. The Boones boiled the brine from the springs and loaded the salty residue into hollowed-out logs, which they then floated down the Missouri River to St. Louis, where merchants were laying out as much as $250 a hundredweight for good-quality salt.

The Boones gave their name to the salt lick and to the overland pathway, Boon's Lick Trail, they had created to locate it, and to much else that would need to be named thereabouts. The Boones spelled their name differently; some used the final "e" and some did not. Thus were born Boon's Lick and, eventually, Boonville, situated just outside what would become Boone County, Missouri. Each was named with equal authority after the most celebrated pioneer family in America.

The Boone brothers were not the first white men to investigate the Missouri wilderness. Before them had come trappers and hunters, even a fort or two. Colonel Benjamin Cooper had led a group of hardy Kentucky rangers on a prolonged exploration of Upper Louisiana, as it was then called, perhaps with a view toward claiming additional territory for their new state. But Kentucky's governor, James Garrard, wearied of financing the costly venture and sent word to his rangers to return. They brought home with them vivid reports of what they called "The New Eden" of the Missouri territory, tales that would later inspire hopeful Kentuckians and Virginians to pick up stakes and head for the fertile lands to the west.

For the most part, the early settlers and the Native American tribes coexisted peaceably. There was, however, some resentment, notably from the Missouri Indians as well as the Fox and Sauk tribes, over the loss of their ancient hunting grounds. Raids on the frontier outposts near St. Louis, though infrequent, were nevertheless bloody. The situation worsened in 1812, when war broke out between the United States and Britain. British troops joined forces with the tribes, helpfully supplying weapons to the warriors and goading them into gruesome attacks on the Missouri pioneers. The opposition began to crumble in 1813, with the death of Tecumseh, the great Shawnee chief who led the alliance of tribes, and upon whom the British had conferred the rank of brigadier general. Hostilities officially ended in 1815, when representatives of the U.S. government signed a peace treaty at Portage des Sioux. The Native American tribes retreated farther to the west, to lands Europeans did not yet want, and settlers by the thousands began pouring into Missouri Territory.

Many of them traveled via the Boon's Lick route, which had been surveyed and mapped by Nathan Boone, and which quickly became Missouri Territory's most famous thoroughfare. Boon's Lick Road originally spanned from St. Charles, on the northwest bank of the Missouri River not far from St. Louis, to Franklin, an enterprising community also on the low north bank of the Missouri near the center of the territory, and within a few miles of Boon's Lick. The road had been a "trace," or narrow pathway, until Nathan Boone, now a colonel in the U.S. Army, took fifty men, widened and straightened it, and marked it with some degree of clarity. (He also, according to legend, rerouted it somewhat, at the urging of a young maiden of the area, Olive Van Bibber, so that it would pass directly by a roadhouse/tavern owned by her uncle, where she lived; later scholarship suggests that sixteen-year-old Olive had already married Nathan Boone back in Kentucky in 1799, long before the move to Upper Louisiana, but attributing the rerouting of Boon's Lick to a wilderness romance made a better story.)

Improvements notwithstanding, the Boon's Lick Road still afforded only the roughest of rides; it was never more than a dirt road, packed down by wagon wheels and kept in only fair condition by crude and irregular supervision. But it would turn the tide of Missouri's settlement. Soon there would be stagecoaches running regularly between St. Louis and Franklin, a grinding, twisting, precarious journey of 173 miles. The fare was steep, $10.50 per person, but many passengers happily paid it. Their patronage, plus lucrative mail contracts, enabled the stage-line owners to dispatch as many as five coaches a day between St. Charles and Franklin and to amass sizable fortunes in the process.

The Boon's Lick Road also became the father of the Santa Fe Trail, one of the longest and most lucrative trade routes of the era. William Becknell was the first of many to exploit the commercial possibilities of the Santa Fe Trail, setting out from Franklin in 1821 with a train of packhorses laden with goods for trading with the merchants of the Mexican empire. At least two similar expeditions followed a few months later. The following year, some eighty Missouri merchants, mostly from Franklin, formally organized much of the commerce with New Mexico, moving an average of more than eighty wagonloads of manufactured goods a year to exchange for mules, furs, gold, and silver. In just one such venture, the traders departed from Franklin bearing ten thousand dollars' worth of goods; they returned with silver and other valuables worth two hundred thousand dollars. Other caravans were typically less profitable, but a great deal of money came out of them. One hard-driving trader was said to have made the sixteen-hundred-mile round trip in a month's time, averaging more than fifty miles a day across difficult terrain that included both the Cimarron Desert and the Raton Pass. By 1819, before the yellow waters of the Missouri River changed course and washed it away, Franklin had grown rich enough to invite comparisons with St. Louis as a hub of politics, education, commerce, and culture.

But for the most part central Missouri was farming country, lush land on the edge of the great prairies, ripe for the working by men who were most comfortable when under open skies. Such men prized their cornfields and fishing streams and hunting grounds far more than commercial gain. Beyond their doorstep was a freedom that made life less sordid and more sensible. "The yellow of the primrose is not suggestive of the yellow of gold," waxed one emotional defender of farm life in that region. "The sheen of the moon gives no thought of the dollar's silver. One cannot live long out of doors, drink deep from the spring, or gather wild flowers from the meadows without losing some of the cruelties of commercialism, which shuts up men's souls to selfishness." While shrewd and enterprising merchants brought great fortunes to Franklin, the robust pioneer farmers who lived in the fields brought a different, and far more permanent, kind of abundance.

Now with a population of two thousand—this while the whole vast Missouri Territory had only sixty thousand—Franklin could also boast of its own newspaper, the first to be established west of St. Louis. Like many western newspapers founded by itinerant printers with a rude press and a shirttail full of type, Franklin's Missouri Intelligencer and Boon's Lick Advertiser was there to boost the community, filling its columns with propaganda to keep the immigration flowing. "Every particular locality is the garden spot of the Union," sniffed one Eastern journalist of the period after examining numerous examples of the pioneer press. "Every little community is the most energetic and intelligent; every State the most patriotic, and every city a true exemplar of public virtue." Measured by those criteria, the Intelligencer was more restrained than most. Still, the paper found much to brag about. On April 23, 1819, for example, it proclaimed:

The immigration to this territory, and particularly to this county, during the present season almost exceeds belief. Those who have arrived in this quarter are primarily from Kentucky, Tennessee, etc. Immense numbers of wagons, carriages, carts, etc., with families, have for some time past been daily arriving. During the month of October it is stated that no less than 271 wagons and 4-wheeled carriages and fifty-five 2-wheeled carriages and carts passed near St. Charles, bound probably for Boon's Lick. It is calculated that the number of persons accompanying these wagons, etc., could not be less than three thousand. It is stated in the St. Louis Enquirer of the 19th instant that about twenty wagons, etc., per week had passed through St. Charles for the last nine or ten weeks, with wealthy and respectable immigrants from various states. These united numbers are supposed to amount to twelve thousand. The county of Howard, already respectable in numbers, will soon possess a vast population, and no section of our country presents a fairer prospect to the immigrant.

One of the earliest immigrants had been Hannah Cole. The Cole family left Kentucky for Missouri Territory in 1807. They had traveled as far as Loutre Island when her husband, William Temple Cole, was killed by a band of Indians. Too stubborn to turn back, Hannah dealt with her grief by forging ahead, with her nine children, to settle near Boon's Lick. Arriving not long after the Boone brothers had gone into the salt business, Hannah Cole and her children built themselves a sturdy log home, a place so well constructed it would later be pressed into service as a fort for U.S. troops during the War of 1812. It was the first structure on the high ground just across the Missouri River from Franklin, an area that would come to be called Boonville.

The territory of Missouri was named for the Missouri River, which winds across it from west to east in broad and impressive fashion. Any community that sprang up on the banks of the Missouri River would be born with better than average prospects, assuming it could survive a flood, and Boonville was no exception. Its development, modest at first, surged ahead dramatically after 1826, filling the void created when the Missouri flooded the lowlands on the north banks and wiped out all of Franklin. The Santa Fe Trailhead, the focal point for what had been Franklin's far-flung commercial interests, was lost forever to more stable communities farther west. The town of Franklin would later be rebuilt, back from the water in a higher and safer place, but New Franklin, as it would be called, never achieved the shining success that attended Old Franklin in its heyday. Directly across the river, however, on hillier terrain far less prone to flooding, Boonville would pick up much of the slack. The new town had its rough edges, at least initially, and was something less of a cultural and commercial center than Old Franklin had been. But Boonville was alive and confident and not without a certain style of its own. One observer, who signed his name only as "A. Fuller," wrote from Boonville to a friend back in Virginia:

I tell you, Tom, there is an independence and nobleness in the bearing of the young folks here, dressed in their homemade clothing,—the case of gait and carriage—that puts affectation and fine dresses in the shade. I am not carried away entirely by the nobleness of the wild frontier people, but there is a frank generosity with them that you in the East know nothing of, therefore you cannot appreciate it.

But another early visitor, taken aback by the steep land prices and hastily distilled whiskey he encountered in Boonville, was somewhat less impressed:

They have laid out a town here on the river, called Boonville, which they think will eclipse [Franklin] and I think likewise if the river will let it alone. I went over the river last summer to attend a sale of lots, intending to purchase some to build on, but they were run up to a fabulous price beyond my reach. There were some of the voters who appeared to be affected by patriotism acquired at the only tavern in the place, kept by a hard-looking old fellow named Reames, who bowed politely to all who came in and asked for something to drink, and I was told the whiskey had actually not had time to cool before it was dealt out to customers ...

The distinguished author Washington Irving, however, found Boonville most agreeable. In journals of his remarkable travels along Boon's Lick Road, he wrote of the Boonville area:

The hospitality of those upon whose kindness we were daily cast was a source of constant admiration, and nothing in the life and surroundings of the 'settlers' escaped their notice and kindly comment. The double loghouse, with kitchen at a distance; the zigzag fence of rails, inclosing a tall growth of Indian corn; cattle, swine and poultry, supplemented by wild game—deer, turkeys and squirrels—all in abundance, enabling the good housewives on shortest notice to spread a plentiful meal of tame or wild meats, fried chicken, eggs, milk, honey, delicious butter, boiled maize and hot wheaten bread.

Boonville did indeed have much to recommend it, and dozens of families, including many who had lived in Old Franklin, decided to stake their futures there. One of these was the family of young George Caleb Bingham, who had immigrated to Missouri Territory from Virginia when he was eight. When floodwaters washed away their home in Old Franklin, the Binghams moved across the river and apprenticed their precocious son to a local cabinetmaker, Justinian Williams—a stouthearted pioneer who, just a few months earlier, had led a wagon train of new settlers from Richmond to Boonville. In Williams's shop, George Caleb Bingham first began to develop the draftsmanship skills that would characterize his magnificent paintings of river life and frontier towns and earn him the distinction of being the country's most important painter of the American scene in the mid-nineteenth century. Before leaving for Philadelphia to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Bingham married a Boonville girl, Sarah Elizabeth Hutchinson. Her father, Nathaniel Hutchinson, was a successful druggist and de facto physician who had also established Boonville's first newspaper, the Herald, in 1834. That newspaper gave additional credibility to the town, and on February 8, 1839, Boonville was officially awarded a charter by the Missouri legislature.

The great majority of Boonville's earliest citizens, like those who lived elsewhere in central and western Missouri, were farmers, Protestants, tenacious workers, often illiterate, more often deeply religious. One perceptive observer described the migrants to Missouri this way:

They were Baptists and they were Democrats, and like Thomas Jefferson they believed that those who labored in the earth were the chosen people of God. They saw themselves as the true Americans ...

With their Bibles, farm tools, and rifles, their potent corn whiskey, their black slaves, they brought from Kentucky a hidebound loathing for taxes, Roman Catholics, and eastern ways. Their trust was in the Lord and common sense. That they and their forebears had survived at all in backwoods Kentucky—or earlier in upland Virginia and the Carolinas—was due primarily to "good, hard sense," as they said, and no end of hard work ... They could be tough, courageous, blunt, touchy, narrow-minded, intolerant, and quarrelsome. And obstinate. "Lord, grant that I may always be right, for Thou knowest I am hard to turn," was a line from an old Scotch-Irish prayer.

Not all were like that. Some were gentler folk, such as the wagon train of Virginians who formed up at Richmond in the spring of 1837, bound from the Old Dominion to the West. Justinian Williams, the cabinetmaker, was the wagonmaster and led the procession. Just behind him rode his brother, a middle-aged man named Marcus Williams. In the same covered wagon was a stripling—in his mid-twenties, but he looked younger—Marcus Williams, Jr., who had abandoned his farm in Rockbridge County to join his father and uncle for the long journey.


Excerpted from A Creed for My Profession by Ronald T. Farrar. Copyright © 1998 The Curators of the University of Missouri. Excerpted by permission of University of Missouri Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

1 Boonville
2 Young Walter
3 A Toe in the Door
4 Transitions
5 The Most Popular Man in Columbia
6 A Door Opens, Then Closes
7 Breakthrough
8 “We Must Begin”
9 For Worse—and for Betterment
10 Losses—and a Gain
11 Sara
12 “I Believe in the Profession”
13 Depression
14 “As Much as Any Man”

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