The Oskaloosa Independent: An Historic Territorial Publication
The media world is moving further away from printed material forcing many publishers to make lasting changes. Today online newspapers, e-books, and digital magazines place the “ink to paper” method on a fast track to becoming obsolete. In towns where more than one news source is produced, some don’t survive. In rural Kansas, survival is based on adaptability, understanding of economy, changes to the target audience and acceptance of technological advancement.
Oskaloosa is one place to find thriving small town production. Located just off Highway 59 in Jefferson County, Oskaloosa is home to a long time, hometown newspaper called the “Independent.” The Oskaloosa Independent was created in the summer of 1860 with the help of editor John Wesley Roberts, the great-grandfather of junior U.S. Senator, Pat Roberts. Roberts came to Kansas from Ohio to start up the Independent, placing the first two years of responsibility on his brother-in-law John Day. The first published copy of the Independent appeared on July 11 of 1860, clearly stating its purpose and focus as delivered in the words of its first owner/editor, later to be re-printed in a July 15, 2010 issue of the Independent:
“The Independent” is the title of a weekly newspaper which is now published in Oskaloosa, Kansas, commencing on the eleventh day of July, 1860, and devoted to Literature, Local and General News, Commercial Intelligence, Bank-Note and Market Reports, Departments for the Farm, the Garden and Household, and all the leading features of a good Family and Business Paper. The Independent will be controlled by no Party, Sect of Clique, but, as its name indicates, will be independent on all subjects, (not neutral,) and in all respects up with the times-’a live paper,’ fearlessly ‘following where Truth shall lead the way,’ careful of others’ rights, firmly maintaining its own.”
John Wesley Roberts
Over the years the Independent published stories on topics of interest just as stated in its original statement. It also maintained non-neutrality, bringing forth strong opinions on an array of topics. The early Independent reflected a time of great turmoil in Kansas. Because of that turmoil, editorial debate often appeared between those who ran the paper itself and the looming free-state establishment.
The original wooden structure burned, resulting in a replacement stone building in 1883. At one point a roller skating rink operated on the first floor of the building while the Roberts family created the weekly paper on the second floor. The press itself was located in the basement requiring a pulley system for accessing the area.
Today, the Oskaloosa Independent is still created weekly but is now owned by Davis Publications, Inc. According to current publisher Clarke Davis, the paper moved out of its location around 1970 with the remains of the old structure being demolished in 1978. Davis acknowledges the historic importance of the life of the Independence and its connection to the community it serves: “The Independent has the distinction of being a territorial newspaper, only one of three still being published. Its first publication date was in July 1860, making it six months older than the state of Kansas.” The very existence of a small paper that has come through so much change indicates a willingness to adapt and is likely a reason for its continued success.
Davis Publications also own and print another historic newspaper, the Valley Falls Vindicator, now offering both papers online at www.JeffCountyNews.com. Davis and his staff understand the world we now live in, one that is filled with immediate and fast-paced delivery of information. They have adapted well including online links to the community that they serve. This year the Independent celebrates its 150th anniversary as a news publication that has come through the establishment of a state, political unrest, and a fire. It remains, as it always has been, a link between the people, the past and the future.