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On May 2, 1885, the inaugural edition of the Billings Daily Gazette appeared, created from the remains of three earlier newspapers--the Billings Post, the Billings Herald,and the Billings Rustler. The first edition emerged dramatically along with a fire that destroyed part of the building and a printing press; the owners did salvage a small job press which allowed the paper to survive and eventually prosper.
The Billings Gazette, a four-page, five-column semi-weekly newspaper, published regular reports on the progress, schedules, and routes of the Northern Pacific Railroad, which early on provided the impetus for the creation of Billings, the town named for Fredrick Billings, an early president of the transcontinental railroad. The first issues of the Gazette also reported on developments in Yellowstone National Park and the establishment of highway from Billings to Cooke City. Considering the newspaper’s dramatic beginnings, a May 9, 1885 editorial called for creation of a local fire department.
One of the Gazette’s early editors, John D. Matheson, came to Billings from Milton, Ontario, in 1882 to purchase and operate the Billings Post, where he remained until 1887 when he became editor of the Gazette. Matheson parlayed his experience as an editor and mayor of an Ontario town into positions in Billings as a probate judge, newspaperman, and real estate and insurance salesman.
From the beginning, the Gazette tilted towards the Republicans and supported the Anaconda Company’s political causes. Struggles over control of the newspaper reflected the rift within the Republican Party between conservative ranchers like state senator John Edwards of Forsyth and progressives like Joseph Dixon and Teddy Roosevelt. Ownership issues persisted until 1914 when the Gazette Printing Company, headed by Edwards, hired Leon Shaw, an experienced editor for several other Republican newspapers in Helena and Butte. By the 1920s the Gazette came under the sway of the Anaconda Company, clearly identified as one of their nine daily newspapers.
Provided by: Montana Historical Society; Helena, MT