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Founded in Deer Lodge, Montana, on October 12, 1867, the Weekly Independent newspaper moved to Helena, on March 27, 1874, after a fire at the Rocky Mountain Gazette provided an opportunity for another newspaper in Helena. The first publishers of the Independent, James C. Kerley and Addison Smith, had moved to Helena from Deer Lodge, where Smith served as a county treasurer and a travelling correspondent for a Deer Lodge paper. After moving to Helena to run the Independent, Smith acquired an interest in Kleinschmidt & Co., a Helena merchandising company. After Smith left the newspaper, Kerley added Hugh McQuaid and Lucien LaCroix to the management.

In 1894, the Independent took up the cause of William Andrews Clark and his bid to make Helena the state capital in a run-off election against Marcus Daly's Anaconda, Montana. Clark and Daly constituted major players in the "war of the copper kings," an ongoing struggle to control Montana's copper industry. The Independent enumerated the dangers to Montana politics of locating the state capital in Daly's smelter town of Anaconda. Voters ultimately chose Helena in a very closely contested race. The dedication of the Independent to Democratic politics can be linked in part to John S.M. Neill, a Minnesota transplant who campaigned vigorously for President Grover Cleveland and later secured a U.S. Senate seat for William A. Clark. In the early 1890s, Neill became the Independent's business manager and encouraged Clark's financial investment in the paper.

In 1913, Neill sold the Independent to a group of Democratic investors, including Lewis Penwell, a rancher and attorney. The new owners hired Will Campbell, a Midwestern newspaperman with strident political views and ties to Amalgamated Copper (formerly Anaconda) and the Democratic governor, Sam Stewart. With the U.S. entry into World War I, Campbell wrote scathing editorials attacking German Americans, even accusing them of spying for the enemy. Campbell joined forces with the Montana Council of Defense to terrorize German Americans through passage of a major sedition law and by banning the German language from schools, libraries, and churches. Patriotic smelter men in East Helena forced a German American worker to kiss the American flag, drawing the utmost praise from Campbell. Between 1886 and 1917, nine German language newspapers prospered in Montana, but by 1920 none survived due to harassment by Campbell and the Montana Council of Defense.

Campbell also used the Independent to attack the Industrial Workers of the World and striking copper miners in Butte during the war.

The Anaconda Company continued to dominate the editorial policy of the Helena Independent and eight other Montana dailies until the sale of these newspapers to Iowa-based Lee Enterprises in 1959.

Provided by: Montana Historical Society; Helena, MT