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The River Press
On October 27, 1880, the first issue of the River Press was produced in an old adobe cabin in Fort Benton, Montana, under the management of James E. Stevens, H.C. Williams, and Thomas D. Wright. In the first issueof theRiver Press, the owners lauded its “typographical execution and general appearance,” comparing it to much larger newspapers in the West. The Republican Party in Helena and Fort Benton provided financial backing for the fledgling newspaper since the partners only had $50 collectively. Beginning on June 6, 1882, the River Press began publishing a daily. In 1881, Jeremiah Collins, a new arrival to Fort Benton had bought a share in the newspaper which he incorporated in August of 1882. In 1885, Collins became one of the founding members of the Montana Press Association, and in 1887 he left the River Press to start the Great Falls Tribune. A dispute between the new owner, William H. Todd, and T.C. Power, one of Fort Benton’s most successful capitalists, led to Power removing his advertising from the River Press and starting a rival paper, the Fort Benton Review. Shortly thereafter, Todd sold out to Power, but for a time the tiny town of Fort Benton supported two dailies, the Record and the River Press. The Daily River Press ceased publication at the end of 1919.
In the inaugural edition of the newspaper, the editors proclaimed “absolute independence in politics…and oppose[d] discussion of political questions when [they] tend to create division and rancor among our people and divert attention from our commercial development.” However, on the same page, they blasted Democratic Sheriff Healy for his use of county taxes. William K. Harber, an Englishman, arrived in Montana in January 1884 by stage, and by 1891 he gained the mantle of editor of the River Press, which he maintained until he retired in 1922. In 1903, Harber criticized the influence of the Anaconda Company on the press in Montana, noting the company’s power to throw the state’s economy into disarray on the cusp of winter. Harber wrote, “Corporation ownership of Montana newspapers and corporation interference in Montana politics are not dictated by an unselfish desire to promote the welfare of the general community.” Several years later, Harber, the son of a country pastor, supported progressive reforms such as women’s suffrage, legislation by initiative, workmen’s compensation, and the direct primary.
The River Press was a six-column newspaper measuring 15 x 21.5”.
Provided by: Montana Historical Society; Helena, MT