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The Osceola times. [volume] : (Osceola, Ark.) 1870-current
Place of publication:
Osceola, Ark.
Geographic coverage:
  • Osceola, Mississippi, Arkansas  |  View more titles from this: City County, State
Leon Roussan
Dates of publication:
  • Began with Sept. 1, 1870 issue.
  • English
  • Arkansas--Osceola.--fast--(OCoLC)fst01290705
  • Osceola (Ark.)--Newspapers.
  • Description based on: Vol. 4, no. 23 (July 5, 1873).
  • Latest issue consulted: Vol. 125, no. 45 (June 21, 1995).
sn 84022982
Preceding Titles:
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The Osceola times. [volume] July 5, 1873 , Image 1


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The Osceola Times

In the late 1800s, visitors of Mississippi County, Arkansas opined that only one settlement in the county could properly be called a town, and that was Osceola, the county seat. Osceola is on the Mississippi River north of Memphis, Tennessee, on the northeastern edge of Arkansas. It was an important trade center as steamboats stopped there on their way between the major ports in Memphis, Tennessee and Cairo, Illinois. When Osceola was incorporated in 1853, it had 250 residents and few businesses. There were, however, many farms on the surrounding fertile farmland. By 1890, the town boasted 1,000 residents and dozens of businesses. The citizens were noted as consisting of many college graduates, making Osceola a center of "refinement, culture, education and taste," atypical for a town of that size.

In 1870, James B. Best, John Oscar Blackwood, and Leon Roussan founded the Osceola Times, the first newspaper in Osceola. It was a locally focused, Democratic paper ranging from two to eight pages. It was published once a week with a circulation of around 400. In addition to their newspaper work, Best was the circuit clerk, Blackwood a prominent attorney and later member of Congress, and Roussan was elected the first mayor of Osceola in 1875. By 1871, Best had left to work in real estate, leaving Roussan and Blackwood as the editors and publishers. In 1873, Blackwood left, and Roussan became sole owner and editor.

Roussan's newspaper career started after he finished the basic schooling offered by his hometown in Missouri. He worked at the local paper, the Sainte Genevieve Plaindealer (1851-1862). When the Civil War began, he joined the Missouri State Guard. After moving around the South during and after the war, Roussan finally settled in Osceola, Arkansas in 1870.

The machines for the Times's printing plant came from Madison in St. Francis County. The owner of the printing office there dismantled the materials during the Civil War to prevent them from being looted by the Federal Army. The Washington hand press was scrapped. The type was emptied into gunny sacks and buried in the sands of the St. Francis River, then later retrieved and stored in the courthouse in Madison. Eventually the type was moved to Osceola, where its storage was upgraded from sacks to cigar boxes until actual type cases could be delivered.

The Times filled a need in Mississippi County, as previously the closest papers that published legal notices relevant to the area were Helena, Jacksonport, and Little Rock. Since the weekly mail service was distributed by boat, it could take weeks or months to receive the newspapers. Despite the need for the paper, friends of Roussan referred to his work running the Times as a death struggle. They credited Roussan's "iron will, indefatigable labor, and indomitable determination" with making the Times one of the foremost papers in Arkansas.

In 1879, at 40 years old, Leon Roussan married 19-year-old Adah Lee Pettey. After marrying, Adah Roussan learned the newspaper trade from Leon, and eventually worked alongside him as editor and publisher of the Times. Both were involved in the Arkansas Press Association over the years, Leon serving as president and Adah as the orator. Together, they taught Adah's niece, Sallie Irene Robinson-Stanfield Riley, how to run a newspaper. Afterwards Sallie moved to Rison and purchased the Cleveland County Herald (1888-current), where she became the first Arkansas woman on record to use a hyphenated last name after marriage.

Leading up to the twentieth century, Mississippi County was "whiskey-soaked all the time and water-soaked a part of the year." Adah and Leon worked to rectify both problems, using their paper to advocate for the temperance movement and land improvements. Over the years they made many enemies, hurting them financially and threatening their safety.

In 1897, Leon fled town for about a year, leaving Adah to run the Times. This was a result of Leon's editorial describing the Mississippi County Sheriff, Charles Bowen's, involvement in the lynching of Henry Phillips. In the article, Leon denounced the Sheriff's immoral and illegal actions. Bowen threatened Leon to get him to print a retraction, but Leon refused and eventually ran away for his own safety. Bowen was known as a violent man. He was a local Ku Klux Klan (KKK) leader and one of the leaders in the Black Hawk War of 1872, a racial conflict in Mississippi County.

By 1900, the Times had 600 subscribers, with Osceola's rapidly growing population approaching 12,000. While the paper contained primarily local news, it also provided relevant national news as well. On September 14, 1901, it included a small insert relating that President William McKinley had died after being shot by an assassin.

The Roussans worked together on the Times until Leon's death in 1906. Afterwards, Adah ran the paper alone, continuing her pursuits for community improvements. She wrote an exposé on the "Honka-Tonks" held in Mississippi County, where men would go to drink and gamble with subsequent fights averaging a murder a week. Adah threatened to publish the names of every landowner who was allowing these parties on their property. Her threats are credited for shutting down the bars. Besides her continued temperance and land improvement efforts, Adah also fought for women's suffrage and education. During this time, she served as Osceola Postmaster from 1914 until 1917.

In 1916, Adah hired Samuel Major Hodges, Sr. to work as the Times manager. Hodges came from a long line of newspaper employees and had himself worked in the newspaper business for decades. Adah worked at the Times until she felt she could no longer deliver on her motto, "good paper, good ink, good work and prompt delivery." Adah sold the Times in 1919 and retired to Hot Springs. She remained active in the community there, and a few years later married another widower, Thomas C. Blackburn. She died unexpectedly in 1927.

Hodges organized the sale of the Osceola Times to the Times Publishing Company, under which he continued as editor and publisher. The Times Publishing Company was composed of Joseph "Joe" Wicks Rhodes, Jr. as president, H. D. Tomlinson as vice-president, and Thomas Henderson as treasurer of the stock company. The Times had one of the most modern newspaper plants in Eastern Arkansas because Adah had bought one of Arkansas's first typesetting machines, the Junior Mergenthaler. By 1920, it had a circulation of 1,100 in a town of over 30,000. Eventually, Samuel Major Hodges, Jr. took over the paper from his father. The Times remains the oldest newspaper in that part of the state.

Provided by: Arkansas State Archives