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Williston graphic. : (Williston, Williams County, N.D.) 1895-1919
Place of publication:
Williston, Williams County, N.D.
Geographic coverage:
  • Williston, Williams, North Dakota  |  View more titles from this: City County, State
R.C. Copeland
Dates of publication:
  • Vol. 1, no. 1 (July 9, 1895)-v. 25, no. 48 (May 15, 1919).
  • English
  • North Dakota--Williston.--fast--(OCoLC)fst01218693
  • Williston (N.D.)--Newspapers.
  • Archived issues are available in digital format as part of the Library of Congress Chronicling America online collection.
  • Available on microfilm from the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
sn 88076270
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Williston graphic. July 9, 1895 , Image 1


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Williston Graphic

In 1895, the town of Williston, North Dakota, was still in its infancy. Nestled on the Missouri River near Fort Buford, where only 15 years earlier Sitting Bull had surrendered after his return from Canada, Williston was a railroad town without a newspaper. On July 9, 1895, the Williston Graphic published its first issue, with Royal H. Copeland at the helm. Copeland, the son of English immigrants, was a seasoned newspaperman whose roots went back to Kirkland, Ohio. Copeland had served as a printer’s devil beginning in 1851, and by the time he arrived in Dakota Territory in 1881 to work for the Grand Forks Plaindealer, he had established newspapers in eight different cities in three states--Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. 

In 1886, Copeland published the Villard Leader, the first newspaper west of Devils Lake in the tiny town of Villard. When the town failed to thrive, Copeland established the Washburn Leader in 1890. He also served as States Attorney for McLean County. After four years, Copeland sold the Leader and a year later re-located to Williston.

Williston was a rough-and-ready railroad town, surrounded by farms and cattle ranches when Copeland arrived, but he was ready for the challenge. To supplement his income, Copeland established a successful law office. Like many of the newspapers in this era in North Dakota, much of the income came from publishing homestead claims, and for four years the Graphic had a monopoly on claims in the Williston area. Copeland was a feisty editor and was quick to attack the politicians and social institutions of his day, earning him a wide following. Wanderlust again overwhelmed Copeland, however, and he formed a syndicate endeavoring to establish newspapers in Montana and Idaho. In 1906, Copeland sold the Williston Graphic to John A. Corbett.

At 10 years of age, Corbett had arrived with his family in Minot, North Dakota, where he attended school and learned the newspaper trade. The Williston Graphic was his first attempt in the editorial field, and by then he was facing some stiff competition in the form of the Williston Herald. Unlike Copeland, a Democrat in a Republican state, Corbett, who was a Republican, adopted a milder approach. The Farmer’s Alliance, begun in the late 1880s as a revolt against the flour mills and railroad monopolies in St. Paul, Minnesota, was waning as a political force. In its place, the Nonpartisan League (NPL) was finding support, especially in western North Dakota. One of the aims of the NPL was control of the state’s newspapers, and a group of local farmers and politicians purchased the Williston Graphic. On May 22, 1919, the paper’s name was changed to the Williams County Farmers Press, which would continue publishing for another 34 years.

Provided by: State Historical Society of North Dakota