Milwaukee County Newspapers 1833-1957
THE MILWAUKEE SENTINEL
Source: History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, The Western Historical Company, Chicago;
A.T. Andreas Proprietor, 1881, pg. 618-622
Was first issued June 27, 1837, by John O'Rourke, editor and proprietor. The means with which this paper was established were furnished or guaranteed by Solomon Juneau, but his name did not appear in connection therewith. From an expression in the opening editorial, it is seen that the title of that paper was not the first one selected by the editor. He wrote, in allusion to the prospects of Milwaukee as follows: "It was in Milwaukee that we proposed to publish the Wisconsin Pioneer, now merged in the Milwaukee Sentinel." In politics the paper pledged itself to the advocacy of Democracy as impersonated by Martin Van Buren. The career of the editor was suddenly terminated by death before the close of the year.
"It becomes our painful duty to-day to record the death of our worthy fellow-citizen, Mr. John O'Rourke, late publisher of the Sentinelformerly of Watertown, N.Y., who died of consumption on Wednesday last, aged about 24. Mr. O'Rourke came to this place about eighteen months since, and after some months' residence as an assistant in the office of the Advertiser, became so much attached to our place and so well satisfied with the growing prospects of our village the he determined upon a permanent residence here and the establishment of a second paper. With the generous assistance of one of our most prominent citizens he was enabled to commence the publication of the Sentinel, which he has successfully prosecuted until death has called him since." After speaking in the highest terms of his moral integrity and industry, and referring in touching terms to his death so far away from home, the obituary closes by remarking: "His funeral was attended on Thursday afternoon by a large concourse than we have seen congregated on any similar occasion in this place."
For some weeks after Mr. O'Rourke's death, the Sentinel appeared within giving the name of its conductor, but it was known that Harrison Reed (see also Harrison Reed bio), was acting in that capacity. On February 13, 1838, Mr. Reed, took partial possession of the concern. The office was then located on East Water street, East Side, not far from Huron street, next door to the Cottage Inn, then kept by Mr. Vail. The frame building used as the printing office was divided, on the ground floor into two rooms, about fourteen feet wide. The north portion was occupied by Mr. Reed's father as a tin-ware and stove store. The Sentinel advocated James Duane Doty for Delegate, in opposition to George W. Jones, in which advocacy the paper was fortunate to win the fight. During the exciting presidential campaign of 1840 the Sentinel took but a passive part in the contest. The reason is explained in the issue of November 3, of that year. The editor remarked: "Having within the past few days obtained sole proprietorship of the Sentinel, and thereby come into full and unlimited control of its operations, we shall now put in a force a resolution formed some months since, and declare ourselves distinctly and decidedly for Harrison and Reform." The declaration of change in party affiliations was made at considerable length, and the editor vindicated himself on the score of the necessity of a reformation in the official affairs of the Territory. He asserted that President Van Buren had sacrificed the higher duty of unbiased administration t the unworthy interest of party, and had listened to the advice of the so-called "Dodge faction" instead of to the petitions of the people. A corrupt and reckless subversion of government was charged against the Executive, and the Sentinel announced its intention of maintaining the true theories, as advanced by Washington and Jefferson, in the form of Republican-Democratic doctrines. Thus, on the eve of the great battle which resulted in the success of Harrison, the Sentinel became a Whig organ. The rejoicings over the election of their candidate were scarcely ended, however when the Whigs were called upon to mourn the sudden ending of the life of a man whom they honored, the Sentinel draped its columns in the habiliments of woe over the melancholy announcement. The appointment of Judge Doty to the governorship, in place of Governor Dodge, proved another triumph for the Sentinel.
In July, 1841, the name of Jonathan E. Arnold was set at the head of the columns as proper candidate for Delegate, and the Sentinel did strong work for the party. With the beginning of the fifth volume Mr. Reed changed the spelling of the name to Milwaukie Sentinel, in accordance with Judge Doty's notion, it is supposed. In the midst of the congressional campaign, the Whigs were thrown into consternation by the sudden and mysterious transfer of the paper to H.N. Wells, a Democrat. C. Walworth was appointed editor, and Henry Dodge was substituted for Jonathan E. Arnold as candidate for delegate. This transpired August 3, 1841. The excitement occasioned by such a radical change in the political character of a leading journal may be imagined. It was openly asserted that Mr. Reed had been influenced unfairly to consent to the sale, but that charge was unwarranted. It soon became known that the calamity grew out of financial embarrassments, and that Mr. Wells had foreclosed a mortgage held by him on the office. When once in possession of the property, the new owner naturally supported those men and measures favorably regarded by him. These events took place during the temporary absence of Mr. Reed, and upon his return he published a card in the Sentinel asking Mr. Wells to relieve him of the odium of the allegations of his former associates. Mr. Wells explained the matter by admitting that the purchase of the office by Mr. Reed was made subject to a lien held by him, and that the conditions of sale had not been complied with. The forced transfer was beyond the control of Mr. Reed.
Incidental to these happenings came the establishment of the Milwaukee Journal, which is here interpolated in order to preserve the chronology of the history of the Press. When the Whigs found themselves deprived of an organ, they called an indignation meeting, and proceeded to condemn Mr. Reed. They also appointed a committee to secure the publication of a party paper. Elisha Starr was authorized to conduct the business, and at once proceeded to Chicago to buy materials for an office. The late Chief Justice e.G. Ryan was at the time publishing a paper called the Tribune-which, by the way, is not to be confounded with the paper that name now published in that city-and had encountered discouragements arising from personal disagreements. Mr. Ryan was willing to sell his materials, and a bargain was soon perfected. Mr. Starr paid $500 cash, giving notes for the balance due. The "forms" and materials of the Tribune were speedily transported to Milwaukee, and the Milwaukie Journal made its appearance. The new paper took occasion to express its regret at having previous to publication-in the prospectus-insinuated against the honor of Mr. Reed. A sharp contest ensued between the Jornal and Sentinel, and the respective candidates, Arnold and dodge, had able advocates in them. Files of this paper are not in existence, but it is remembered that the first issue was dated August 27, 1841, and the Col. Starr subscribed himself "publisher for the proprietors." The Colonel was a firm believer in the ultimate triumph of "Kie," and even as late as November, 1844, seemed to take particular delight in flaunting before the faces of the "Kees," the "Milwaukie Commercial Herald.." But this is neither here nor there, except as an illustration of Col. Starr's independent spirit. In his preliminary prospectus he remarked: "During the last year but two papers have been published in the Territory, friendly to the present administration, viz." The Madison Express and The Milwaukie Sentinel (the Sentinel was a "kie" then). The Sentinel has, within three weeks past, by premeditated treachery, stealthily concealed from its patrons and the public, been surrendered into the hands of our opponents, and thus more than one-half of the Whigs of Wisconsin have, at a most critical time, been deprived of the only organ by which they could utter their political sentiments. AT no time have either the Sentinel or Express, either in character or ability, justly and worthily represented the principles and feelings of the mass of the Whigs of Wisconsin-much less is the latter paper, at this time, able, single-handed, to contend with five opposition presses, conducted with tact and energy." Which were sufficient reasons, in it was started as a straight Jonathan E. Arnold organ, issuing five stalwart numbers before Dodge was elected as Delegate to Congress by about 500 majority, and the "Loco-Focos" triumphed. In the issue of October 13, which discussed at length the causes of defeat, the Journal indignantly spurns the insinuation, made by "some persons whose motives are too obvious to be mistaken," that it has not "come to stay." The Journal, while it remained here, was a six-column folio, and seems to have had its share of advertising. It lived about six months.
The Workingman's Advocate appeared from the ruins of the Journal, in 1842, but the name is all that is obtainable at this date.
The Sentinel remained in the possession of Mr. Wells until October 23, 1841, when Mr. Reed again obtained control of it, the episode of its optical change became an historical event, and the current of its progress was once more even in its flow. Upon resuming charge, Mr. Reed naturally gave vent to the feelings which had for so long a time been pent up, but he was moderate, courteous and forcible in what he said. He blamed some of his former friends for not standing true to him, and animadverted on the policy of the Journal, bestowing a passing shot upon the rival in the form of a defiant and half- suppressed threat. Mr. Reed added a column for he especial benefit of the agricultural community, and adopted the title of Sentinel and Farmer, at the same time building a wall between himself and the past by re-dating the volume and beginning a "new series." S. Chapman was associated with Mr. Reed, for a brief time. May 7, 1842, Mr. Reed retired from the paper. His brief valedictory breaths a suggestion of troubles past, and heart-burnings such as none, save those who have experienced the vicissitudes of partisan journalism, can understand.
Elisha Starr again took a position in the newspaper field, by obtaining control of the Sentinel and made a short but emphatic declaration of Whig principles, of an independent stamp. The paper was enlarged to a seven-column folio, and the name changed to Milwaukie Sentinel. On the 17th of May, 1843, Mr. Starr responded to what he believed to be a demand of the public, and established the Commercial Herald, a tri-weekly auxiliary of the Sentinel. It was a small five-column paper, apparently well patronized. The issue was discontinued early in December of that year, and was resumed April 3, 1844. In the following May Mr. Starr associated with him C.L. MacArthur as editor of the Sentinel and Herald. September 1, 1843, the firm name became Elisha Starr & Co., which lasted but a few weeks, when the "co." was dropped. Mr. MacArthur removed to Troy, N.Y., where he engaged in newspaper work. During Mr. Starr's connection with the paper, George M. Shipper was the silent power in the business. The Daily Sentinel was begun December 9, 1844, with David M. Keeler as manager and Mr. MacArhur as associate editor. The Commercial Herald was continued, under Mr. Starr, until December 27, when Mr. Shipper sold his entire interest to Mr. Keeler, Mr. Starr retired and Mr. MacArthur remained as one of the editors. This arrangement was of short duration, for on March 1, 1845, the office was sold to John. S. Fillmore and J. Downer. Upon taking leave of his friends, Mr. Keeler remarked that the height of his ambition was to found the first daily paper in Wisconsin, and having been allowed to gratify that laudable desire, he withdrew from journalism, after having demonstrated the feasibility of what was esteemed generally, an impractical enterprise, with profound gratitude fr the courtesy of his friends. Mr. Downer was known as the editor f the paper, but in the Fall of 1845,, he resigned and was succeed by Rufus King, while the business firm was altered to Fillmore & Bliss.