The Denton Monitor:
Pioneer of the Press
by Alec Williams
A surprising number of newspapers have been published in Denton since the city was founded in 1857. Among them are The Denton Beacon, The Denton Independent, The Denton Times, The Denton Post, and The Denton County News. Most of these publications were short lived.
One of the most famous nineteenth century Denton papers was The Denton Monitor. In 1868, a committee of Dentonites, headed by Mayor J.A. Carroll went to Greenville to convince the Greenville Independent to move to Denton. The group spoke to C.W. Geers, the publisher, and to the editor, Tom Burnett. Geers and Burnett, evidently liked the idea because they accepted almost immhediately. The paper and its physical plant were brought to Denton. Years later, a Denton County News historical issue (December 8, 1905) claimed Geers and Burnett received a welcome "that amounted to almost an ovation" on their arrival.
The paper set up shop on the upper story of the R.J. Battle and Co. building. The name was changed to The Denton Monitor, and it adopted the motto "Maintain the Right. Expose the Wrong." At this time, the staff of the paper was often armed. The threat of Indian attacks was still present here in 1868. The Monitor office, with its Washington hand press, became something of a tourist attraction. People had few sources of news in what was still a frontier settlement, and a newspaper office was unusual. The first issue of The Denton Monitor appeared on May 30, 1868.
At that time, the Monitor was bluntly racist. The civilian and military reconstruction authorities had disenfranchised the bulk of the white electorate in favor of the black electorate. It was one of many blunders that helped establish racial hatred in the South.
The Monitor claimed the South's opposition to black voting rights was a matter of principle and that the majority of blacks would vote with the Southern whites. It would be a marvelous way to get rid of the Radical Republican regimes that controlled the South. The Radical Republicans were responsible for the Reconstruction policies that the Southerners hated, and as you may expect, the Monitor had few kind things to say about the Radical Republicans.
The Monitor also opposed the Ku Klux Klan. In the Monitor's opinion, the Klan was a Radical Republican plot to discredit the South. The paper had nothing nice to say about the Klan, either. In short, the Monitor was a paper that said what it pleased. Its comments about blacks were no worse than its comments about many whites. Its mixture of vim, vigor, and venom would probably get the paper sued by modern standards.
The Monitor's opinion of Denton was another matter. The town and the paper must have had a love affair from the very first. The Monitor was always ready to sing the praises of Denton, and in the first issue said, "We do not remember to have seen any other town in Texas possessing the advantages of situation that our town of Denton possesses."
Of course, the Monitor suggested improvements. The city needed a new courthouse. At this time, the center of the square. was nothing but oak tree's with the courthouse on the north side. A college should be established. On the whole, the Monitor remained Denton's biggest fan.
The advertisements are interesting. The local ads are full of memorable names in Denton history: Piner, Welch, Ross, Murphy, Mounts. Merchants from Greenville, Jefferson, and Shreveport advertised in the Monitor, too. There was no railroad here in 1868, and the three cities were major distribution points for goods.
The Monitor also reported on such things as prayer meetings and amateur theatricals. When John Chisum returned to Denton county from West Texas, the news he reported was printed in the Monitor. The Monitor was a community oriented source of news for the people of this city and county.
Sources vary as to when the Monitor ceased publication, but it did continue. Burnett left the Monitor after thirty-one weeks, and Geers took over the role of editor. The Monitor office burned in 1878 when a type setter fell asleep, allowing a candle to burn down into a wooden box. Geers bought the Denton Review before the fire was out, and the public never missed an issue.
By the 1890's, the papers' format was much more sophisticated. There's even a science column. The later Monitor more closely resembles a modern newspaper. If the old Monitor was a little rude, and published opinions that are unattractive and unpleasant today, it nevertheless had the stance of a scrappy fighter. If the later Monitor was more suave and sophisticated, it never forgot its motto: "Maintain the Right-Expose the Wrong."
Times had changed, though. By 1897, Denton had railroads and a public school system. It had one of the two universities that is has today. There was a courthouse on the center of the square. Indian raids were a thing of the past, as was Radical Republican rule of' Texas. Denton was a town with electricity, running, water, and telephones. The old frontier town was gone forever. Times had changed.
The Monitor made many contributions to the history of Denton as a community-oriented newspaper. It also made a contribution for the future. One of the printer's devils employed by the Monitor was James Williams. Williams founded The Chronicle in 1882. The Chronicle was later sold to the Denton County Record, which in turn became the Denton Record-Chronicle.
Alec Williams is a Denton writer and a descendant of pioneer settlers of Denton County.