Rossland Boy Scouts during an annual summer Scouts camping trip. (Courtesy of the Rosslad Museum & Discovery Centre)

Rossland Boy Scouts during an annual summer Scouts camping trip. (Courtesy of the Rosslad Museum & Discovery Centre)

Ron Shearer: Eber C Smith, The irascible editor of Rossland’s first newspaper — Part 1

Eber Clark Smith deserves recognition as the founder and editor of Rossland’s first newspaper.

Eber Clark Smith deserves recognition as the founder and editor of Rossland’s first newspaper, the Weekly Record (later the daily Evening Record).

He was an aggressive, and to say the least controversial, editor.

While some regarded him as an “eminent journalist,” “versatile,” “energetic” and “enterprising,” others considered him “a coarse, illiterate fellow” who wrote “idiotic drivel” and was guilty of the “prostitution of Canadian journalism.”

His newspaper was described by one admiring editor as “the great and only Rossland Record,” but dismissed by others as “the last vestige of prehistoric journalism” and a “plague spot on the prosperity of Rossland.”

Where did Eber Smith come from? What was his background? How did he get to Rossland?

Eber Smith was born in Indiana in 1852, but raised in Kansas, where he served briefly as a volunteer cavalry man on the troubled western frontier and then trained as a school teacher. He taught school for a couple of years before starting his first newspaper in 1875. He soon left that venture to operate a business selling shoddy organs.

In 1878 he left Kansas abruptly, abandoning his organ business with its unpaid debts and moved to Colorado, then in the midst of a gold/silver mining boom.

After briefly teaching school in Silverton, he ran unsuccessfully for elected office sponsored by the radical Greenback Party, and then magically transformed into an assayer, operating an assaying business in Rico, Colorado. In Colorado, he had mining properties, worked for at least two newspapers, one of them the organ of the Democratic Party, and established three other papers (the Assayer, Electric Light, and Detective), each with a very short lifespan.

From Colorado Eber went to New Mexico in 1884, where he worked as a law clerk, studying to become a lawyer, and in early 1886 married a 16-year-old Canadian woman (he was then 34).

He abruptly left the law firm, probably not voluntarily, and began working as a travelling correspondent of the Albuquerque Journal.

The Smiths soon moved to Prescott, Ariz., where their only child was born.

In Prescott, Eber passed an examination to become a lawyer, but I find no evidence that he actually practiced law. Rather, he worked for another newspaper (the Hoof and Horn) and operated a business selling ranch land. However, the urge to have his own newspaper was too strong. He moved to El Paso, Texas, where he established the El Paso Republican. In the overwhelmingly Democratic, post-Civil War south, the Republican had a very short life.

The Smiths then went north to Spokane, where Eber established a law practice, specializing in mining law.

He arrived in Spokane in the summer before the great fire of August, 1889, devastated the downtown area, including Eber’s law office.

It was in Spokane that he had his first brush with the law. A man whom he had bested in a court case insulted him. Eber pulled a pistol from his pocket and hit the man over the head, opening a serious wound. He was charged with assault, but, for unknown reasons, was not convicted.

Again, the newspaper business beckoned.

In 1890 the Smiths moved to Colville, where Eber practiced law and established the Stevens County Standard. His sharp pen got him into trouble again. He insulted the County Sheriff in print.

In July, 1892, both men were in Spokane on business when someone told the sheriff that Eber was carrying a concealed weapon, an offence. The sheriff went to arrest him, but Eber resisted. The sheriff hit Eber over the head with a piece of wood and Eber retaliated, hitting the sheriff with his pistol and drawing blood. Both men were arrested and charged, but released without penalty, in Eber’s case for lack of corroborating witnesses.

Eber was back in Spokane in 1893, practicing law, when he decided to establish yet another newspaper, the Daily Mail, intended to “uphold the principles of the Republican party.” It had a very short life. Eber then went back to Colville, where Rossland caught his attention. Here was another booming town that lacked a newspaper. He began publishing Rossland’s Weekly Record in mid-February, 1895. Unable to get his printing press and paper to the new town on time, the first two issues were printed in Colville or Northport. The first issue printed in Rossland was on Feb. 28.

Why did Eber Smith come to Rossland? He was restless and impulsive, always up for a challenge and never content to settle down to the steady routine of publishing a homey, community newspaper.

He was enterprising and energetic, but often showed poor judgment. He thrived on controversy and adjusted his politics to suit the occasion, sometimes fruitlessly.

In 1895, he happened to be nearby and Rossland was there — a vibrant journalistic vacancy waiting to be occupied. The first issue of his Weekly Record appeared in February, 1895.