Historic Rossland. (City of Rossland)

Historic Rossland. (City of Rossland)

Ron Shearer: Eber C Smith, The Irascible Editor of Rossland’s First Newspaper: Part 2

Eber Smith, publisher/editor of the Evening Record, had a caustic pen that often got him in trouble.

Eber Smith, publisher/editor of the Evening Record, Rossland’s first newspaper, had a caustic pen that often got him in trouble.

In Texas, in 1887, it had almost proved fatal when a man whom he had insulted pursued him with a pistol. Fortunately the man was a bad shot. He missed, but Eber wounded him in the thigh.

Later, in Spokane, Eber twice risked prison sentences when he hit critics over the head with his pistol, drawing blood.

In Rossland, his editorials did not elicit violence (perhaps because a prohibition against carrying firearms was strictly enforced), but they did result in lawsuits. He was twice charged with criminal libel for comments about editors of the Rossland Miner. In both cases he somehow avoided serious legal penalties. Through his newspaper, Eber was active in municipal politics. The Record was a vehement supporter of incorporation. Indeed, Eber claimed almost exclusive credit for the success of legislation for the timely incorporation of the city, blocking what he alleged was a plot by the hated Rossland Miner to disrupt the legislative process. Eber was not modest.

In the election of the first city council, the Record — alone among Rossland’s four newspapers — strongly supported the outsider Robert Scott for mayor. The Record presented Scott as a successful, experienced municipal politician and businessman with strong ties to financial institutions in Ontario, just the thing that a new city required. It endorsed Scott’s proposed “labour-friendly” regime and vehemently supported his campaign for “some latitude” in the enforcement of drinking and gambling laws, relaxing Kirkup’s law and order regime.

When Scott was elected, Eber claimed full credit and exulted in the acclaim that then surrounded his newspaper. He also revelled in the monopoly of official city printing with which he was rewarded.

When Scott rejected the Kirkup acolyte, John Hooson, as police chief, the Record strongly endorsed the appointment of the notorious John Ingram, who had a history of scandals as a policeman. Ingram later became embroiled in corruption scandals in Rossland twice before he was finally dismissed by another mayor.

Scott used his financial acumen to place $50,000 of city debentures with a new trust company in Ontario. The Record cheered him on.

However, in a lawsuit brought by Ross Thompson, the terms of the contract were declared invalid. Both Scott and Eber lost face. Nonetheless, the Record supported Scott’s hopeless campaign for a second term, but was shocked when Scott cynically offered an exclusive deal on city printing to the Miner if it would support him.

An embarrassed Scott was forced to withdraw and soon went home to Galt.

In the fall of 1897, Eber got into trouble with the Typographical Union over a boarding house that he operated and in which he required his employees to live. The high rents that he charged effectively reduced the wages of his workers. A secondary issue was his failure to always meet his payroll, in full, in cash and on time.

The Record was declared an “unfair” shop, and the union promoted a boycott of the paper, which was endorsed by the Miners’ Union. Advertising revenue fell and Eber lost his exclusive contract for city printing. Eber soon capitulated and won back his city printing with an unprofitably low bid.

The Record sputtered but struggled on until June, 1898, when Eber sold it to a left-leaning group headed by the original editor of the Rossland Miner, who renamed it the Rossland Leader.

Eber bought it back in November, 1898, but the following August, sold it to William Esling, then publisher of the Trail News.

After selling the Record, Eber moved to Grand Forks and, in October, 1899, established the Pioneer in Phoenix and the Gazette in Grand Forks.

The Gazette is the only one of his many newspapers that is still published.

He was soon faced with rebellion by his workers because he failed to meet his payroll for the Gazette. A strike, a union boycott and an intense campaign of mockery forced him out of Grand Forks in early 1900.

He went to Spokane and then Republic, Washington, where he practiced law.

Then, in early 1901, he made a surprising leap to the new American colony of the Philippines. In Manila he practiced law and established a magazine, Justicia, in which he commented on affairs in the Islands and interpreted the colony and its people for readers in the United States.

For a time, his editorials curried the favour of the authorities and he was rewarded with a major role in publicity for the Philippines’ exhibit at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair.

He then reverted to his old style as biting critic of the imperious authority of the American administration.

The fate of Justicia is unclear, but it appears to have closed. The denouement was unexpected and tragic.

Eber Smith died in 1908, at age 56, after contracting small pox on a visit to a remote Filipino community.