The Frontier Index:
The Case of the Vagabond Newspaper
By R. J. Brown, Editor-in-Chief
There have been several instances of a newspaper being printed on board a train, but only there has only been one that followed a train from stop to stop to set up shop. The Frontier Index did exactly that.
Shortly after the Civil War ended there was an effort to extend railroad tracks all the way to the west coast. Two brothers by the name of Legh and Frederick Freeman left Culpeper County, Virginia and moved to Fort Kearney, Nebraska Territory.
When the Union Pacific began to push its rail line westward the little newspaper became a journalistic vagabond. With the construction camps, it followed the trail across Nebraska, into Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. Legh became the chief editor and operator. He issued a volatile sheet from tents, rail cars, log huts and other assorted shelters. At least once (at Julesburg, Colorado) he printed the Index on brown wrapping paper as there were always production problems due to the temporary conditions. One advantage the Freeman did have was the close availability of telegraph news all along the route. It made his papers more up-to-date than most. He secured paid advertising when he could and otherwise supported himself by job printing.
In the June 19, 1877 edition of the Ogden (Utah) Freeman, there is an account given by Legh Freeman of the birth of the Frontier Index. It states:
Twenty-seven years ago the Mormon emigration left a portion of a printing office on Wood River in the then savage plains of Nebraska. This fell into our hands and we began the publication of the Frontier Index in the Fort Kearney Garrison. After the Union Pacific Railroad came along our print became the advertising medium which built up ten of the terminal towns of that national artery of commerce. When we concluded to move from the North Plate (Nebraska) to Julesburg (Colorado) or first side was set up dated Julesburg; we then packed and traveled by rail cars the hundred miles, stretched our tarpaulins on the greensward and issued with local items of both towns, given in a sheet one side of which was printed in the forenoon, 100 miles from where the other side had been struck off in the evening.
Freeman created the unusual concept of the same newspaper and staff serving all thirteen terminal towns along the Union Pacific right-of-way. These towns were: Fort Kearney and North Platte, Nebraska, Julesburg, Colorado, Cheyenne, Fort Sanders, Laramie and Green River, Wyoming, Ogden and Bear River City, Utah, Butte and Thompson Falls, Montana, and Yakima and Gibraltar, Washington. Publication dates were erratic -- a morning edition in North Platte, and an evening edition the same day in Julesburg. When he wanted to print a new edition, he would load up his press and equipment on the Union Pacific train and then unload and set up shop in the next town he wished to publish. It is not known for sure just which towns had newspaper editions printed on which day as specimens of his paper, published from 1866 to 1868, are very rare.
Not to his credit, however, Legh was the "Archie Bunker" of the 1860's. With each issue of his paper Legh seemed to become more and more bigoted in his editorials. By the November 13, 1868 edition printed in Bear River City, Wyoming Territory, he had expanded his attacks. Though brief, his editorial stated:
As the Emblem of American Liberty, The Frontier Index is now perched upon the summit of the Rocky Mountains; flaps its wings over the Great West and screams forth in thunder and lightning tones the principles of the unterrified anit-nigger, anti-Chinese, anti-Indian party -- Masonic Democracy!!!
Five days later an edition the the Frontier Index published at Bear River City, Wyoming Territory bore a scathing editorial attack on the Mormon's. His violent, anti-Mormon stand and his exposure of fraud by the Union Pacific resulted in the destruction of his printing office and equipment on November 19, 1868. According to the previously mentioned issue of the Ogden Junction, Freeman related what happened after his anti-Mormon editorial.
The next morning at the break of day, when several thousand graders (railroad workers) headed by the most villainous desperadoes, besieged the office, gutted and sacked it, and threatened to burn us in it, and would undoubtedly have left nothing but a grease spot of our mortal remains had not a milk white steed conveyed us to Fort Bridger, where we obtained troops, who arrested the leaders and held the town under martial law until the large gangs of men passed westward to the grading camps of Echo and Weber Canyon. Forty-odd rioters are buried around the office. The only citizen killed in the melee was Steve Stokes. The last of the cutthroats has died with his boots on and the ringleader had his head chopped off with an ax.
After only a couple of months, Legh resumed his newspaper publishing career by publishing papers in Montana and Washington. He chose for the title of his publication the Frontier Phoenix. In Freeman's own words "the Institution shall rise, Phoenix-like, from her ashes, to still advocate the cause of right and truth, to denounce tricksters and mobocracy, uphold the good and faithful." In some cases, however, he revived the title Frontier Index. His bigotry continued.
By 1875, however, Freeman moved back to Utah and established, on June 18, the Ogden Freeman. Not being content with managing just one newspaper, Freeman also published several other titles in Utah and Montana. The April 16, 1884 edition of the Salt Lake Evening Chronicle bears the following news item:
That irrepressible rustler, Legh R. Freeman, has consolidated theChronicle, Herald, Ogden Freeman, Inter-Mountain, Daily Labor Union, Atlantic and Union Freeman into one huge ten page journal called the Frontier Index, and finally stopped his 'press on wheels' at Thompson's Falls, a 'magic city' in the pine woods on the Northern Pacific railway near Coeur d'Alene mines.
Freeman died in obscurity in Yakima, Washington in 1915.