People and Things From The Cullman Alabama Tribune, 1877 - 1898

375 pages, 8.5 x 11, softcover hard spine, full name index. For pricing, write

The Tribune was the primary Cullman County paper since the beginning of the town in the early 1870s.

All the available newspapers for this time span have been reviewed; however, significant gaps occur in the time span. Although the Cullman Tribune began publication in 1875, very few issues from the early years remain. Fortunately for researchers, existing issues have been preserved on microfilm. Most of the year 1877 has been preserved and a handful of issues from 1878, but a large gap exists between 1878 and 1887 where most of those issues have disappeared. Only a few issues represent the year 1884. Most of 1887 has been preserved, but 1888 is missing. Similarly, most of 1889 can be found on the microfilm, but 1890 has vanished. Beginning in January 1892, the Tribune began a mostly unbroken string of issues through 1898, the majority of which have been captured on film.

From the book's introduction: Cullman was represented by a newspaper soon after the city was founded. The first issues came off the presses in 1875, about the same time as the State Legislature granted a charter to the new town of Cullman. The Gadsden Times credited Rudolph and Julius Damus as the original proprietors and publishers of a Cullman newspaper which made its debut in the Spring of 1875. It was said to be printed partly in English and partly in German. Originally the name of the paper was the Cullman Gazette, but the name was changed to the Tribune in June 1875. In August of that year, the name was settled as The Alabama Tribune.

Rudolph and Julius Damus later gave over management of the paper for a while to George H. Parker and G.A. Prinz, but the Damuses were back in March of 1877 to resume control as publishers while Parker and Prinz remained as editors of the paper. Parker and Prinz were early Cullman businessmen. George H. Parker was elected mayor of Cullman for multiple terms in the early years and G.A. Prinz has the distinction of opening the first store in Cullman.

A competing Cullman newspaper, the Southern Immigrant, began in March of 1876. It was founded by Charles A. Beckert, H.L. Watlington and John A. Johnson. Johnson had been involved with newspaper publishing for several years, first in Limestone County before he moved to Cullman and published the Immigrant. The Immigrant must have had a insecure existence because in August of 1877, the Tribune reported the Sheriff "levied upon the printing press and materials of the Immigrant office and the same was claimed as exempt by Charles A. Beckert, the owner." Beckert and Johnson also published Der Alabama Pioneer, a German paper in December of 1877. Only one issue of the Southern Immigrant exists in the Alabama State Archives, that of July 4, 1879. No known issues of Der Alabama Pioneer survive.

Johnson was involved with the Immigrant until November of 1880 when it consolidated with the Alabama Tribune. Johnson retained editorial control of the Tribune until August of 1892. At that time, he claimed he had been in the newspaper business for 50 years and wanted a rest. He sold his interest to T.J. Simpson and George Hewlett. Johnson’s retirement was short lived, however, because in October 1893, he began publishing the Cullman Advertiser. By February of 1895, Johnson was publishing the Mountain City Gazette.

After a couple years, T.J. Simpson and George Hewlett sold their interest in the Tribune to M.L. Robertson who assumed full ownership in April of 1895. Robertson changed the title from The Alabama Tribune to The Cullman Tribune in December of 1895. The Tribune merged with the Mountain City Gazette in February 1897 and changed the name to the Tribune-Gazette. In September 1897, M.L. Robertson married Mary Alice Parker, daughter of George H. Parker, who was former part owner of the Tribune.

In addition to the Tribune, Cullman was represented by several newspapers in the early years before the turn of the last century. Some lasted for only a few issues, while some lasted for several years. Capt. A.E. Hewlett who formerly edited the Bessemer Journal, purchased the Gazette name in July 1898 and resurrected the newpaper. Other papers of the era included Der Nord Alabama Colonist, the Cullman Progress, The Trumpet, The People’s Protest, and the short-lived Alabama German Pioneer. The Pioneer lasted for only a handful of issues in July and August of 1898. The People’s Protest was the most successful of these competing papers and was first published in April 1893 and lasted throughout most of the 1890s. The Alabama Tribune represented the Democratic point of view, while the Protest represented the interests of the Third Party. The so-called Third Party was made up of disenfranchised Republicans and others who also referred to themselves as Populists. The Tribune and Protest were editorial antagonists and sniped at each other often in election seasons. The Trumpet was a religious publication started in 1887 by veteran editor P.M. Musgrove. Musgrove had been involved in publishing for many years. He began the Bangor Broad-Axe in 1875, but later sold his interest and moved to Cullman early in 1877.

For the first 25 years or so of its existence, except for special occasions, the Tribune contained only four pages. The first page consisted of mostly national and state news, while page two contained editorial paragraphs where often the political views of the editor were set to print. During election cycles, most of page two was made up of news having to do with state and local politics. Page two was also where most of the items of an official nature were published, such as Sheriff’s Sales, Land Settlements, and other items related to the Probate Judge’s office. Page three was reserved for local items and it was usually filled with little lines of people coming and going and their activities of late. Often, the editor printed long lists of people who had merely dropped by the office to visit sometime during the week. The editor always encouraged correspondents from outlying communities to send in news of their area and these were usually published on page two and three. On page three was usually located the items making up the bulk of this volume; that is, the announcements of births, deaths, marriages, and short news items. Page four usually contained items of general interest, serial novelettes, and large ads. Scattered small ads for individuals offering professional services of one sort or another were scattered throughout the paper.

For the purposes of constructing this book, microfilmed images of the Tribune were purchased directly from the Alabama State Department of Archives and History and examined page by page. The issues for the year 1877-1878 were viewed at Wallace State College at Hanceville. Each mention of every birth, marriage, and death was completely transcribed. In addition, other newsworthy items of significant historical or sociological value were selected based on their relevance to the history and development of Cullman county. Others were selected based merely on the whims of the compiler. Many things were omitted, such as long state and local political discussions pertaining to people and issues pertaining to elections. Not that these and other issues were unimportant to our ancestors, but these items were considered beyond the scope of the parameters imagined at the outset of this project.

The researcher is urged to make their own review of the Alabama history books and local newspapers to get a feel for what, in that day, were the important issues. Other items omitted were the sometimes very long lists of who dropped by to pay their respects to the Editor during the week, who went out of town briefly, and other similar short notes. These notes do a good job of accounting for the socially prominent people of the day, but were omitted because of space and time limitations.

Most of the notes in [brackets] are from my personal review of Cullman County Cemeteries. Four volume sets are available at area libraries and available for purchase from the author. Other notes are for clarifications. In many cases, the researcher will note the newspaper account of the date of death does not always agree with the tombstone. Monuments were sometimes erected a few years after the death and were subject to mistakes made by the stone cutter and to faulty memories of the remaining family members. Most of the time, when there is a disagreement between the two, I usually ascribe more accuracy to the newspaper. Many tombstones have disappeared over the years and within these pages may be found the only record of the passing of some citizens.

Even if you find you are not related to the people mentioned in this book, it will be hard to put down because of the fascinating and enjoyable way the era is captured and described in the words of the corresponding community "reporters" and the newspaper editor. From examining just a few pages, the reader will get a feel for how journalism and news reporting has changed drastically from the early days of our county’s development.

It is sincerely hoped this transcription of People and Things from The (Cullman) Alabama Tribune helps fill in some missing details in your search for information on your ancestors and relatives as well as provide first person glimpses into our county’s past.

Robin Sterling, February 2007.

Hello Robin, I received my book "People and Things From The Cullman Tribune" 1877-1898. Let me just say ... I am beyond thrilled! My Great Grandfather Charles Abraham Owen, writing the memorial to his Mother Ann Owen (my great great grandmother) (page 89) was alone, worth the price of the book. It literally brought tears to my eyes. Carole Kane, Rutherfordton, North Carolina