L.H. Mathews, editor of The Blount County News-Dispatch

Mathews was a rounder. In an earlier day, he would have been challenged to a duel, killed, and that would have been that. As it turned out, Mathews was a successful newspaperman. For most of a quarter of a century, he was at the helm of the preeminent Blount County newspaper.

Mathews was born 26 Sep 1830 in Ireland and came to the United States in 1848. He joined the Confederate Army; possibly in South Carolina, but his service is so far undetermined. After the war, and settled in Jefferson County. Mathews is said to have started the first newspaper in Birmingham, the Jefferson Independent in 1871. He later moved to Blount Springs and began the Blount Springs News. Shortly thereafter, the voters decided to keep the county seat in Blountsville, so he moved there in October of 1877 and renamed the paper the Blount County News, and then to Oneonta in November of 1889, keeping up with the location of the county seat.

Mathews referred to himself in the paper as the "Wild Irishman." It was a reputation he nurtured and relished. In the columns of the newspaper Mathews was a staunch Democrat and much of the paper was flavored with his point of view which was particularly partisan and sometimes racist. However, he only echoed sentiment of much of the Blount County population of the time. What Mathews did which angered some people was to choose sides in politically sensitive issues of the time. But he did it with such wit and humor, he entertained his subscribers and earned the respect of other county newspaper editors around the state.

Sometimes he earned the ire of other county newspaper editors. It was fairly common for country newspaper editors from different regions in North Alabama to snipe at each other for one reason or another and even engage in name-calling. Mathews was no exception. On one occasion, he found reason to square off against another editor and used some barnyard references drawing upon his Scotch-Irish background which so confused the competing editor, he couldn’t respond.

Mathews infuriated one man in Blount Springs so much, the man came to Mathews’ Blountsville office and physically beat him up. During the contentious 1883 election to determine if the Blount County seat would be moved to Blount Springs or remain at Blountsville, John R. Perkins, in the Blount Springs Advance, another lost Blount County paper, engaged in one of those editorial "tit for tats" with Mathews and took matters into his own hands.

The Guntersville Democrat, 1 Feb 1883

An Assault Upon the Press. Blount county holds an election next Monday to decide whether or not the county site shall be removed from Blountsville. The question of removal is exciting a good deal of interest, and several caustic articles have appeared in the News, which opposes removal, and in the Advance, favoring removal. John R. Perkins, one of the county commissioners, not content with hurling defiance and abuse upon the News and all others who oppose removal, through the columns of the Advance, a few days ago actually assaulted and beat the editor of the News. In the last issue of the News, its editor, denounces this conduct of Perkins in not very complimentary language, and claims that it is nothing less than an assault upon the freedom of the press, and calls upon his brethren to rebuke such invasion of their rights. As Mr. Perkins seemed very apt in the use of billingsgate and resorted to that method, it does seem to us he should have confined himself to that mode of warfare, and not displayed his chivalry by assaulting the editor of the News in his sanctum, more especially as Mr. Mathews is a man well advanced in years, and Mr. Perkins, comparatively, a young man. We hope Mr. Perkins will be bound over to keep the peace towards all editors, and especially the editor of the News. We don’t want his sort to visit our sanctum.

Unfortunately, the issue of The Blount County News referred to has not survived. Afterwards, Mathews armed himself against any future attacks.

The Guntersville Democrat, 3 May 1883

We visited the office of the Blount County News and found both Editors in, as we expected, hard at work. The senior, who styles himself the Wild Irishman, gave us as is his custom a warm reception and formally extended us the "liberty of his office" and the use of his exchanges. The junior was modest, polite and obliging but rather sedate, and it soon became apparent to us that he was disappointed because we had come alone. The senior, as if to compensate for the sedateness of the junior, was more loquacious and courteous than usual, if such a thing can be possible, and showed us through his art gallery, even extending the courtesy so far as to give us a peep into his arsenal, where we found an armory for defense against a second assault on the press.

Mathews disliked any new upstart competing newspaper in his territory and did what he could to hasten their demise. When they folded he would gleefully and sarcastically chronicle their death, as he did on the occasion of the passing of The Mineral Age:

The Blount County News, 22 Oct 1885

In Memoriam. Died, at Blountsville, Ala., on Oct. 20th, 1885, in the hope of a glorious resurrection at Warrior, Ala., Miss Minner Alage, the adopted daughter of L.R. Hanna, Esq., a pretended philanthropist of this County. It had never any legitimate parentage, and was begotten in iniquity, and died of a slow starvation, a dose that he prepared for its neighbor, the Blount County News. The ways of God are inscrutable, and hypocrisy today, meets its true deserts as it did in the days of the Savior. The puny bantling was born at Chepultepec, Blount County, and was of very doubtful parentage, yet it was a sensitive thing, and told its adopted parent three weeks before its death, that it didn’t want to live, for the following reasons, to-wit: "The County officers paid no attention to it! The Probate Judge snubbed it; the Sheriff only noticed it three or four times; the Circuit Clerk never tipped his hat to it; and the Register in Chancery totally ignored it." However, it had only one true and faithful friend, the Rev. Remus Murphree, a contributor, and one of the most worthless darkies in the State, who will preach its "Funeral" on November the 5th, the anniversary of Guy Fawks’ plot to blow up the Lords and Commons of old England. But it has gone, gone forever! Yet its close financial career is known to the little boys of Blountsville, who often found it a difficult thing to collect a small but hard-earned fee from the management. Peace to its ashes! It has undoubtedly been done Brown so let it rip!

From the snow-clad hills of Maine to the marshes ‘round Savannah,
Everyone now knows what’s the matter with poor Hannah!

Mathews was in the newspapers business for well over 30 years with most of it spent in Blount County. He celebrated his birthday in Birmingham among some friends in 1892:

The Blount County News-Dispatch, 6 Oct 1892

Father Mathews—Editor L.H. Mathews of the Oneonta News-Dispatch—was in Birmingham the other day. He came down to celebrate his 63d birthday, the dear old man, and there wasn’t one of us who wasn’t heartily glad to see him. His head is white, but his soul is young, and all the men who toil upon the press of Alabama love him. He looks today as young as he did a dozen years ago, when a certain callow youth, now known to some of you as crusty and cross, first met him in the councils of the craft; his laugh is as merry, his eyes are as bright, his soul as generous. He laughs and is jolly; he tells the truth and is honest and there is not a man in all the world who knows him and loves him not. He is probably the best loved of all the men who make the newspapers of Alabama, this noble old Father Mathews. May his shadow never grow less!—Birmingham Age-Herald, October 2d, 1892.

After many years in the newspaper business, Mathews became ill. Notices in the paper in 1896 mentioned he was sick and wanted to sell out his interest in the paper. Apparently, there were no takers. Mathews died 12 Dec 1896.

The Southern Democrat, 17 Dec 1896

Editor L.H. Mathews of the Oneonta News-Dispatch died at Oneonta last Saturday afternoon from general debility. Mr. Mathews has a host of friends throughout the state who will regret to hear of his death. While Mr. Mathews had some faults, as all of us do, he was a success as a newspaper man. He will be greatly missed by the people of Blount and the state press.

The News-Dispatch published a dozen or more warm obituaries from several newspapers from around the state.

The paper continued publishing for several years following the death of Mathews, but never seemed to capture the same spirit. A competing newspaper, The Southern Democrat, was first published in Blountsville and moved to Oneonta in 1897. Competition and the death of Mathews soon contributed to the demise of The Blount County News-Dispatch. Many issues were late or were skipped in the years following his illness and death. The last issue available is dated 28 Jan 1904 on the front page, but dated 4 Feb 1904 on the inside. Apparently the paper ceased publication shortly afterward. An advertisement in the 1 Jul 1904 Southern Democrat announced The New-Dispatch office was for sale or rent by Editor J.H. Ketchum. Ketchum was later hired by The Southern Democrat as editor of the Local Department in September of 1905.

Sadly, Mathews’ grave in the Old Liberty Cemetery was never marked. Apparently, he never married and left no relatives or heirs to erect a monument. The exact location has now been lost to time.

The Southern Democrat, 11 Apr 1901

There lies in Liberty Cemetery, one mile east of Oneonta, the remains of a man who spent his mature years in Blount county, laboring for the good of his fellowman and the development of the resources of his county and State, whose last resting place is not even marked by a marble slab. He was known and respected by almost every person living in the county. He was not a rich man, but he left some property in the county, a part of which in our opinion, should be spent in placing a monument over his grave. The man of whom we speak is L.H. Mathews, who so ably edited and published the Blount County News-Dispatch for nearly quarter of a century.

Mathews’ mother lived to the age of 106 or 108 and died in 1884 near Liberty. She was referred to as "Mrs. Redmond, a native of South Carolina" was was also buried in an unmarked grave.