- J. N. Rogers, the Jacksboro Rural Citizen, and the Roots of Farmers’ Alliance Journalism in Texas, 1881–1886
Click for larger view
View full resolution
[End Page 28]
In 1873, Joseph Noah Rogers, a farmer and a Confederate veteran, moved from Tarrant County, Texas, to Jack County and settled on a farm near Keechi Creek. His first publishing venture was the Sunday Wreath, a religious publication that reflected his Baptist faith. On June 4, 1880, while still printing at his farm, Rogers founded the Rural Citizen. He started the newspaper because Jack County and Jacksboro, the county seat, needed a reliable publisher. Transient editors frequently came to the region, secured bonuses offered by boosters for starting newspapers, printed a few issues, and then departed. A few months after Rogers started the Rural Citizen, the businessmen of Jacksboro offered to place additional advertisements in the paper and town residents pledged to purchase more subscriptions if Rogers moved his printing office to town. Rogers agreed, and in October 1880, he moved his press and residence into Jacksboro and rented out his farm.1
Rogers’s transition from farmer to journalist resembled that of many country editors scattered across the South and the West during the late-nineteenth century. What made Rogers’s newspaper unique is that for [End Page 29] four years (1882 to 1886), the Rural Citizen served as the official journal of the Texas Farmers’ Alliance. Having left the farm and moved to town, Rogers’s livelihood, and that of his family—including Alice and Joanna, two of his four daughters who assisted in the production of the Rural Citizen—rested on the fortunes of his newspaper. Rogers’s desire to grow his business led him to support the Farmers’ Alliance in the early 1880s, but he would abandon the order in 1886 as the Populist movement embraced ideas such as the organization of purchasing and marketing cooperatives and participation in politics that he felt threatened the interests of his advertising patrons.2
Rogers’s story is important because of his role as a key figure in the first phase of the Texas Farmers’ Alliance’s official involvement with journalism. From 1881 to 1886 as the Alliance grew (not always consistently) in terms of geographic scope and membership numbers, it evolved from an educational and social group into a catalyst for economic experiments and political challenges. The events of those early years demonstrated to Alliancemen that they needed more than simply a sympathetic outlet for the order’s news; they learned that the order needed to govern its own press if they wanted an effective advocate. Merely relying on the sympathy of a business-minded editor, such as Rogers, was insufficient. This realization allowed journalists to emerge as prominent leaders of the Populist movement. Some of these influential journalists pushed the Farmers’ Alliance and related farm and labor organizations toward political activity and helped create the People’s Party. Rogers, however, left the movement.
An examination of Rogers and the Rural Citizen also sheds light on the nature of Populism itself. Historian Robert C. McMath Jr. argues that Alliance radicalism and the Populism’s movement culture emerged from “the convergence of agrarian and Greenbacker radicalism.” McMath’s argument, like that of Lawrence Goodwyn, author of perhaps the most well-known account of the movement, Democratic Promise: The Populist Moment in America, is predicated on the view that the Populists acted primarily out of a desire to defend traditional agrarian culture. Rogers staunchly defended tradition and sought to use the Alliance to improve farmers’ economic condition through education and fraternal aid; therefore, by this definition, he should have embraced Populism...