Early Meteor owner gave townsmen the boot

Posted 9/22/20

Though you are reading this in the Madisonville Meteor, it was not the first newspaper printed here. In 1888, a Baptist minister, J.B. Hall, established a publication called The Texas Watchman. According to local history, Madison County had some tough outlaws in those days. Perhaps The Texas Watchman was too threatening a name. Whatever the case, that first publication was short-lived.

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Early Meteor owner gave townsmen the boot

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Though you are reading this in the Madisonville Meteor, it was not the first newspaper printed here. In 1888, a Baptist minister, J.B. Hall, established a publication called The Texas Watchman. According to local history, Madison County had some tough outlaws in those days. Perhaps The Texas Watchman was too threatening a name. Whatever the case, that first publication was short-lived.

In 1894, Madisonville’s population was 700, and another newspaper was established by Thomas J. Stevens. He named it The Messenger. Later he said, “While I furnished the money -- $500 – to start my Madisonville sheet, I know my deceased friend, William F. Bookman, did more to keep it alive than I did.” Bookman had family here and therefore more reason to care about this community. His daughter, Grace (Mrs. J.A.) McKay, was postmaster here for years and the wife of Dr. McKay.

Next Stevens sold the paper to W.W. Sharp, a schoolteacher. A printer, James T. Denton, claimed to have changed the name to The Meteor. He took credit for it, but Stevens blamed Sharp. No matter who did it, the name stuck.

Other early Meteor editors, publishers, and/or owners here were Gus A. Newman, J.A. Palmer, W.L. “Bill” Turner, M.J. Webb, and J.A. Knight. I started out with more details about who bought and sold and who bought new machinery and more. That quickly bored me, so you are getting the short version of such.

Things livened up in 1938 when Mr. Knight sold the Meteor to Henry B. Fox, who had been publishing the Centerville newspaper since 1935. When Fox bought the Meteor, he also purchased another local, The Times, and consolidated them as The Meteor. Fox took over as Meteor editor and publisher but leased his Leon County paper out for a few months before selling it. He considered the Meteor a step up, since by then Madisonville’s population was 1,200, more than twice that of Centerville.

However, until Fox took over, the Meteor had struggled to make money because it had not been sold by prepaid subscription but only by individual weekly purchase. He demanded $1.50 prepaid for six months by subscribers. Times were hard for families then, and folks were reluctant to spend cash to get local news. Fox carried the proper last name; he was crafty. He worked at keeping things interesting, and he recognized the importance of timely photos. When his local source was slow in supplying them, he purchased the studio and set his wife to running it, learning as she went.

Early on, Fox had declared he would not run contests and award subscriptions, but soon he changed his mind. The first was his 1941 Hen Subscription Contest. Anyone bringing a five-pound or larger hen or two hens totaling eight pounds to The Meteor office would be awarded a nine-month subscription. Months later when the contest ended, hens were responsible for 226 new subscriptions and 31 renewals. Fox announced that it had upped the Meteor’s list up to 1,250 in a town of 2,100. He worked hard to keep his printed news fun and interesting. It was soon acclaimed the best all-around weekly newspaper in the nation.

Next, Fox gave up chickens and took on cattle, or really, men who came to town wearing cowboy boots but did not know one end of a cow from another. In early March of 1941, he made up and published a set of local rules governing the wearing of cowboy boots, under the auspices of the then-imaginary Madisonville Sidewalk Cattlemen’s Association. To wear boots, an owner had to own at least two head of cattle. If one owned three head, the owner could stuff the right pants leg in his boots. If four head were owned, the owner could stuff both pants legs in. The owner of six head could wear spurs.

Within weeks, the rules and our town gained national publicity after the Associated Press published a light feature about the rules. In turn, Fox ran a story about the publicity and announced that he and other locals would form an actual organization to “keep the papers from being liars.” When a salesman from Waco was wearing boots when he called in on Fox, he could not prove cattle ownership. He was marched to a local drugstore, forced to buy soda-fountain drinks for everyone in “yelling distance”, and ice water was poured into his boots. More newspapers sold.

That story took off, with the New York Times and Boston Globe running versions. A mother in Massachusetts became interested in boots and wrote to Fox asking for help finding her seven-year-old daughter some boots. A group of local men with a sense of humor decided they didn’t want our town to be famed for a lying editor, so they decided to make the organization a reality. They also bought boots and sent them to the child. Fox made sure a reporter and photographer were on hand when the boots arrived. MSCA took off from there.

We can thank H.B. Fox for coining the term “sidewalk cattlemen” and for the fact that MSCA was officially organized on March 25, 1941. It still exists, though the custom now is to dunk violators in the horse trough on the courthouse lawn.

Fox lived here as owner and editor of the Meteor for several years. In 1945, H.B. he sold it to D.H. Reeves. Three years later, Reeves sold it to Mr. and Mrs. Winn Crossley, who had newspaper experience from publishing the Pilot Point Post-Signal. They moved here with their daughter, Marian, to take over duties as the Meteor’s editors and publishers. For many of us, the Meteor still brings to mind the Crossleys.

From their first day of ownership, Winn and Ethel Crossley served jointly as editors and publishers. Together they gathered the city, county, and area news, and Mrs. Crossley handled most of the editing and rewriting. Mr. Crossley did virtually all of the writing and selling of advertising as well as the management of their commercial printing department, plus some of the back shopwork of setting type and printing.

When the Crossleys first took over, The Meteor was located in the first block off the courthouse Square on North Madison Street. It stayed there until Christmas week, 1954, when the entire operation, including a linotype four-page press, three sizes of job presses, and all other equipment, furniture, and stock was moved to the new location, 112 South Elm Street (which was a few doors south of Ranch Viejo). The premises had been modernized and improved prior to the move.

For 25 years, the Crossleys used their newspaper to work for and lead every effort to improve Madisonville and Madison County. Mr. Crossley served as president of the Chamber of Commerce, the Lions Club, and the MSCA. He was also a member of the board of directors of Madison County Hospital and Oak Ridge Country Club, both of which he helped organize. Mrs. Crossley was instrumental in getting our county a public library and served as a director for many years. She was also on the board and acted as publicity director of the Madison County Cancer Society for over 25 years. She was interested in local and state politics and twice served as a local delegate to the State Democratic Convention.

After that gracious couple sold out to Mr. and Mrs. Sam Logan, Jr., effective January 1, 1973, we’re back to who bought, who sold. The Logans did not stay long, and in December of 1977, Glenn R. Stifflemire and Associates, doing business as Madisonville Newpapers, Inc., purchased the newspaper.

I apologize, but that’s as far as I can get with Meteor history at this time. I do not have information as to when it moved from South Elm Street to the current North Madison address, and I do need to get that. I don’t recall anything in the last 40 years like hen contests or new boot regulations, so I think I’ve worn the good off this topic.

When I saw that Volume 1 of our local history book contains 35 mentions of the Meteor, I realized that the Meteor has helped keep local history alive. In their essays on family history, folks often cited Meteor clippings, with one detailing a gin explosion in 1907, another a graduation in 1909, one a wedding in 1935, and more. If you have such clippings, folks at the Museum would love to have copies!

Currently, Madison County Museum has been closed due to Corona-19 but we think and hope that’s about to change. You can check on that on the Madison County Museum Facebook page or call 936.348.5230. Normally the Museum is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and it is located at 201 N. Madison Street. The mailing address is P.O. Box 61, Madisonville, TX 77864.

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