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August 10: Newspaper Feud for Linda Slaughter

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At the end of July 1877, Steamboat Captain and Missouri River pilot, John Harris of Missouri, passed away in Bismarck. At his death, the author of his obituary acknowledged his fondness for drinking, commenting that the passed soul “was master of a very lucrative profession,” and that he “might have enjoyed a happy home …” and that he “Might have been able to breathe out his last moments surrounded by loving, sympathizing friends,” if he hadn’t given in to “intemperance.” The author ended this article by stating, “Truly, virtue brings its own reward.”

Linda Slaughter, prominent early citizen of the state who was very involved in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and who often had writing featured in the newspaper, felt compelled to write her own, different version of the article for the next issue, adding that Harris was of “sunshiney spirit and cheerful, childlike disposition,” with many friends, and was a favorite everywhere. She ended the note, “Peace to his ashes; and since the dear, old man has gone to his rest, the mantle of charity should have been drawn over his faults. They harmed no one but himself.”

This began a public feud between “B,” who eventually admitted to authoring the first obituary; and “LWS,” which is how they their articles. The feud was public, splashy, and ongoing on this date. “B” felt Slaughter’s obituary skimmed over the damage done by the deceased man’s drinking. Slaughter rebutted that there was no need to highlight the faults of one fallen person, nor to tear apart or use an obituary for this purpose. B took more umbrage at this, and the two continued to collide through competing columns, with most articles linked together across the days under the heading of “intemperance vs. charity.”

B called Slaughter “the literary war pony of the prairies,” while Slaughter brought comparisons to B’s actions as that of “wolves and hyenas [that] dig down into the graves of the dead,” as she called for more charity. The two used each other’s words against the other, taking copious amounts of column space to prove their point.

Newspapers then were the social media of the times. And like present-day social media, it seems the feud had many followers.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker

Sources:
Bismarck Tri-Weekly Tribune, July 30, 1877, p4
Bismarck Tri-Weekly Tribune, August 1, 1877, p4
Bismarck Tri-Weekly Tribune, August 3, 1877, p1
Bismarck Tri-Weekly Tribune, August 6, 1877, p4
Bismarck Tri-Weekly Tribune, August 8, 1877, p1
Bismarck Tri-Weekly Tribune, August 17, 1877, p2
Bismarck Tri-Weekly Tribune, August 20, 1877, p2

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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