Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Tabloid Gould

By Brian Irby 

Arkansas Gazette, 1898
Courtesy of the Arkansas State Archives.
Tabloid journalism was alive and well in 19th century Arkansas, thanks in part to Kellogg Gould. This Civil War veteran and proprietor of the Little Rock Tribune let his readership know what kind of a ride they were in for when he wrote his newspaper was “democratic to a white-hot heat” in his first editorial. He used the newspaper as a bully pulpit for his aggressive opinions about free love, prohibition and union rights.  

Gould was a Missouri native who began his career in the printing business in the 1880s. He was introduced to union activity and was drawn to it like a magnet. Gould’s star rose quickly in that circle and in a relatively short time, he became the head of the printers’ union that represented members in Missouri, Nebraska and Illinois. By 1890, his reputation as a tough man to deal with was well known; this did not bode well for career advancement in his chosen field. Gould became somewhat of a pariah in the management side of the midwestern printing community. 

Gould eventually moved to Little Rock with his wife Maud - a wealthy woman who was not afraid to back up her husband’s brash behavior with her money. Initially, he had a job with the Arkansas Democrat, but after a few years, the editor fired him. On June 9, 1893, Gould finally got the chance to publish his own newspaper. His wife bankrolled the venture, and the Tribune was born.  

 Sensational allegations of local scandals were the meat and potatoes of the Tribune, with frequent roasts of politicians served up as side dishes. With that recipe, it was no surprise when the Tribune found itself in the middle of a controversy. Gould accused Little Rock Mayor M.G. Hall and city council members of being in league with “gamblers and the saloon element.” By the end of July 1893, Gould was attacked by a council member who hit him with not one, but two wooden chairs. Gould had accused the elected official of trying to intimidate a Chicago reporter by unleashing a violent mob – an action known as “whitecapping.”  

The next month, Gould was walking home when he was beaten severely by a brass-knuckle-wearing police officer named George Bowman. Gould had named Bowman as a member of a gambling ring in the Tribune. The evidence of the beating was sufficient to get Bowman not only suspended from his duties but arrested for the attack. Bowman defended his actions by saying he only beaten Gould with his fists, not with a pair of brass knuckles.  

On Sept. 4, citing a local ordinance that prohibited the selling of any obscene or slanderous printed material, the Little Rock City Council passed a resolution to suppress the newspaper and commanded law enforcement to arrest anyone attempting to sell “the rag” on the streets. Gould filed for an injunction in the Pulaski County Court to prevent the law from being enacted. The county judge agreed and declared the law singling out the Tribune as illegal. Gould was free to publish and distribute his paper. 

Gould’s troubles during his first year in publication did not have a moderating effect on him.  He continued to use his paper to attack his opponents and made it even more personal when he threw his hat in the ring for an 1896 United States Senate Democratic primary. He brought his attack methods to the race between popular incumbent Sen. James K. Jones and former Gov. James P. Clarke. First, Gould claimed Clarke was supported by Republicans and Populists who wanted to install the former governor and toss Jones out of office. Further, Gould claimed Clarke was in alliance with saloon owners. He declared in the Tribune that while running for governor years before, “Clarke circulated thousands of secret circulars to the saloon men and gamblers of the State (which statement can be proven in any competent court of justice) in his canvass for the governorship.”  Despite his efforts to sully the waters of this election, Jones won the primary handily. 

A few months after his failed election attempt, Gould again found himself in the middle of a controversy. Readers of the Tribune found that Gould seemed to promote the idea of “free love,” a concept that advocated the abolition of marriage as a legal institution, instead favoring no state sanction of marriage or other personal relationships. Shocked readers notified the United States Post Office that the Tribune advocated this radical concept. The postmaster for Argenta (now known as North Little Rock) immediately swore out a warrant for Gould’s arrest on the basis that he was sending “obscene publications through the mails.”  Gould’s enemies reveled in his arrest. The Helena Weekly World declared, “If the proof is strong enough to land him in jail clean people in Little Rock will rejoice.” 

Gould paid the $1,000 bond and was released from jail, promising the court that he would cease his activities as editor of the TribuneIn order to continue to publish and make good on his promise at the same time, Gould turned over the ownership to his wife. Afterward, Maud Gould’s name would appear as the editor of the paper. Whether anyone was fooled by this sleight of hand was not reported at the time. 

While out on bail, Gould couldn’t resist inserting himself in a sensational murder trial involving Jesse Heard, a Little Rock policeman who shot S.T. Blair, a livery stable owner. Heard confessed to the murder, arguing that Blair was having an affair with his wife, and such a blemish on his honor had to be avenged. Newspaper coverage of the trial was at such a fever pitch that the judge moved the trial to Perryville. Gould volunteered as a witness on behalf of the defense. He testified that he had seen Blair and Mrs. Heard leaving a hotel together. It was obvious, he said, that the two were carrying on a torrid affair.  

The jury acquitted the policeman for the murder. This sparked public outrage and it was directed specifically at one Kellogg Gould.  The Helena Weekly World wrote, “Where Gould should be is in a three by six hole in the ground.”   

On the evening of Sept. 15, 1897, a crowd made its way towards Gould’s house where they purportedly sought to tar and feather him. Gould got a head’s up from his own group of supporters that saw the mob approaching. He quickly slipped out of town and suspended publication of the Tribune. Writing in the final editorial, the paper was ended “on account of circumstances beyond my control.” 

Meanwhile, his own trial for obscenity charges was still on a court docket. Gould asked for a continuance, claiming he was in clear and present danger if he returned to Little Rock.  After all, a mob had just recently tried to tar and feather him. The judge agreed to put the trial on hold until the mob’s anger dissipated. But it wasn’t just put on hold – it disappeared altogether. It seems no future trial date was set, and the case was never heard of again.  

By the summer of 1898, Gould was back in his newspaper office in Little Rock, publishing the Tribune. It comes as no surprise that Gould would soon find himself back in hot water – this time with much larger potential consequences.  

It all started when the Arkansas Gazette began a contest giving away a college scholarship to any student who collected the most newspaper coupons. A young woman named Sophia Saunders was dead set on winning. She told authorities that this had been what spurred her to visit Gould’s office. According to her sworn affidavit, she asked him if she could have the coupon from his copy of the Gazette. But instead of simply giving it to her, he demanded a sexual favor in return. She alleged that at that point, she tried to run out of the newspaper office, but he grabbed her and shoved her into the back room. Just then, another person entered the front room of the office, distracting Gould, and giving her the opportunity for escape, after which, she asserted, she headed to the police station and told them what had happened at the Tribune’s office. Gould was arrested and charged with attempted rape.  

According to Gould, he had promised Saunders his coupons but had accidently given them to another contestant, enraging Saunders, who came up with the story to get revenge.  

Before a grand jury, Gould said he was unfairly accused by Saunders, who was attacking him out of anger for not giving her the newspaper coupons. A.H. Pinney, a cotton worker who was working in the back of the cotton exchange building, took the stand for the defense, claiming that he had overheard Saunders tell an acquaintance in front of the building in which he was working, “I’ll pay him back!”  The prosecutor, on cross-examination, argued that Pinney, from the vantage point of the back of the building, could not have possibly heard Saunders talking on the street. Despite Saunders’ testimony, the grand jury dismissed the case, citing no tangible evidence a crime had occurred. Gould was a free man. 

Possibly seeing the running of a controversial paper as being hazardous to his safety in Arkansas, Gould sold the Tribune to F.G. Valkenburg. However, despite being out of the newspaper business, Gould remained a controversial character. In October 1899, Fay Hempstead, secretary of the Western Star Lodge, of which Gould was a member, officially declared the former editor expelled from the fraternal organization “for un-Masonic conduct.”  

There was little to keep Gould in Arkansas and soon after his lodge disfellowshipping, he and his wife moved to St. Louis, where he worked as the manager of a dry goods store and dabbled as a traveling evangelist until his death in 1919.  His paper, for all of the controversy it generated during its life, proved to be an ephemeral thing – no copies of Gould’s Tribune are known to have survived.