This week, the Chieftain will begin its 112th year of service to the residents of Bonner Springs, Edwardsville and the lower Kaw Valley. In addition, the Chieftain started publication of its sister newspaper, the Basehor Sentinel, in the 1960s.
Based on my simple math, there have been more than 5,700 issues of the Chieftain printed. The Chieftain has always been a weekly newspaper except for a few years in the early 1960s when it was published twice each week.
The Chieftain was started by Ed Matthews as the Wyandotte Chieftain in 1896. A couple of years later, he moved his fledgling publication to Bonner Springs. At that time, Bonner Springs was struggling to become an incorporated city and in November 1898, the dream was realized. Not surprising, the Chieftain was named the officially city newspaper and it has held that designation ever since.
At that time, newspapers were the only method of advertising and news dissemination. Primarily, America was agrarian and small towns were commercial centers. Improved methods of transportation allowed residents to go to neighboring cities to shop. The biggest threat, many believed at that time, was the Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs. In addition, the Chieftain had to struggle with new printing techniques including the linotype.
The Chieftain survived. It added more local news and even had a reporter meet incoming trains to check for news.
In 1909, Matthews sold the Chieftain to Imri Zumwalt. In many ways, he is the most fascinating of the Chieftain’s editors and publishers. Zumwalt was a part-time preacher and active in Bonner Springs Christian Church. He also spent some time as a school teacher. He was staunchly religious and championed causes including prohibition, closing pool halls and stopping public dancing. Despite all that, he remained a positive person.
While the Chieftain has always faced competition from various newspapers, probably the most serious challenge came from 1913 to 1920 when a second publication, the Bonner Springs Record, was started by S. F. Davidson and A. W. Dorman. The Chieftain obviously triumphed.
In 1910, Zumwalt married Frances Stotts. They co-published the newspaper until Zumwalt’s death in 1921. Frances continued publishing the newspaper and in 1930, married Marion Vaughn. Vaughn was a community activist and started the Christmas fund, which is now Vaughn-Trent Community Services. Vaughndale is named in his honor and the city’s top award for community service is the Marion Vaughn award, which is given during Tiblow Days. Vaughn served briefly as mayor.
After Vaughn’s retirement, Robert Lauffler became the Chieftain’s publisher. A few years later, due to an ownership change, Paul Massey became the publisher. Elton Carter, a veteran Kansas newspaper owner and publisher, became a partner in the newspaper.
John Carter became the publisher in the 1970s and continued until 1979 when Jean and I purchased the newspaper. We changed the name to Chieftain-Sentinel Publications and published the Chieftain, Basehor Sentinel and Chieftain Shopper until 2000 ,when we retired and sold the business to the Lawrence Journal-World.
Certainly the Chieftain has weathered lots of storms. Reading columns from the early days, they struggled to meet mortgage payments. After a seven-year battle with the Record, the Chieftain had to deal with the arrival of a new media — radio. They battled through the Depression and faced a new competitor — television. Now, the Internet is challenging all newspapers. The Chieftain has always survived and moved forward.
The Chieftain is the oldest newspaper in Wyandotte County and one of only a few publications still going.