Early newspapers quenched the need of an often-isolated population for news of the outside world, served with a dose of local gossip. For many editors, the newspaper was also used as a platform to show how lively their hamlet was in order to attract new businesses and visitors. Bandera’s first newspaper was started on December 3, 1880 when Phil J. Stephenson and W. D. Ward began the Bandera Bugle. To print the paper, they moved a printing press over from Kerrville where Stephenson had been printing the Frontiersman. They set up in J. P. Heinen’s two-story rock building, just south of the old wool and mohair warehouse. Being close to the Medina River, the building is no longer there as it was completely washed away in the flood of 1900.
Stephenson operated the Bugle until 1890 when he sold it to John Guthrie. The small town of Bandera actually had another newspaper, the Bandera Enterprise, which was established in 1883 by William Hudspeth and B. F. Chambers. Their printing office was located in a frame building on the corner of Cypress and Main Streets. The paper had quite a number of editors until the building burned down in 1915. The Enterprise never resumed publication and Bandera found itself without a newspaper.
The Bandera New Era began the next year in 1916 by J. F. Rocke, an itinerant printer who purchased a small wornout newspaper plant in Poteet and moved it to Bandera. Rocke became disenchanted with Bandera and used the paper to criticize county officials. He made himself generally unpopular with the locals and soon sold the New Era. The New Era changed hands a few times before an advertisement was placed in the San Antonio Express, offering the newspaper to any buyer. After seeing the ad, J. Marvin Hunter bought the paper in 1921. He moved his family to Bandera and not only ran the paper but also began publishing the Frontier Times magazine and established the Frontier Times Museum in 1933.
The New Era served as a source of local gossip and news, appealing to townsfolk who were keen to see their name, or their neighbor’s name, in print. It was a wealth of homespun news such as the time a hapless fellow reached into a hole to catch an armadillo and was bitten by a rattlesnake. The paper duly reported that he survived. More serious news was conveyed as well. It regularly reported on the activities of local sheriff, Elvious Hicks, in upholding Prohibition and fighting the county’s bootleggers. The entries continued over the next several months until Sheriff Hicks was tragically gunned down.
After Hunter sold the New Era, he established another newspaper, printing it on a small printing press he had set up inside the Frontier Times Museum. The Bandera Bulletin’s first edition was released on July 13, 1945. His daughter, Nettie Saul, once wrote, “A newspaper reflects the hopes and type of people who live in a town. Anytime a stranger comes into the community, the first place they visit is the newspaper, where they find advertising relative to the church they want to belong, houses they wish to buy, the grocery stores, dress shops, hardware stores, restaurants, and filling stations which they wish to patronize. They learn about their new neighbors. A thriving newspaper denotes a thriving city.”
Rebecca Huffstutler Norton is the Executive Director of the Frontier Times Museum.