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The Saint Louis Reveille History

St. Louis Reveille

By Fritz Oehlschlaeger

            On June 1, 1844, New York’s Spirit of the Times devoted column one of its first page to welcoming the birth of a “capital new daily journal,” which had “just made its appearance in the beautiful city of St. Louis” under the rather “bizarre and fanciful name” of the Reveille. The author of the column, undoubtedly the Spirit’s editor, William Trotter Porter, complimented the founders of the new paper – his old friends Charles Keemle, Joseph M. Field, and Matthew C. Field – as “a trio comprising an infinite degree of enterprise, tact, genius and good feeling.” Porter promised his own readers that he would “keep them advised of any fluctuation in the state of the literary market of St. Louis, by frequent extracts.” During the years in which the Reveille appeared, from 1844 to 1850, Porter made good on that promise, reprinting more material from the St. Louis paper than from any other in the country, with the possible exception of the New Orleans Picayune…

            Porter’s column of welcome to the Reveille…marks a significant moment in American literary history, one in which the guiding spirit of Southwest humor recognized a new enterprise that would itself become a major outlet for frontier humor. The Daily Reveille first appeared on May 14, 1844, and from the start the paper had a humorous cast. To explain how the paper had gotten its unusual name, the first number included an amusing account of the great labors in lexicography that the editors had gone through in searching for a title. Finally they “resolved themselves into a state of despair, and The Reveille being pronounced, unanimously the very worst name of the lot, it was, without further delay, adopted as their title.” On July 15, 1844, the first issue of the Weekly Reveille appeared, at a price of three dollars annually (five dollars for the Daily). Perhaps inspired by the example of the Spirit of the Times, the editors of the Reveille announced in this issue that they would maintain a neutral stance in politics:

            “None need look to find us philosophical, aristocratical, agricultural, horticultural, democratical, mechanical, political, polemical, critical, quizzical or anything else in particular, though the probability is that we shall be a little of each in general, and a good deal of one or the other on occasion.”

            The Daily, which began as a four-page folio sheet, was published six days a week, including Sundays, a policy which at first occasioned some criticism from the local churches. The Weekly featured consecutively dated columns of news, gossip, and literary fare reprinted from its daily parent. Undoubtedly, as Nicholas Joost has suggested, a major reason for the publication of a weekly “was the convenience with which a weekly packet of news, gossip, verse, and light fiction could be mailed to outlying areas and frontier settlements, especially by river steamer.” As was appropriate for a paper in St. Louis, the rapidly growing gateway to the West, the Reveille saw itself both as an agent of culture and as a source of information about the West for the rest of the country. Its “Prospectus” declared the purpose of  “paying special attention to all matters connected with the interests of the glorious West,” and concluded by affirming that “the march of empire, with us, is the march of intelligence, which embraces in its train as well the arts that amuse as those which refine; and while that march is onward, be it ours to beat the ‘Reveille.’” While the Reveille probably never had anything like the subscription list of forty thousand that Porter claimed for the Spirit in 1856, it did have a national circulation, with agents in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Memphis, and Mobile.

            (From Old Southwest Humor from the St. Louis Reveille, 1844-1850 by Fritz Oehlschlaeger, University of Missouri Press, 1990).