Before Robert and John Crockett came to Price from Colorado, and purchased the Eastern Utah Advocate in August of 1898, the paper and its predecessor, the Eastern Utah Telegraph, had known little stability. A series of poor business decisions, lack of capital to operate and involvement of owners and editors in less than legal practices in various matters had caused its fortunes to wain.
In the first issue they published on August 18 the new editor stated that they "didn't always expect to be right" but "will attempt at all times to be as near just as possible." They also stated that the paper would be politically independent.
R.W. Crockett was originally from Missouri, but had worked as a reporter at the Denver Republican and for a few years before moving to Salt Lake to work for the Salt Lake Herald and Salt Lake Tribune had published the Aspen Times, in Aspen, Colo. At the time he took over the Advocate he was 34 years old and would become a fixture in the county in one way or another for the next two decades.
Under his and his brothers leadership the paper began to grow and become strong. It's format changed too. In all of its years of existence ads had appeared on the front page, sometimes with as much ad spaces as editorial. Some use of boilerplate information still appeared, but the news started to become more local as well as more informational. Through the turn of the 20th century it began to look more like a modern newspaper, although elements of the old publication remained for some time.
A big local news storys of this time began not long before the brothers purchased the papers, with the now well- known Castle Gate robbery in which Butch Cassidy and his gang robbed the paymaster at Castle Gate. The amount stolen was purported to be $17,000 and the robbers "escaped unharmed into the vastness of the San Rafael country."
But the violence of todays society had nothing on the early days of frontier towns. Peace officers at the time had a very hard time controlling an area so vast as eastern Utah and cattle rustling with shootings and beatings, murder and other acts of violence started to become common fare within the newspaper's pages.
At one point it was thought and reported that Cassidy and one of his co-harts had been shot and killed while trying to get away from a sheriff's posse. They were buried in Price, but later it was found that the two men killed were not part of the Robbers Roost Gang.
But despite the hunt going on for the Butch Cassidy outlaws, something else would soon dominate headlines in the paper; something that has reared its ugly head time and time again, right up to the present day; mine disasters.
While there were various reports in the paper of individual miners being killed during their work, nothing before the Winter Quarters disaster of May, 1900 had been so large or terrible. With 199 miners killed during that explosion, the Eastern Utah Advocate became the main informational source about those tragic times. The story was first reported in the May 3, 1900 issue of the paper, but didn't appear in that publication on the front page, but on the third page. With the way type was set in those days and how quickly a small paper could react to such a tragedy, the first two pages of the paper had probably already been set and maybe even printed before the disaster occurred. That one story, which used a fairly large headline for its time, was full of misinformation. It began with the headline stating that 300 men had been killed, but then went on to state that the number would be somewhere around 200.
Interestingly the story was written as if it had just taken place the day of the publication, yet it had occurred over 48 hours before. It spoke largely of the rescue efforts right after the disaster, particularly the first party in led by "Bishop Parmlen" which tried to enter the mine one way and found themselves blocked and then went in another way. Within 200 yards of that entrance they found six men dead and the numbers continued to pile up.
Money came in for the families from all over the country almost immediately and the paper reported that "$8,000 had been raised for the stricken families" and that officials expected the amount of fund to accumulate to between "$10,000 and $50,000."
The explosion left 107 widows and 268 orphans in the county. The disaster also changed the way mine officials started to look at the volatility of coal dust, because the mine had been known as one without much gas, so in the beginning the explosion was a fairly deep mystery.
This was the first major mine disaster in the area the paper covered and the follow up stories on the mess were incomplete and sparse. The front page of the paper for weeks after may have a little bit here and there, but after the first story the coverage was sporadic.
But time would tell that mining disasters, large and small would become a regular part of the Eastern Utah Advocate and its ancestor papers.
This is one in a series of articles about the history of the Sun Advocate that will run periodically through 2011 when the paper celebrates its 120th anniversary.