Newspapers have always been uniquely local. For a small community on the move, a newspaper used to be the only form of expression everyone could share and contribute to.
Burleson’s rich history of print began when W.B. Newton, formerly publisher of the Vernon Texan, appeared in June 1895 and began producing a newssheet titled The Burleson Banner (Review). The 21 June 1895 inaugural issue featured an article titled “Burleson and Her Business Men” which depicts the origins of many prominent citizens, among them W.P. Lace, S.F. Hackney, G.W. Bransom, J.S. and R.B. Armstrong, and R.H. Burns (Fifty).
Sometime in 1900, Burleson businessman E.M. “Good Roads” Wilson (1872-1956) began publishing The Burleson News. What happened to W.B. Newton and the Banner remains a mystery, but the News caught on. Wilson housed the paper in a wooden building between his furniture store and a blacksmith store to the south before relocating to the southeastern first-floor corner of his Wilson Brothers Building on the corner of Main and Ellison Streets (Beard). Constructed in 1904, the building housed Burleson’s first telephone switchboard and the Farmers & Merchants State Bank, in addition to E.M. and J.D. Wilson’s furniture business. Brief editorials from Newseditors appeared frequently in the Dallas Morning News column “The State Press” during the first decade of the century.
In 1906, Wilson hired Marvin Edgar “M.E.” Bockmon as editor of the News. Bockmon, a graduate of Baylor University, came to Burleson after a brief career with the Alvarado Bulletin. With his wife Winnie Faires and daughters Lucille and Alene, Marvin carved out a career with the News that transcended a stint with the Graford Monogram and time as an independent printer (Burleson Historical).
J.A. Coolidge took over the News in 1912 (Beard). Throughout the 1920s and into the ‘30s, the News was advertised as “A live paper published in a live town for wide-awake citizens.” George W. Vinson became the publisher & editor sometime in the 1910s or early 1920s, and served in that capacity through May 1926 (Burleson News). Matt Neighbors took over the paper in time for the 4 June 1926 edition, and remained through 1931. On 1 May 1931, a day after the interurban electric railway ceased operation into Johnson County, Neighbors offered this reaction: “The only thing that can kill a small town is the indifference of its citizens” (Future). Sometime during the fall of 1931, E.M. Wilson put the News up for sale.
Mired in the Great Depression, few could imagine surviving on a small newspaper’s income, but one man did. Robert Garland Knox Deering lost his job as an investigator with Dun & Bradstreet in Fort Worth early in the Depression. R.G.K. Deering’s wife Elizabeth and their young children Robert and Winifred moved in with her parents in Granbury while he looked for work. Eventually Deering’s father-in-law, Ashley Crockett, gave him a job at the Hood County Tablet. When the opportunity to purchase The Burleson News arose, Deering approached his Uncle John Searcy about a partnership. In the harsh winter of 1931, Deering and his family piled into their old car and moved to Burleson (On Balance).
On reaching Burleson, Deering and Searcy discovered a newspaper from the 19th Century. In 1931, the News was printed one side of one sheet at a time on an antique Chandler & Price Old-Style platen press. The partners styled their paper “The Voice of Burleson” and began procuring new type and equipment (On Balance). In one of their earliest issues appeared the headline: “E.M. Wilson, Alderman, Takes Issue with The News on Chickens Running at Large” (E.M. Wilson).
Soon, the paper moved out of the Wilson Brothers Building and into a storefront once occupied by Brister Lee Company Dry Goods (104 South Main Street). Deering’s eldest son Robert, then a teenager, helped clean out the building, which he described as a “very smelly” feed store (Deering). The partners purchased a used Babcock Cylinder Press to increase their production.
The News moved again a short time later, two doors down to the old Continental State Bank Building at the corner of Main and Renfro. During this time, the business expanded into South Fort Worth with a free shopper, The Morningside Herald. The success of the Herald compelled R.G.K. Deering to hire more help in the shop, and among the employees was Sam Davis, a printer from Fort Worth. After school, Deering’s son Robert swept the shop (On Balance).
Disagreements between R.G.K. Deering and John Searcy eventually soured the partnership. Deering offered to buy his uncle's share and go it alone. In the uncertainty of the decade, Deering’s move walked a fine line between risk and recklessness, but on May 2, 1935 the News announced the dissolution of the partnership (Deering Buys).
R.G.K. Deering seized an opportunity to enlarge his business when Albert Hendon Loyless accepted an appointment as Burleson Postmaster in 1935, vacating his store (124 West Ellison Street). The building was constructed in 1912 for the Fort Worth Southern Traction Company’s interurban railway and tailored for Loyless, the ticket agent, to operate his drugstore in (Beard). Deering made significant modifications to the building, removing a freight dock and cutting a large hole at the back of the structure to accommodate his equipment. Partitions were erected to form offices and a storeroom. The attractive double-doors letting visitors into the building were replaced with a single door and several windows were covered over with brick or significantly reduced in size. Above the entrance, Deering painted “Burleson News” (Beard).
Life came to abrupt halt for R.G.K. Deering when his wife Elizabeth died of cancer in 1940. Elizabeth assisted at the newspaper, was a member of the Eumathian Club, and was described as possessing a beautiful singing voice. Deering took solace in their children, Robert (Bob), Winifred, and William (Bill). In the years ahead, Deering’s son Robert left for Texas A & M University. During World War II, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, serving as a glider pilot in Europe.
During World War II, the News reported on the fighting men of Burleson by passing along news from family members and friends. Patriotic symbols such as the eagle were printed in the upper corners of the front page. Following the war, the News participated in an effort to publish a book of local veterans entitled “Johnson County Veterans of World War II.”
R.G.K. Deering aided in the establishment of the Lion’s Club of Burleson, chartered December 13, 1945, and became the club’s first president. The newspaper building finally belonged to Deering in 1946. In 1948, he married Hazel Moore of Fort Worth. Before long, daughters Sharian and Alicia arrived. Like Elizabeth, Hazel became an assistant editor and helped in the shop (Deering).
As Burleson reinvented itself following World War II, Deering modernized the News with the purchase of a Miehle 00 Book Press and a Model 14 Mergenthaler Linotype. Since its modest beginning, the News had been set by hand in a tedious process which had changed little in four-hundred years. The press and Linotype allowed Deering to efficiently publish a cleaner, larger paper and diversify his printing business.
The staff at the News in the 1950s included a Fort Worth man named Frank, employed part-time as a typesetter and jack-of-all-trades, and two local kids, Ben (David) Hill Jr., and Paul Blackstock. Ethyl Faires, who set type on and off at the newspaper since 1906 with her brother-in-law Marvin Bockmon learned how to operate the Linotype, as did Deering’s youngest son Bill, who had grown up around the hot, loud equipment of his father’s shop.
Throughout the 1950s, Burleson and the News grew at an unparalleled rate. Burleson’s population of 795 in 1950 ballooned to 2,345 in 1960 (Maxwell). The News boasted about several civic organizations, including the Newcomer’s Club, Garden Club, and Eumathian Club. Deering’s newspaper fielded advertisements from dozens of local businesses and even a few from Crowley and Joshua. Nationally-syndicated cartoonist Al Smith’s “Jackie” comic strip appeared late in 1950 (Cartoonist). A contest to rename the News began late in 1958. Several suggestions were proposed, including The Burleson Banner. On 25 December 1958, the paper announced that Mrs. Boyd Roddy won for her suggestion of The Burleson Dispatcher; her prize was twenty-five dollars (Dispatcher). Highlights of the decade included the construction of Burleson’s first strip shopping center by W.N. “Newt” Wood, a new building to house the Farmers & Merchants State Bank, and a new Junior-Senior High School.
Beginning on 24 September 1959 and continuing for several months, the Dispatcher participated in a semi-weekly Merchants Appreciation Day. A festival-like atmosphere descended on downtown with raffles, food, and family fun. The newspaper also partnered with businesses like Hilley’s Drugstore to hide numbers in their ads which would win them five dollars. At the same time, the Newcomers Club was enlisted to sell subscriptions for the Dispatcher to new residents, and families moving to Burleson were featured in a short message each issue. Deering also began publishing a short column of news from the nearby town of Crowley. Humorous columns about Texan life from Boyd House and “Uncle Bud from Bethesda” made for livelier reading.
R.G.K. Deering died in 1973 at the age of 72. The young father who struggled to keep his family together in the Great Depression put his five children through college and became a respected leader in Burleson whose work with the Lion’s Club influenced the creation of the Burleson Area Chamber of Commerce. Although another newspaper, The Burleson Star, appeared in 1965 under the ownership of Wayne Hutson and Al White, Deering’s widow Hazel decided to continue the Dispatcher.
As offset lithography and computer-typesetting eclipsed letterpress printing, attention turned to the ancient paper and its colorful owner. When WFAA-TV reporter John Pronk visited the newspaper in the early ‘80s, he described the Dispatcher as “a one-woman newspaper.” The Cleburne Times-Review published an interview with her in 1983 where she is described as “owner, publisher, editor, reporter, circulation manager, ad exec, composing room foreman, pressman, folder, addresser, and newspaper carrier.” Asked to describe her editorial policy, Hazel said, “Good things that happen in a community are the type of things that should be printed. I see no need in printing a story that is not going to do anyone any good” (Wilson).
Perhaps the most poignant column in the Dispatcher during the 1970s and ‘80s was Lucille Bockmon’s “Looking Back with Lucy”. Lucille, eldest daughter of former editor Marvin Bockmon, assembled articles and tidbits from the News archives for her weekly musings. Through her column, Burleson received a slice of life about the times, and people, gone by.
Hazel Deering brought an end to The Burleson Dispatcher on 25 September 1985. In the final edition, Lucille Bockmon wrote, “The Burleson News was, for many years, the “News” of Burleson. It will be missed by many Burleson (and other) citizens who regret to see it closed.” In all the years Hazel and her husband published the paper, they never missed a single deadline, a rare feat in a challenging enterprise such as theirs (Beard). The town of fewer than eight hundred when R.G.K. Deering purchased the News in 1932 had grown to more than eleven thousand, and the demands of keeping pace with schools, businesses, crime, elections, state and national news, and competition from the Burleson Star eclipsed the abilities of the Dispatcher and Hazel Deering to keep up.
In the 30 September 1985 issue of the Burleson Star, reporter Terry Evans wrote, “A piece of Texas journalism’s history died Wednesday when the pages of the Burleson Dispatcher touched its hot-type press for the last time.” Evans quoted Hazel Deering: “I have enjoyed, and still enjoy, publishing. [...] Once someone gets into printing, printing gets into his blood and it’s hard to get it out.”
The Bockmon Family stayed with the Dispatcher to the end. Marvin Bockmon continued to find work with the paper until his death in 1948. His sister-in-law Ethyl Faires, a woman who never learned to drive but set type like the wind, passed away in 1975 at the age of eighty-six. Lucille, Marvin Bockmon’s daughter and writer of “Looking Back with Lucy,” died in 1993 at the age of eighty-eight.
Following the end of the Dispatcher, Hazel Deering retired to Jacksonville, Florida to live with her daughter Sharian, a professor at the University of North Florida. She died in 1995 and is buried alongside her husband at Burleson Memorial Park in the midst of Burleson’s pioneering spirits.
The rich history of print which began with W.B. Newton and The Burleson Banner continues today with the Burleson Star. The Dispatcher and the News are ingrained in the fabric of Burleson, a bulwark of a town on the move then and now.