Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Because the settlement of the Great Plains coincided with a period of heavy immigration to the United States, the immigrant press held a prominent position in the region. One of the primary roles played by immigrant newspapers was to educate the newly arrived. To accomplish this, the immigrant papers were initially printed in the native language of the target audience. Later, as immigrants learned to speak English, some papers abandoned the native language and converted to English. Others printed in both languages, and one, Die Staatspresse, was trilingual, printing in English, German, and Norwegian. The papers provided information about the local community, including the culture, economy, and government. News was reported on the national and international levels, especially targeting the immigrants' homeland. Some papers even sent reporters to Europe to gather information firsthand. It was also common for fiction and poetry to be included in the papers. Examples of these broad-based papers are Den Danske Pionner, a Danish paper published in Omaha, and the Dakota Freie Presse, a German paper published in a variety of locations in the Dakotas and Minnesota.

Other papers served the interests of particular groups. Papers for fraternal organizations, church groups, labor unions, and political parties were published to provide specific information for a relatively narrow audience. The Slovonic Benevolent Society of Texas, for example, published the Vestnik every week in West, Texas. The Mennonite was published for the Mennonites who lived near Newton, Kansas. The monthly Katolicky Delnick was published in Dodge, Nebraska, and, as its title suggests, it served the Czech Catholic workman. Also providing religious information was the Ukrainski Visti, serving Ukrainian immigrants in and around Edmonton, Alberta.

The impact immigrant newspapers had on the lives of their readers was twofold. First, the papers aided assimilation into the society and culture of the United States. They provided information that helped immigrants adjust to their new life and to fit in. However, the papers also slowed assimilation. By supplying information in the native language, the papers provided a means for the immigrant to live successfully in the United States with little or no English. In the early twentieth century, for example, the small Kaposvar Colony in Saskatchewan supported a Hungarian-language paper. Not only did the paper provide information in Hungarian, but it was also an advocate for cultural preservation issues such as Hungarian schools with Hungarian teachers to instruct in their native tongue. Some papers helped the ethnic community to grow. In his paper, Pokrok Zapadu, Omaha resident John Rosicky encouraged Czechs in Europe to immigrate to Omaha and join the thriving Czech community there. Dr. Friedrich Renner, editor of the Nebraska Deutsche Zeitung, declared that the goal of his paper was to spread the news of a territory where there was good land and other employment opportunities. He mailed copies of each issue to Germany, Austria, Alsace, and Lorraine.

Immigrant papers varied greatly in size, frequency of publication, location of publication, circulation, and longevity. They ranged from single page to multipage, from daily to monthly, and from a few hundred subscribers to several thousand. Den Danske Pionner, for example, was the largest of all Danish American weeklies, with a mailing list of 40,000 and an estimated readership of 100,000. Some newspapers were published outside the Plains but had wide circulation within the region. Others originated in communities on the Plains. Many of these were published in the larger communities on the periphery of the region, such as Omaha and Denver. Smaller towns, however, also played a part in the immigrant press. Some supported small papers, often with short life spans. The Kansas Stats Tiding, for example, survived for only one year in the Swedish settlement of Lindsborg, Kansas. Other small towns such as West, Texas, supported more than one paper, some of which were published well into the twentieth century.

Immigrant newspapers in the twenty-first century serve two audiences. Papers established in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are read primarily by the descendants of the original subscribers and those who are interested in maintaining their cultural heritage. Many of these papers have converted to English. The Western News, for example, began publishing in Swedish in 1888. In 1941 the newspaper converted to a duallanguage format (English and Swedish), a practice it continues today. A few papers still publish in the native language. Der Staats-Anzeiger, begun in 1906, continues to publish weekly in German from its Bismarck, North Dakota, office. In Omaha, the American Citizen still publishes in Italian. New papers have emerged, serving a second audience of more recent immigrants to the Plains. Viltis, for example, has been published in Denver since 1942 for the Lithuanian population. The weekly Rocky Mountain Jiho has published in both English and Japanese since 1962. There are also numerous papers serving the Latino populations of the Central and Southern Plains, although many are published in towns lying just outside the boundaries of the region.

Kathleen L. Fimple Wayne, Nebraska

Park, Robert E. The Immigrant Press and Its Control. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1922.

Wynar, Lubomys R., and Anna T. Wynar. Encyclopedic Directory of Ethnic Newspapers and Periodicals in the United States. Littleton CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1976.

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