I believe John D. Fitzgerald was an optimist. I believe, that like most of us, he had a vision for a perfect world. One where all the strange puzzle pieces fit together cohesively leaving a radiant horizon across life. Unlike the most of us, he got to create that masterpiece life in the books he wrote. Each character and experience in the books were culled from lives and experiences he had been privy to. From those raw materials he crafted a world he and readers would love forever.
One of his greatest creations was Papa as the Adenville Advocate editor. In real life, Papa was many things, but he was not the Advocate editor. That job went to multiple men over multiple years. However, the role the Advocate played in the books and real life was the same - it told the story of the town, whether it was Adenville or Price, and the people of the day. In Price's history, the best personality it highlighted was its longest running editor and captioner of the papers side moniker "the great moral and religious", one R.W. Crockett.
The Eastern Utah Advocate began its tumultuous journey on February 7, 1895. For thirty years before its final merger with the Sun-Advocate it was the pulse of the rip snorting community of Price, Utah. It had two mergers, six name changes, twenty editors, and multiple sheriff auctions of its license.
The original editors were an S.H. Brownlee and Dexter Smith. They were new comers to Price. In October 1895, they were both arrested for arson.
They set their own office on fire, hoping to get money from the Democratic campaign fund. Their gamble failed. They lost the case and were jailed for their efforts.
Six months later, Brownlee escaped both jail and the bondsman for greener, safer pastures. The license was up for auction.
Great Moral & Religious?
Three years later R.W. Crockett claimed the paper as his own. (See above photo) He proudly nicknamed it "the great moral and religious". With such a prestigious nickname, one would assume it would be above repute. However, Mr. Crockett lived his own version of the nickname.
His years as editor were rife with their own conflict. Price has always been a liberal town. During Utah's growing years newspapers were the swayers of public opinion. Crockett wielded his opinion boldly. He had no fear behind his print. Though small papers tried to compete with him they barely lasted and never dented his efforts. Eventually the Carbon County News came along and held ground. Soon the battle of the editors took place on each papers page.
"This scheme of things led to bitter fights, physical fights, using revolvers, fists, and horsewhips."
In time the two papers would part ways. The News Advocate would eventually morph one more time becoming the Sun-Advocate. While the Carbon County News retains its status today. However, before those papers moved along, R.W. Crockett had a few more scores to settle.
Power of the Press?
His largest battle was with some of the most prominent men in Price, including Dr. F.F. Fisk, J.M. Whitmore, and Alpha Ballinger.
"Whenever he had the opportunity, he denounced them in his newspaper. Sarcasm turned to animosity in April 1912 when an intoxicated Crockett met Fisk in front of the Savoy Hotel."
Crockett insulted Fisk, who immediately attacked Crockett, hitting him in the face. During the altercation Crockett threatened to shoot Fisk. The threat was real: officers relieved Crockett of a handgun and sent him to jail.
That incident wasn't enough for Crockett. Two and a half years later, near the end of December 1915, Crockett attacked Alpha Ballinger. Or Ballinger attacked Crockett. Well maybe both. On the day of the attacks Ballinger ran into Crockett.
Alpha Ballinger, who had been verbally attacked in Crockett's newspaper and knew of Crockett's attack on Dr. Fisk, assaulted Crockett when it appeared to him that Crockett was making a play for a gun in his coat pocket.
The two men brawled with Ballinger holding the lead. A local bystander broke up the brawl by pulling Ballinger off from Crocket. But,
Crockett pulled a knife, cutting Ballinger in the abdomen.
Ballinger lived. Yet, the fear and resentment he had for Crockett remained with him for the rest of his life. With Ballinger going so far as to state,
He feared having Crockett's newspaper in his house.
History Per Se - John's Choice
Fast forward to 1955. A former newspaper journalist, John D. Fitzgerald, sits down to craft a heritage story. As a writer and reader, he knew the impact newspapers had on the world. For centuries they were as real a character as any person could be. He had multiple options for presenting the power of the press. When it came to it, he chose the man he looked up to most to play that role. His dad.
Papa was in real life one of the noblest men in Price. He rarely gets much credit; his son found a way to do what historians wouldn't. For all of us Papa was the real editor of "the great moral & religious." Thanks John D. for bringing it all together.
A History of the Price, Utah Sun Advocate, May Allred, June 1963
Price: City of Diversity, Ronald G. Watt, 1966