Lawyer, newspaperman brought typewriter to Supreme Court, Missourian to MU
by Michelle Brooks, reprinted from the Jefferson City News Tribune
A Jefferson City newspaperman is credited with starting the student newspaper at the University of Missouri- Columbia, as well as owning one of the most envied homes in the late part of the 19th century.
Henry Watkins Ewing was born in Ray County, then his family moved to Jefferson City when his father served as secretary of state and attorney general before being elected a Supreme Court judge. He was named for his mother’s brother, who was governor of Louisiana.
While at the University of Missouri, Henry Ewing teamed up with his roommate Eugene Field, along with James Cooney and Tenny Lewis to publish the first student newspaper in 1870. Ewing was the first managing editor of what is today’s Columbia Missourian, with an editorial staff of up to 36. His chief duty at the time was to prevent articles attacking faculty.
They “were the leaders of a brilliant crowd of young men who made gay both night and day,” said the St. Joseph Gazette. Field, known as a practical joker, later was a correspondent for the St. Louis and Kansas City newspapers often visiting the Capital City in the 1870s and 1880s. A plaque in the 100 block of Madison Street remembers the poet’s connection to Jefferson City.
Ewing graduated as valedictorian of the university class of 1872. The next year, he was admitted to the bar, and then his father, Ephraim Ewing Sr., died. To help support his widowed and orphaned family, Henry Ewing was elected clerk of the Missouri Supreme Court, which had only recently been consolidated in Jefferson City, in 1873. He continued in that position for 18 years.
“The court reasoned that they could in no better way attest their friendship for their late associate than to give his son the vacant clerkship, especially since that son was sober, upright, remarkably studious and of considerable attainment in the law,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said.
Ewing had been engrossing clerk for the Senate. He soon made his own mark at the court, known for his handsome dress and unusual shrewdness for his age. He is credited with installing typewriters in the Supreme Court clerk’s office and, at his own expense, published pocket dockets for the lawyers.
Simultaneously, Ewing began buying interest in the Tribune Printing Company in 1881 and by 1883 had bought controlling interest. During his 15 years in control, the weekly Jefferson City Tribune served as the state’s official newspaper, and he served as president of the Missouri Press Association 1896-97.
His brother, Ephraim Brevard Ewing Jr., worked in Henry Ewing’s Supreme Court office before being appointed the consul to Mexico City in 1883. He soon returned as editor and business manager for his brother’s newspaper, spending much of his time in Washington, D.C.
The People’s Tribune was opened in 1865 by C.J. Corwin, who sold in 1866 to Joseph Regan, whose widow sold to James Carter in 1877. After the latter’s death, the Tribune Printing Company was formed in 1881, and the Ewings renamed it the Jefferson City Tribune.
In the community, Henry Ewing was involved with the Commercial Club, the Jefferson City Bridge and Transit Company, Exchange Bank, the Democratic Club and local theater.
Henry and his wife, Mattie (Chappell), celebrated in 1880 the birth of a daughter, who was born the same hour as Spanish King Alfonso’s daughter. Ewing sent a letter congratulating the royal house on an heiress and in response, King Alfonso sent an engraved silver cup.
In 1883, the Ewings moved into a uniquely-designed home, built by H. Clay Ewing about 1867. The castellated Gothic-style home sat at the center of the block, where StoneBridge Senior Living is today at 1024 Adams St. It had 16 rooms and a 40-feet tall tower on the northeast corner.
The home was the centerpiece of the Woodcrest subdivision, which grew up around it after 1905, when G.A. Fischer, Charles Hough and Sam B. Cook incorporated the Schoenberg Land Company. The home was given the address of 314 Franklin St. in 1908, when the home was included in the city limits.
Ewing met an untimely death in 1898 while being treated at a sanitarium in Michigan. He is buried in the state cemetery plot inside Woodland-Old City Cemetery. Mattie and their four children moved to Kansas City, and E.W. Stephens bought the Tribune Company.
Congressman Dorsey and Florida Lee “Floy” Shackleford bought the magnificent home in 1901. Shackleford represented the 8th district from 1899-1919.
Of Ewing, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, he “has accomplished more for himself and his family than any other Missourian under similar circumstances … (was a) clever writer and good businessman.”
“His long and prominent association with capital society has given him polished manners and he is always at ease. His only peculiarity is an assumption of absent-mindedness that sometimes attacks him in the midst of a conversation.”
Michelle Brooks is a former reporter with the Jefferson City News Tribune. This story comes from her next book with the History Press, “Lost Jefferson City,” which should release in the spring.