the fall of 1923, with the Old West still very much alive in the memory of many
who had lived it, a peregrinating newspaperman named J. Marvin Hunter started
a monthly magazine called Frontier Times.
The first issue appeared that
October. Hunter matched the typography of new the magazine to its subject, choosing
type fonts and a layout that gave it the appearance of a 19th century publication.
Vol. 1, No. 1 offered 13 stories ranging from a piece on Texas
Ranger John Coffee Hays to an article on the folklore of madstones. As its
masthead proclaimed, the magazine would explore “frontier history, border tragedy,
and pioneer achievement.”
With occasional typographical errors and some
stories that needed better editing, Hunter’s yellow-covered monthly was not flawless.
Even so, its content – old-timer recollections, reprints of newspaper stories
and excerpts from scarce or out-of-print books -- generally made up for any editorial
lapses. Mostly a one-man operation, the magazine was a labor of love.
“After you read a few issues,” a future publisher of the magazine would write,
“you’ll get to where you even treasure the flaws–a line left out, a typo here
and there–all human failings by a man who lacked the capital to hire enough help.
Hunter drew his own covers, set his own type, ran them through the press, and
mailed them. At 2 a.m. in a little western town with nobody still awake but a
sleep-eyed publisher and a coyote or two up on the hill, who wouldn’t pick up
the wrong piece of type once in a while–or forget to number a page!”
“little western town” was the Hill
Country community of Bandera,
where Hunter settled in 1921 after publishing weekly newspapers all over West
Texas as well as a few sheets in Arizona and New Mexico. In all, his name had
appeared on the masthead of 16 newspapers at various times, but the Bandera New
Era (which he published from 1921 to 1935) and later the Bandera Bulletin (1945
until his death in 1957) were his two longest-running newspapers.
years after its first issue, Hunter’s magazine had only a thousand subscribers.
But they were dedicated readers, and after the Depression readership increased.
claim that it is the only magazine of its kind in the world,” Hunter said in an
interview with the Houston Chronicle published Feb. 2, 1929. “The contents are
more thrilling than the product of modern authors who write ‘wild and wooly western
stuff. Frontier Times prints...the real frontier history, untainted with fiction.”
Among his subscribers, the publisher continued, were the “leading schools, colleges
and universities, libraries and prominent individuals. . . . They all tell me
that I am doing a great work, and I hope I am.”
He had reason to wonder.
Frontier Times was Hunter’s third try at publishing a non-fiction Western magazine.
The first was the short-lived Hunter’s Magazine (1910-), followed by Hunter’s
Frontier Magazine in 1916.
“Frontier history has always been my hobby,”
Hunter told the Houston newspaper. “My mission in life is to preserve this history.”
For nearly thirty years, Hunter “got out” (to use the language of the
lead type days) his monthly magazine. In 1952, his son, J. Marvin Hunter Jr.,
took over. A year later, the magazine went quarterly and in 1954, only one issue
appeared. In all, the Hunters published 344 issues.
writer and magazine publisher Joe Austell Small started a magazine called True
West. His publication was similar to Frontier Times in that it featured authentic
stories of the old west, but there were major differences. True West hit the newstands
in a standard 8.5- by 11-inch format with attractive four-color covers and black
and white drawings and photographs inside. With articles by name writers like
Walt Coburn, J. Frank Dobie, Fred Gipson and Walter Prescott Webb, Small’s magazine
quickly caught on.
In the fall of 1955, Small bought Frontier Times. He
initially suspended publication of the magazine, but brought it back to life as
a quarterly in the winter of 1957. Fueled by quality writing, good editing and
the boom in television Westerns, Small’s publications grew in circulation and
developed a national reputation that spawned several imitators.
Small’s success did not make him reluctant to try new things. In 1972, he decided
to begin reprinting the early issues of Hunter’s Frontier Times.
“We know people who would pay $100 for certain single copies of the originals!”
proclaimed a True West house ad announcing the reprint series. “In these extremely
rare copies of a magazine conceived a half-century ago you can relive the Old
West in accounts written by actual participants in the daily struggle with Indians,
outlaws, and forces of nature which people entering the West neither understood
Small continued with the monthly reprints of Hunter’s
magazine as well as quarterly publication of new issues of Frontier Times until
1979, when he sold his magazines and retired.
Cox - July 27, 2013 column
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