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
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 contentold-timer recollections, reprints of newspaper
stories and excerpts from scarce or out-of-print booksgenerally
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 flawsa
line left out, a typo here and thereall 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 whileor
forget to number a page!”
That “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.
Six years after its first issue, Hunter’s magazine had only a thousand
subscribers. But they were dedicated readers, and after the Depression
“I 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
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
Meanwhile, Austin 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
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
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 nor anticipated.”
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.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" July
27, 2013 column