Biography of Henry J. Calnan

Henry J. Calnan, publisher and editor of the Weekly Kansas Chief at Troy, had had an unusually varied experience even for a newspaper man. Since acquiring the Kansas Chief he had improved its influence and strengthened its organization and equipment in keeping with the dignity of the paper as the oldest journal under one continuous name in the State of Kansas.

The files of the Kansas Chief contain sixty complete volumes. The paper was founded in 1857 by Sol Miller at White Cloud, Kansas, and was first known as the White Cloud Chief. The paper was moved to Troy July 4, 1872, and subsequently absorbed the Doniphan County Republican, which was founded in 1868. Other papers were established in Kansas before the Chief but they were later merged with other papers or discontinned. As is told in the “History of Kansas Newspapers,” “Doniphan county in the early days was a veritable newspaper graveyard. Many papers were started during the territorial days. Every boomed town had a boom newspaper. Many of the towns were later abandoned and all the newspapers expired with the exception of the Chief. Mr. Miller found it hard at times to keep his paper going, but he was a game old warrior and stayed on in spite of hard times and opposition, and lived to see his newspaper enjoying permanent prosperity and a wide reputation.”

Mr. Calnan, who bought the Chief from Mrs. Sol Miller, widow of its founder, was born at Stoneham, Massachusetts, November 17, 1857, and by a coincidence his birth occurred in the same year as the birth of the Kansas Chief, the width of half a continent separating these two origins. James Calnan, fathor of the Kansas editor, was born in 1824. During his youth he had experience as a sailor on the high seas. Later he conducted a shoe factory at Stoneham, Massachusetts. He gave that up early in 1861 and enlisted in the Seventieth Massachusetts Infantry under Colonel Smith. He was in active service with his regiment three years, three months, and after that for two years had charge of the government store or supply depot in Boston. Leaving the military service, he returned to Stoneham and engaged in shoe manufacturing and also as a merchant at Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1868 he went West, locating on a farm near Moulton, Iowa. Henry J. Calnan was eleven years of age when the family made that removal to the West. In 1880 James Calnan came to Kansas and located in Marshall County, where he farmed a few years before his permanent retirement. He died at Vermillion, Kansas, in 1900. He was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic. James Calnan married Catherine Giblin, who was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1825, and died at Vermillion, Kansas, in 1909. She was the mother of eight children: John, a railroad man living at St. Joseph, Missouri; Mary, wife of Thomas Gregson, a machinist at Burlington, Iowa; Thomas, a railroad man, who died unmarried at Vermillion, Kansas, in 1908; Henry J.; Annie, who is unmarried and lives at El Paso, Texas; William, who was active in the railroad service until his death in a railroad accident at Dedham, Iowa, in 1914; Charles, in the real estate business and practicing law at Los Angeles, California; George B., a physician and now serving as city physician of El Paso, Texas.

The early education of Henry J. Calnan was acquired in the public schools of Stoneham, Massachusetts, and in other localities of that state and also at Moulton, Iowa. At Moulton he entered the printing office of the Moulton Independent and served a four years’ apprenticeship at the trade. He also had the advantage of two years in the Normal School of that place. As a journeyman printer he followed his trade at different places and in different offices, and for a time was connected with the Burlington Hawkeye, the paper of which the late Bob Burdette was at one time editor and where he made his reputation as a humorist. Mr. Calnan was also connected with the Des Moines Begister. He came to Marshall County, Kansas, with his parents, but subsequently went back to Burlington, Iowa, and spent another year on the Hawkeye.

Like several of his brothers, Mr. Calnan had experience as a railroad man. He became a locomotive fireman with the Burlington road, served three years and was promoted to engineer, and was in that service until the big strike of 1888. He then went with the Santa Fe, afterwards with the Missouri Pacific, and finally drifted down into Old Mexico and was an engineer for the Mexican National with a run between San Luis Potosi and Saltillo.

In 1894, having returned to Kansas, Mr. Calnan bought a newspaper at Powhattan in Brown County, and conducted that six years, after which he was editor of the Hiawatha Republican and for another year had some newspaper experience in Indian Territory. For six months he conducted the Headlight at Horton, Kansas, after which he bought the Weckly Kansas Chief from Mrs. Miller and had been in active control of that journal since April 1, 1904. His success in the management of the Chief is attributed by his friends to his powers of concentration and application to his work. Mr. Calnan both personally and through the columns of his paper is an able exponent of Kansas ideas and ideals and had never neglected an opportunity to spread information concerning the greatness of that commonwealth. Since assuming control of the Chief he had brought about many improvements in its plant and management and it is now probably one of the best equipped newspaper offices in the state. It is a republican paper, is the official paper of Doniphan County and circulates over that and surrounding counties. Its readers would make a fairly authoritative list of Doniphan County’s best citizens.

Mr. Calnan had never been lukewarm in the cause of the republican party. During the factional fight in that party in 1912 he never swerved from his original place and remained true to Mr. Taft and largely through the influence of his paper Douiphan County returned a majority for that candidate. For two years, in 1906-07, Mr. Calnan served as mayor of Troy.

He had been prospered in his business affairs, and besides his plant and newspaper he owned four business buildings on the Square and two dwellings which he rents. His own home is a beautiful and attractive place with grounds containing twelve acres but situated within the corporate limits on Center Street and within five blocks of the newspaper office. The house which was built in 1913, is modern in every way and was built for comfort and convenience. One feature which had attracted considerable notice among the townspeople is the garage, located under the porch, the cement floor of the porch and the brick walls that support it making a warm garage where radiators never freeze. Mr. Calnan had his place stocked with cows, hogs, chickens and turkeys, and raises enough alfalfa and corn to provide feed for all his livestock. It is an ideal combination of a farm home with the comforts and conveniences of a city residence.

Mr. Calnan is affiliated with Troy Lodge No. 55, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, and Atchison Lodge No. 647, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. He married at St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1895, Miss. Martha Swisher, daughter of J. M. and Mary (Wolf) Swisher. Her parents now reside with Mr. and Mrs. Calnan, her father being a retired stone mason. Mr. Calnan and wife have one child, Charles, who was born March 10, 1899, and is now in the high school.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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