Rival Editors Duel After Insults Exchanged - A Title Essay Series

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Katie Adkins

Project Director, Arkansas Digital Newspaper Project (ADNP)

Wednesday, September 06th 2023
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This is the first of an ongoing series of blogs where we focus on some of the most interesting Arkansas newspapers digitized as part of the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP). For each newspaper included in the project, our team researches the history of the paper and the people who worked to create it. These stories are worth retelling; this series will highlight some of our favorites.

“Rival Editors Duel After Insults Exchanged”

Image of Arkansas Gazette editor Benjamin John Borden.

The Arkansas Banner was a Little Rock newspaper published from 1843-1852. The origins of the paper are enmeshed with the sale of another Little Rock newspaper, the Arkansas State Gazette, in 1843. The Gazette, a Democratic paper, was sold to Benjamin J. Borden, a Whig supporter. Because of his political association with the Whig party the newspaper naturally shifted its affiliation from Democratic to Whig, creating a vacancy for a Democratic paper in Little Rock. The Governor at the time, Democrat Archibald Yell, pushed for the creation of a new paper to act as a partisan organ for the Democratic party. And so, the Arkansas Banner was born.

Dr. Solon Borland, a Virginia-born onetime physician with a reputation as a stalwart of the Democratic party and a fierce voice in the Memphis newspaper business, was hired to lead the paper (Click here to read 1843 article). As soon as Borland arrived in town to take charge of the Banner, he and Borden began exchanging what started as gentle political jabs before becoming personal insults. The December 2, 1843 issue of the Banner introduced Borland as the new editor of the paper; a week later, Gazette editor Borden published a dismissive but genial welcome to the newcomer:

"Dr. Borland, formerly of Memphis, Tennessee, and more recently, from Louisville, Ky., has taken charge of the Arkansas Banner. Since the central committee found it necessary to leave the State in search of an Editor, we are gratified that their choice has fallen upon so accomplished a gentleman as Dr. Borland. He comes among us with a high reputation, which his address, classical in its style, and manly in the feelings it displays, fully sustains. We trust that the political defeat which awaits him and his cause, in 1844, may not sour his temper, or render him dissatisfied with his new home. His society we hope to enjoy for many years; and we can assure him that his literary taste will be none the less relished, because he is our political opponent. He has our best wishes for his individual prosperity."

Image of Dr. Solon Borland, editor of the Arkansas Banner. Photography from the Library of Congress
Daguerreotype collection, photographed by Matthew Benjamin Brady.

Borland’s response to Borden, as published in the Banner:

"Our grateful acknowledgements are richly due, and as freely tendered, to Mr. Borden, for the high compliment, and kind greeting, with which he hails our debut. We cordially reciprocate his good wishes; and use the occasion to assure him that, awarding to others the same honesty of purpose which actuates ourself, we never allow differences of political opinion, nor even the earnestness of party strife, to exercise any unfriendly influence over our personal feelings or social relations.

"As to the “political defeat,” of which he prophecies, it presents no 'vinegar aspect' to us. If our 'milk of human kindness' remain uncurdled until that defeat befal (sic) our cause, we have a lease upon sweet temper, for life; while even recent elections, which are but a gentle prelude to what is coming, have already drenched him, and his party, with something worse than 'vinegar and gall.'”

The jesting tone in this response seems to have struck a nerve: The January 30, 1844 Banner announced that “The difficulty between Dr. S. Borland and B. J. Borden Esq., Editors of the Arkansas Banner and Arkansas Gazette, has been honorably and satisfactorily adjusted, by the voluntary intermediation of their mutual friends.”

Spoiler alert – it was not.

Example of insults exchanged from the December 16, 1843 issue of the Arkansas Banner.

The back and forth between the editors continued despite their mutual friends’ best efforts until the insults went too far and became too personal. On May 7, 1844, less than six months after the first print sallies were hurled, Gazette editor Borden challenged Borland to a duel. Because dueling was illegal in Arkansas by that time, the two men met in Indian Territory, across the border from Ft. Smith, AR. According to a report in the Arkansas Intelligencer on May 11, 1844,

"Our brethren of the pen, Mr. Borden of the “Gazette” and Dr. Borland of the “Banner” on Tuesday last met and fought on Cherokee ground, opposite Fort Smith, at twelve paces distant.
Both displayed unwavering coolness, throughout the trial. Mr. Borden, who was the challenger, fought in his customary dress, but Dr. Borland threw off his outward garments. Mr. Borden’s pistol first fired, the ball falling short of his antagonist, while the latter’s fire took effect in Borden’s person, striking the breast, passed through the flesh and made but a comparatively slight wound."

Guided, perhaps by a guilty conscience or his oath as a physician to “first, do no harm,” Borland treated Borden’s gunshot wound and the Gazette’s editor survived the ordeal. In fact, the two editors became close friends as a result. Borland continued as editor of the Banner until the Mexican-American war began. He was elected major of the Arkansas Mounted Infantry Regiment and left for Mexico in 1846. According to his obituary (see below), Borden continued as editor of the Gazette until around 1849 when he retired from the newspaper profession and worked in education and, later, the ministry.

Obituary for Benjamin Borden, editor of the Arkansas Gazette from 1843-1849. The duel
between Borden and rival newspaper editor, Dr. Solon Borland was included in this obituary.

The local Democratic Party appointed Archibald Hamilton Rutherford to run the Banner after Borland left. This appointment lasted only a year, until 1846. Rutherford went on to become an elected official with the Arkansas State Legislature for several terms and he was appointed deputy clerk of the United States court of Little Rock.

Rutherford was replaced by Lambert Jeffrey Reardon who hired a junior editor, Lambert A. Whitley. Like his predecessor, the two editors became involved in insulting editors of other newspapers. And, as with Borland, this led to physical fights between editors. Ironically, Borland happened to be passing when one such fight broke out. Having learned from his experience, he intervened to prevent Reardon from shooting his opponent.

Junior editor Whitley eventually took control of the Banner and in 1851 he added “Democratic” to the title. The paper was sold a year later and became The True Democrat (1852-1857).

Article published in the Arkansas Banner, on May 7, 1845, exactly one year to the day that Borland and Borden dueled.

To read the full essay and browse issues of the newspaper, visit https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82007022/.

Chronicling America is a free online repository of historic newspapers, chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. Chronicling America is made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and under the management of the Library of Congress. The Arkansas State Archives has been state-partner in the National Digital Newspaper Program since 2017.

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