If it be true that death loves a shining mark, the invincible archer
found the target he delights in when, on March 15, 1911, his inevitable
shaft pierced the armor of the late John Harris Barton, long widely and
favorably known as one of the most capable, versatile, independent and
resourceful newspaper men in Southern Illinois. His life was an open book to
the people of Carbondale, among whom he lived and labored so long, and it
may seem to some of them an unnecessary task to chronicle it briefly here.
But a work of the character of this, which is designed as a perpetual record
of what the builders and makers of the city and county have attempted and
what they have achieved, would be incomplete without some account of his
contributions to the efforts made and the results accomplished.
John H. Barton was born in West Carlisle, Coshocton county, Ohio, on January 2, 1837, and began his education in the district schools. Their course of training and instruction was supplemented in his case by an attendance of three years at an excellent academy in West Bedford in his native state. At the age of fifteen years he began to learn the printing trade under Joseph Medill, late of the Chicago Tribune, who was at that time editor and publisher of the Democratic-Whig of Coshocton, Ohio. Afterward he passed two years in printing offices in Zanesville, where he acquired a thorough mastery of the trade. During 1858, 1859 and 1860, like many other men of his craft, he wandered from place to place, and worked in many of the large printing offices of the west and south, in some of which he served as superintendent or foreman. The war cloud of sectional strife was then darkening on the horizon, and in October, 1860, Mr. Barton determined to halt on the northern side of the sectional line until after the presidential election of that year.
He secured remunerative employment at Cairo, and a few months later went from that city to Anna, where he took employment under A. H. Marschalk in the publication of the Union Democrat. But his stay in Anna was brief. Sterner duties than any pertaining to the font and the case required his attention. The war cloud broke, and the governor of the state issued a call for volunteers to aid in preserving the completeness and integrity of the Union. Mr. Barton had considerable knowledge of military affairs, and he at once responded to the call by recruiting a company in Union and Jackson counties, which, on May 19, 1861, was mustered into the service of the United States as Company I, Eighteenth Illinois Infantry, of which he was in partial command as first lieutenant.
On November 17, 1861, he resigned this position to accept on the following day a lieutenancy in the secret service, offered him by General Grant on the recommendation of General John A. McClernand. He was assigned to duty in Cairo, and there he remained until July 1, 1865, when he was mustered out of the army. His ruling passion for journalism was strong with him, however, even during his military life. While living in Cairo he was associated for a time with M. B. Harrell on the Cairo Gazette, and afterward founded the Cairo Daily News, which he eventually sold to a stock company.
Mr. Barton was accustomed to date the beginning of his real newspaper life with the day when he and his brother, David L. Barton, purchased the New Era, and removed to Carbondale. This was on September 12, 1866, and inside of one year the paper had secured a wide circulation and risen to great influence in the political affairs of the county. General John A. Logan was its friend, and his friendship was a great bulwark of strength and of pronounced advantage in many ways. Through him Mr. Barton came into acquaintance and close touch with all the leading Republicans of Illinois of that period.
In 1872 the position of postmaster of Carbondale was offered to him, and when he decided to accept it he sold the New Era to Rev. Andrew Luce, who rebaptized it as the Carbondale Observer, and conducted it to its ruin, running it hard up on the shoals of bankruptcy in less than two years. The discredited sheet was then passed from hand to hand until 1883, when it again became the property of the man who had made it strong and influential, and he once more breathed into it the breath of vigorous and productive life.
Mr. Barton's term as postmaster expired in 1876, and as he had not found the duties of the position congenial, he did not apply for re-appointment. On his recommendation Captain Simeon Walker became his successor, and he experienced great relief in freedom from the cares and responsibilities of official life. For two years thereafter he worked as a journeyman printer in Sedalia, Missouri, and Indianapolis, Indiana, while waiting for another newspaper opening in Carbondale. This came on January 1, 1878, when the Carbondale Free Press was established. "With his strong hand on the helm and his clear head directing the course of its problematical voyage on the uncertain sea of journalism the paper very soon regained the patronage and power that had been transferred to Mr. Luce five years before and frittered away and lost by that gentleman.
In April, 1892, Mr. Barton's health broke down, and he sold the business of the Free Press to W. H. Hubbard, who had entered the journalistic field a few months previous. Then, on January 1, 1893, the Southern Illinois Herald, which had been living a precarious life for six months, was purchased by new owners, and by them Mr. Barton was employed as editor and business manager. In November, 1894, he became its editor and proprietor, and he remained in charge of it, wrote its editorials and directed its policy until August, 1910, when he sold the plant and retired altogether from the domain of journalism. In the meantime, from 1896 to 1900, he was state expert printer, but during this period continued to edit and publish his paper.
As an editor and writer Mr. Barton was forceful, plain and sometimes even blunt. But he was never evasive or equivocal, nor did he ever try to hide or soften the truth with the flowers of rhetoric. He was a man of strong convictions and outspoken in the expression of them trenchant to the utmost keenness when occasion required it, but overflowing with genuine human kindness at all other times. While a Republican in political faith, he was not always in full accord with his party, and he always fought corruption in high places fearlessly and unmercifully, no matter what party was guilty of it, or who was its beneficiary.
As a citizen he was progressive, and at all times an earnest and active supporter of everything that would contribute to the welfare and prosperity of Carbondale and Jackson county. Not only did he use his influence as an editor and the power of his paper on the side of all worthy projects for the improvement of this locality, but he contributed liberally of his means to help them along. The fraternal life of the community appealed strongly to him as replete with benefits in many ways, and he gave it attention and service as a member of Shekinah Lodge, No. 241, Carbondale, from October 11, 1866, when he was raised to the degree of Master Mason before its altar, until his death, serving it as worshipful master two terms. He also belonged to Reynolds Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, and to John T. Lawrence Post, Grand Army of the Republic in Carbondale.
In 1863 Mr. Barton was united in marriage with Miss Joanna Meagher. They became the parents of six children, David, John Logan, Flora, Eugene, Josie and Richard. David lives in Washington, D. C. John Logan is a resident of Winona, Mississippi. Flora died about eighteen years ago, in 1893. Josie, the wife of F. C. Goodnow, has her home at Salem, Illinois, and Eugene and Richard are in the Philippines. The father died, as has been stated, on March 15, 1911, after an acute illness of only three days, although he had long been in failing health. His remains were laid to rest in Oakland cemetery with every testimonial of esteem the community could bestow upon him, and amid manifestations of universal grief.
Extracted 11 Nov 2018 by Norma Hass from 1912 A History of Southern Illinois, by George W. Smith, volume 3, pages 1697-1699.
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