Juvenile listeners to the 1950s Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok radio series heard at least one or two episodes suggest that some Western heroes were journalists, not just gun-fighters.
And, while the program’s introduction sings the praises of “a few strong fearless men like Wild Bill Hickok” in bringing law and order to the frontier, the new hero in this episode is a woman. The plot of this 1951 story (“Press for Justice“) focuses on a brave newspaper editor and her spunky young son, putting up a fight for clean government.
“It’s the duty of a newspaper to tell people folks the truth… It’s sure time somebody told them,” the editor declares early in the story.
Editor “Mrs. Crawford” (her first name is never given) runs the Horizon City Banner with her son, Johnny, who delivers the paper around town and knows how to run proofs off the press.
As the story begins, the widow Crawford is carrying on the paper started by her late husband, a not uncommon theme in both adult and juvenile westerns — or in American newspaper history from colonial times. She has called in Wild Bill Hickok, a U.S. marshall, to supervise the town election, and has written a page-one editorial calling the current mayor a “gambler, gunman, a man devoid of every decent instinct.”
“The facts are all here. Read them, and then decide,” her editorial declares. The program’s young listeners don’t hear much about reporting in this story, but at least the paper claims to have facts along with its reform editorials.
The simplified “white hats vs. black hats” children’s adventure series had little or nothing to do with the historic Wild Bill Hickock (1837-1876), a gunfighter who served as marshal in several Kansas towns among his adventures, and was famously shot to death during a poker game in Deadwood in the Dakota Territories.
In this episode, as you might expect, the radio sound-effects soon include type being smashed and thrown on the floor by the corrupt mayor’s thugs, but (also as you might expect) Wild Bill and Jingles arrive just in time. They also show up later, when there is an attempt to burn down the printshop just as it finishes printing the election ballots.
The Internet Archive has six pages of episodes of the Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok series, which starred Guy Madison and Andy Devine as the marshall and his plump deputy. The half-hour program was recorded in Hollywood radio studios during the run of stars’ 1951-1958 television show of the same name.
The “Press for Justice” episode was pointed out to me by another Old Time Radio fan on Twitter. From the episode titles, I don’t see many other hints at newspaper-centered story lines, although there is a communication-themed “Wires to the West” from 1954, with troublemakers trying to block the progress of the telegraph, and another a few weeks later called “The Missing Reporter.” I’ll give that a listen next…
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