The following article is reprinted from the February 6, 1944 issue of the Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock Arkansas and was written by Walter M. Ebel. See Sketch No. 38.
Although ten years have passed since the "Arkansas Thomas Cat" uttered its last but not final "meow", its publisher, editor, and as he referred to himself, "pastor", Jefferson Davis OíRear, maintains it has not even in those then years ended the first of its traditional seven lives. There is no telling, opines the "pastor", when the Thomas Cat may again appear on the journalistic horizon, prepared to fight and howl its way back to former nation-wide prestige and glory.
Notwhistanding the long lapse in publication, scarcely a day passes without OíRear receives inquiries about and subscriptions for the little magazine.
there have been many unique, outstanding and noted characters in the world of journalism. In the great Southwest, a decade ago none was followed with more interest than Jefferson Davis OíRear .
Today at the grand old age of 79 -- he will be 80 next July -- OíRear gives his attention to a large rooming house at 450 Prospect Avenue and a chain of adjacent cottages. he has his office and apartments in the rooming house. The acquisition of this property proves the Thomas Cat did not "waste its sweetness on the desert air." It verifies, too, the truth of a bit of ancient repertorial philosophy pasted on the wall of many a city room, to wit: "A reporter is one who writes. A publisher is one who makes the money!"
It was at 450 Prospect Avenue that we found our friend of more than 25 years. He was fumbling through the musty, dusty files of his idol, old issues of the Thomas Cat, and brought forth a copy of the vintage of 1890, one year after he arrived in Hot Springs. That indicates this particular "pastor" has been a resident of the "Valley of Vapors" for 55 years.
His office would not win a blue ribbon for orderly arrangement and simplicity. For that matter, does any editorís sanctum reflect them? Donít imagine, however, that OíRear cannot instantly put his hand on his treasures, regardless of where he has secreted them.
Treasures, did we say? Out of pigeon holes, from under his desk, from innumerable shelves, a trunk for good measure and a traveling bag thrown in for luck, the "pastor" brought forth personal letters from President McKinley, the fighting Teddy Roosevelt and the more easy-going Harding. All of them had read and appreciated some witty reference the Thomas Cat had made of them.
Then there were autographed photos of senators, congressmen, governors; stars of the theatrical world -- all of these before the movies -- and men prominent in the world of finance, industry, science, and letters. All of them had heard of the Thomas Cat and its editor; many were his personal friends. Among writers as Opie Read, who had numerous times enjoyed the hospitality of OíRear and the editorial office of the Thomas Cat.
On his desk is probably the first typewriter the Oliver Company manufactured. It has taken terrific punishment and is now decidedly antique as typewriters go. When in a state of collapse OíRear said he "wired it for sound". Now wires and string hold its two ancient upright towers together so their keys can respond to his touch.
The OíRear check book was opened. We noted a statement in red ink, not indicative, however, of financial status. On each check the "pastor" had printed in red ink this admonition: "Donít try to raise money by rasing twenties to fifties."
"You see," he explained, "friend once hiked one of my checks. I love my friends. To save them further embarrassment I had that printed on my checks."
OíRear is a native of Mount Sterling, Kentucky, born July 17, 1864. Early in life he developed a "yen" to emulate Napoleon. His closest friend was the son of his familyís spiritual adviser. Napoleon, to young OíRear, represented the outstanding "big shot" in history, and the youthful schoolboy imagined himself a crusader, with the sole objective to do a little history-making, too.
Mrs. and Mr. OíRear and the kind parson and his wife awoke one morning to learn about bother of their sons having departed for parts unknown. Weeks later the pair turned up in Venezuela. They had heard the natives of that South American country were not getting a square deal. Venezuela offered a choice filed for real Napoleonic effort.
OíRear said they got off to a good start. he declared that ever since David was given the boot by Saul and gathered unto himself those in distress, in debt and discontented, it has been a cinch to surround oneís self with the same class, and Venezuela was no exception. The juvenile "Corsican" and his aide-de-camp for a time attracted a lot of attention.
"Our good efforts, however, didnít pan out as we hoped," admitted OíRear. "we managed to stir up a lot of trouble, but constituted authority held the best hand. One day we were in a boat on the waters of the old Pacific. A tramp steamer picked us up. We went to sleep and woke up in San Francisco."
Years later OíRear turned up in the office of the Picayune, Appleton, Mo.; later he became owner of the Baner in Brownington, same state. Then he wished his literary talents on Butler, Mo., and Kansas City, and in 1889 he got is first view of "Bath House Row". He was so impressed he has been here ever since.
OíRearís Thomas Cat made its appearance in Hot Springs about the time the "gay 90ís extended a cordial invitation to the people of the nation to lay aside their troubles and tribulations and have a good time.
Just take a look at the picture of the cover page of the Thomas Cat and one can understand why it attracted more than passing notice and enjoyed nationwide circulation.
The "masthead" announced without blush that it was "A journalistic highball run by a heathen." It boldly proclaimed for its motto: "God help the rich, the poor can beg!" It derived both glory and satisfaction in advocating principles of "Elevation of horse thieves and public morals. One country, one flag and one wife at a time. Love your friends and brimstone your enemies."
References to those who pilfer equine property will be more readily understood when one remembers the Thomas Cat was howling and meowing in the era before the advent of automobiles.
Another reason for the success of OíRearís "journalistic highball" was the ability, wit, desire and determination of its boss. If that doesnít suffice, then consider the word picture of OíRear painted recently by Maurice Elfer, author of the "Biography of Opei Read." It follows:
"Mix a bet of Scotch-Irish old-fashioned printer-editor with a modicum of pioneer Kentucky bluegrass, with just a dash of up-and-atíem adventure spirit that led Daniel Boon to go places; then season the whole with dogged determination to get all red-blooded American is entitled to, then you have Jefferson Davis OíRear, former soldier of fortune, columnist, man of affairs who ever wrote himself into a damage suit and out again."
OíRear pleads guilty to soft impeachment of having the best time of any other resident who had resided here for over half a century. He soon made the acquaintance of the late George R. Belding, mayor and manager of the then Business Menís League; Harry Myers, superintendent of Hot Springs Nationals park; M.A. Eisele, pioneer druggist and civic leader, and scores of those others who direct the municipal ship. He also became a close friend of Arkansas Jeff Davis, and remained such when it was "Governor Davis" and then "Senator Davis.
In 1893, to have some fun with Senator Davis and to complicate the political situation, Messrs. Belding and Myers, with aid of Little Rock friends, had OíRearís name announced as a candidate for governor, in opposition to Governor Davis. There they were -- Arkansas one and only Jeff Davis and Jefferson Davis OíRear. The day before the ballots were printed OíRear announced his withdrawal.
All the days of "Pastor" OíRear were not serene and peaceful. They couldnít have been with the Thomas Cat scratching the hide off those who had aroused the suspicion of its editor. Sure, he got into court!
Once, when defending an action brought against him, he was asked on cross examination if the report that he was "run out of Missouri for burying his aunt under the grapevine was true?"
The question was so absurd that OíRear was quick to capitalize on it and immediately astonished court, jury, and spectators by admitting the allegation. Turning and deliberately winking at the jury, OíRear said:
"This eminent son of the illustrious Blackstone is quite correct. You see, my grapevine needed fertilizing. My aunt just had to be buried. Even in Missouri that is compulsory, so I dedicated her to this high purpose. However, (turning to the court) I have always contended that was not good reason for firing me out of Missouri. There is nothing in the Constitution that says so. No other citizen, if the court please, head ever been given the bumís rush out of the commonwealth because he enriched his grapevine with his dead relatives. Why, I ask, should I be the first victim of such absurd prejudice?"
His honor threatened to clear the courtroom if the laughter didnít stop. It did, and so did the cross-examination.
No special feature the Thomas Cat ever carried attracted greater attention than a page advertizing which OíRear wrote and inserted, offering to sell stock in the Thomas Catís "Skin-the-Cat for Fur-Ranch-Company." Nothing ever gave the "pastor" a greater laugh.
"To start with," advertizement stated, "we collect about 100,000 cats. Each female cat will average 12 kittens a year. The skins will be able to bring about 10 cents for white ones and 25 cents for pure black ones. this will give us 12,000,000 skins a year,with an approximate revenue of $10,000 a day gross.
A man can skin 50 cats a day for $2. It will take 100 men to operate the ranch. Profits will run into the thousands. How will we feed the cats? Thatís easy, friends. We will start a rat ranch next door. Rats multiply four times as fast as cats. We feed the cats the rats and the rats get the carcasses of the cats after, of course, we skin the cats. This is almost perpetual motion. it will be self-acting and automatic."
OíRear said he inserted that advertisement to "get a good laugh, and test P. T. Barnumís assertion that a sucker was born every minute." The result was he had to hire three clerks to return case, checks, and money orders and write letters explaining the advertisement was all a joke.
"Old P. T. was a damn smart man," commented OíRear. The payoff, however, came when two government men walked into his office and began quizzing OíRear regarding his company. They remained to laugh with him.
We asked him if principles he advocated and ideals he fought for in the heyday of his fame could be championed today?
"You bet every dime you got that they could!" he said. " Was not a calamity howler. I never tried to reform anything. When something needs to be reformed, believe me, it needs the ax!"
"All I ever attempted to do was tell a little plain truth and get some good laughs out of life. The Lord knows there is plenty of need today, as there was then, for both truth and laughter. Too many persons try to deceive. Deception and humbuggery is practiced to attain social position to which we are not entitled by either birth or brains. To acquire wealth for which we have rended no equivalent, and to procure power we cannot wisely employ.
There is too little of Godís Saving Grace mixed up in our everyday life. By Godís grace I donít mean the kind that is pumped into us Sunday morning by pulpiteers and brimstone peddlers. I mean the kind that has been echoing for over 3,000 years down from the ĎSermon on the Mount!í You know, the kind that grows out of a half-way observance of the Ten Commandments.
Today many think it smart to add and observe an Eleventh Commandment, ĎItís O.K. if your donít get caught!í
We are passing through the greatest, most thrilling period in the history of the world. Like my colleagues, the sage of Emporia, Kan., William Allen White, I, too can say that ĎI have lived to see the glory of the coming of the Lord!í"
Just a bit more of the "pastorís" philosophy and we close. He recently requested his attorney to include a timely warning in his will that pertained to future investments his beneficiaries might be inclined to make. he cautioned them against becoming security for others and making loans. No banker could have been more emphatically specific. He then added:
"Life is struggle. Success depends on striving. The grand mass of us drift before the winds of autumn. We are born into the world and go with the current that happens to strike us.
We find habit, ideas, pleasures, everything ready-made; our religious belief, customs, sports, pastimes, superstitions, vices and pleasures -- all ready-made and waiting for us.
A few fight against the current, Ďbuckí the wind as it blows, choosing their own direction. They are few. They are not the happy few, but they are the few that count."