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Updated Saturday, August 20, 2016 12:01 AM
‘Snake Editor’ was one of Denison’s best characters
By Donna Hunt
While looking for information about some of the characters in Denison’s early days, I found not only information under that heading, but also some of the bad guys and even some very good ones. This gave me the idea that a series of “Yesterday” columns called ““Denison’s early characters, bad guys and a few good ones too” might be interesting, especially to some of the newcomers to the area.
Since Denison’s early characters was my original thought, let’s start with one that probably fits the bill of being the best “character” of note that Denison has ever had, including recent history.
His name is Judge M.M. Scholl, who was sometimes better known for his long sideburns long before they were fashionable in the 1970s and for his moniker “The Snake Editor.”
Mortimer Maughs Scholl, with his brother, Charles, published a daily newspaper, The Denison Daily Dispatch, beginning in 1888. He definitely was an unforgettable character, even up until his more modern years of the 1950s. I remember him well when I was a young girl seeing him strolling on Main Street with his long sideburns, a flower in his lapel and carrying a cane — mostly for effect more than the need for one. Anyone who ever saw him would not forget him.
No one seems to know the real reason he was dubbed “The Snake Editor,” but Claud Easterly, former Denison Herald editor, who knew him pretty well, said in a 1989 interview with the late Judge R.C. Vaughan, that he had heard two reasons for the title.
One was that he wrote a column and printed some pretty wild stories in the Dispatch. The other was that he signed his column “The Snake Editor” for some reason.
A tall, thin man, Scholl wore a stovepipe, a derby or a Panama hat to go along with those sideburn whiskers that sometimes touched his shoulders.
He typed his stories on the only typewriter that even people who worked on typewriters most of their lives ever saw. It had two sets of keys, one set for lower case letters and the other for capital letters. Claud said it looked more like an adding machine than a typing machine.
Editors back in those days printed just about what they wanted and sometimes they had to defend their words. Scholl had a pretty high temper and frequently let it get him into trouble, so he was defending a lot of the time.
One story that Claud said he had heard many times but couldn’t vouch for its credibility was that Scholl went to St. Louis for a baseball game and was sitting in a bar having a drink. One of the baseball players walked by him and tugged on his sideburn whiskers. Scholl jumped the player and almost sidelined him permanently.
In his later years starting in the 1930s, he was a Denison justice of the peace and was known to take his cane in hand when someone got a little out of the way with him in court. He fought a duel on Main Street and there were a lot of shots fired, but nobody was hit killed.
A 1949 clipping tells of an interview with then-judge Scholl about the duel, which he said took place at the corner of Main Street and Austin Avenue and didn’t claim a victim. The intended victim was Editor Lane of the rival Morning Herald. This was when Scholl was editor of the Dispatch and had taken exception to city officials’ and Lane’s defense of them. He had written in the afternoon edition that he was “coming out on Main Street and gunning for Lane.”
The sound of gunfire echoed up and down Main Street and pedestrians scurried for cover. “He hid behind a lot of iron pipes and the bullets just bounced off,” complained Scholl as he limped slightly from a flesh wound he received in the gun battle. Three friends stopped the shooting and encouraged Scholl to continue the battle with his pen, rather than his gun.
Scholl became an editor because his family made all the arrangements, according to the article. His uncle, Major L.L. Maughs, a pioneer of North Texas, told Scholl’s family he could make a newspaperman out of him in five years. He sent him to Richmond, Missouri, for four years doing everything it takes to run a newspaper. But his health failed and he was sent back to Texas for a one month stay. He became so healthy while here that he decided to stay.
Meanwhile, his uncle had bought a newspaper, the Morning Herald at the corner of Woodard Street and Houston Avenue and made him the editor. This was in 1884. The paper later moved to the corner of Main and Austin. In 1887, a group from Boston came and wanted to buy it for $10,000 if Scholl went with it.
These were fighting words for Scholl who quickly told the group that “men are not bought and sold any longer.” The men changed the wording of their statement and made a deal. However, a depression hit two years later and the paper folded. It was then that Scholl and his brother started The Denison Daily Dispatch at 212 West Main.
Nothing could control Scholl’s pen. With it, he cussed and contradicted everyone — usually other newspaper editors or public figures. He carried on a running battle of words with the Dallas News’ Bill Sterrett for years. In 1905, he left Denison and went to live in Cooper, saying he didn’t want to live in any town stupid enough to have prohibition — and Denison had it.
But he came back in 1928 and wrote a somewhat restrained column for The Denison Herald with the understanding that he wouldn’t get involved with writing about politics. This crimped his style and that job only lasted three years.
That’s when he became justice of the peace in 1930 and held that post for 20 years. The word “Judge” never left his name. Although the JP’s job was an elected position, he never had to campaign.
Scholl retired in July 1949 as justice of the peace, just short of his 20 years at the post. He died Jan. 17, 1952, after several months of illness.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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