Approximately fifty Populist newspapers were printed in Louisiana in the 1890s. One, the Winnfield Comrade, claimed to be the first Populist newspaper in the South. Its founder was Hardy L. Brian (1865-1949), Louisiana’s most prominent People’s Party leader. Brian sold his interest in the paper in 1893, became editor of the Louisiana Populist in Natchitoches Parish, and ran unsuccessfully for office as a Populist candidate.
Brian’s successor at the Comrade was Bryant W. Bailey (1868-1961), formerly an employee of the local Farmers Union Cooperative Association. Bailey ran unsuccessfully for Congress on the People’s Party ticket in 1894, but was elected sheriff of Winn Parish in 1900. He edited the Comrade until 1907, when he sold it to William L. Smylie (b. 1844), a veteran newspaperman. Henry Clay Riser (1874-1937) and Joel T. Payne (1868-1919) purchased the Comrade in 1914 and reorganized it as the Winnfield Times.
Winnfield, the seat of Winn Parish in rural north-central Louisiana, is located in the middle of what was once one of the largest pine forests in the United States. The golden years of the timber trade there were 1903 to 1915, a period triggered by the arrival of the Arkansas Southern Railroad in 1901, the Louisiana & Arkansas Railroad in 1902, and the Tremont & Gulf Railway in 1904. The parish’s population doubled during this period, reaching its historic high around 1910. Cotton, salt mining, and limestone quarrying were other important local industries in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Politically, Winnfield is significant as the birthplace of Huey P. Long and Oscar Kelly “O. K.” Allen, an important figure in Long’s political machine.
Although few copies of the Comrade have survived from the 1890s, the paper appears to have focused chiefly on politics in this decade. Following the demise of the People’s Party in 1908, the Socialist Party attracted a large following in Winn Parish and sympathetic coverage in the Comrade, which devoted much space to farm and labor news. The eight-page weekly’s local and personal column reported news briefs from Winnfield and surrounding towns. As the official journal of Winn Parish, it also printed the proceedings of the police jury (the governing body of the parish) as well as ordinances and petitions. Editor William Smylie was an advocate of the Good Roads movement and frequently reported on civic improvements. Also reported were the activities of local clubs and organizations, including literary societies, sports teams, and the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. A column entitled “The Kitchen Cabinet” targeted housewives, while fiction and a weekly Sunday School lesson were included for young readers.