The Natchitoches Spectator was founded and edited by John Milton Scanland (ca. 1843-1935). Born in Mississippi and orphaned at a young age, Scanland began his career at the Caddo Gazette in Shreveport, Louisiana, where he and his brother William Henry Scanland, who later rose to prominence as editor of the Bossier Banner, worked as apprentices. After serving in the Confederate army during the Civil War, Scanland edited the Bienville Messenge in Sparta, a small town fifty miles east of Shreveport. There he courted Adele Coleman, daughter of a prominent local planter. Scanland’s reasons for leaving Sparta are not certain but may have stemmed from Coleman’s rejection of him and marriage to the controversial Vermont carpetbagger and Radical Republican leader Marshall Harvey Twitchell. By 1867, Scanland was living in Natchitoches, an important cotton shipping center located on the Red River in northwest Louisiana. On December 5, 1867, he published the first issue of the Natchitoches Spectator.
Taking its name from Joseph Addison’s famous eighteenth-century literary gazette, the weekly four-page paper published a mix of news, literary notes, business reports, advertisements, and announcements of public sales. It frequently contained reports on Generals Philip Sheridan and Winnfield Scott Hancock, the military governors of occupied Louisiana and Texas, as well as commentary on President Andrew Johnson and his plan for reconstruction of the South.
Scanland’s politics were somewhat ambiguous. As an editor, he gave lip service to the Democratic party and strongly opposed Radical Reconstruction. However, he does not seem to have supported voter intimidation. When a congressional committee investigating contested elections and racial violence in Louisiana interrogated Scanland after he had abandoned the newspaper business in Natchitoches, he admitted that the Natchitoches Spectator “may have been democratic, though I don’t consider I was a democrat; I was rather conservative; or, in other words, opposed the radical party.” In June 1868, the virulently Democratic Natchitoches Weekly Times accused Scanland of having Radical sympathies. Although Scanland denied the charges, in September 1868, he sold the Spectator to Major James Cromie, a Republican officeholder and former commissioner of the local Freedman’s Bureau. Cromie immediately began publishing a Republican newspaper, the Red River News.
Scanland eventually found his way to California, where in the 1880s he edited the Ojai Valley View and Santa Paula Graphic. Later he wrote articles on western topics for various magazines and newspapers. In 1908, in El Paso, Texas, where he was probably working as a journalist, Scanland published a biography of the western lawman Pat Garrett, a fellow Louisianan best known for killing Billy the Kid.