Robert W. Furnas was one of early Nebraska’s strongest promoters. Although he gained fame as a soldier, governor, and agriculturist, he was also an influential newspaperman. His name is linked especially with that of the Nebraska Advertiser, founded at Brownville in 1856 by Furnas and Dr. John McPherson.
By the time Furnas arrived in Nebraska Territory in 1856 at the age of thirty-two, he had already worked as a printer, editor, and publisher. He recalled in April 1874 that prior to coming to Nebraska he had served a four-year apprenticeship in a print shop: “one, ‘roller-boy,’-one ‘newspaper carrier,’ one ‘at case,’ and one ‘at press’; compensation, forty, sixty, eighty, and one hundred dollars, respectively, per annum, . . . and at the end of the time, a ‘Sunday suit’ and a ‘certificate’ or ‘diploma’ from the employer that I had served ‘a full apprenticeship,’ as a ‘credential’ to ‘tramp’ on.”
Furnas arrived in Nebraska Territory on April 9, 1856, with two printers and the material for a projected newspaper in Brownville, to be under his editorial charge. The first issue of the Nebraska Advertiser appeared on June 7 of that year. The new paper was at first nonpartisan, but became a Democratic paper during its second year. It remained Democratic until Abraham Lincoln was nominated for the presidency in 1860, when it became a Republican organ. It stressed agriculture and extolled the territory’s climate, soil, and natural resources. In 1859 Furnas founded another agricultural periodical, the Nebraska Farmer, published until May 1862. (The modern publication of the same name dates from 1877.)
Furnas was serving as Nebraska’s governor when the Nebraska Press Association was organized in 1873; he was elected an honorary member of that organization. Although burdened with gubernatorial duties, he complied with a request from the 1873 group to compile a brief history of the Nebraska press. Furnas based the history on his personal notes and recollections and on data submitted by various newspapers. Published by the Nebraska State Journal in April 1874 in its daily and weekly editions and reprinted in whole or in part by other papers, it offers an intriguing glimpse of the state’s early press history by one of its earliest newspapermen.