Timeline Tuesday: Saint Andre Durand Balcombe

Saint Andre Durand Balcombe. From Omaha Illustrated (1888).


  Saint Andre Durand Balcombe (1829-1904), a pioneer Indian agent and newspaper editor of Omaha, was a builder not only of Omaha and the state of Nebraska but of the West as well. During his association with the Omaha Republican from 1866 to 1876, its editorials were remarkable for their “terseness and vigor of style,” qualities which sometimes got Balcombe into trouble. An article in the Republican on Edward Rosewater, editor of the rival Omaha Bee, caused a long-remembered confrontation between Rosewater and Balcombe on a downtown Omaha street in July 1873. Balcombe had published in the Republican what Rosewater considered an insulting article about him. The Bee’s publisher promptly responded with a note demanding a public apology. Balcombe replied that Rosewater would “get his fill of satisfaction for the article that appeared in these columns yesterday.” During a later meeting at Fourteenth and Douglas streets, Rosewater lashed at Balcombe with a cowhide whip. The Republican’s editor, however, was a taller man than Rosewater and soon landed him on the sidewalk. Each editor claimed victory in his paper the next day, although witnesses generally agreed that Rosewater came out second best. A native of New York state, Balcombe moved with his family to Winona, Minnesota, in 1845. He lived in Elgin, Illinois, for a time and then in 1854 moved to Winona, Minnesota. Balcombe was elected to the Minnesota territorial legislature in 1855 and to the state legislature in 1857. He was elected a regent of the University of Minnesota in 1857; and served as a Republican member of the constitutional convention of 1857. In March 1861, he was appointed agent for the Winnebago Indians in Minnesota by President Abraham Lincoln, and reappointed by Lincoln from Dakota Territory in March 1865. Balcombe settled in Omaha in May 1865, where he purchased the Omaha Republican, assuming editorial control of the leading Republican newspaper in Nebraska. One of Balcombe’s first acts after acquiring the Republican was to enlarge the paper. At the time he became connected with it, the daily was a six-column sheet. He soon enlarged it to seven columns and otherwise improved it by putting the advertisements in new type. He served as its editor and proprietor until 1871, when he disposed of a half interest to Waldo M. Potter. The paper was afterwards merged into a stock company, and Balcombe retired from its active management in 1876. He later maintained that “no Nebraska democrat was elected to congress or as a state official during my management of the policy of the Republican.” In November 1865 President Andrew Johnson removed Balcombe as agent to the Winnebago. He never forgot or forgave this act by Johnson. Balcombe’s obituary, completed only a few hours before his death and published by the Omaha World-Herald on May 7, 1904, called Johnson an “arch traitor to the republican party and its principles, who appointed Colonel [Charles P.] Mathewson my successor.”

Note: the word Indian is used instead of Native American as it was the norm at the time.

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