CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s legacy in Cheyenne stretches back almost to the city’s start.
The newspaper can trace its roots back to the Cheyenne Leader, first published in Cheyenne on Sept. 19, 1867, not much more than a month after the city was officially organized Aug. 7.
Nathan A. Baker, a 24-year-old newspaperman from Denver, moved to the newly-minted boom town when he determined his Colorado Leader didn’t stand a chance against Denver’s Rocky Mountain News.
Baker hauled his printing equipment from Denver in wagons, and set up his newspaper office in a log building on 16th Street (Lincolnway), near the current location of The Wrangler and the Atlas Theatre. It was the only building in Cheyenne with a floor.
Former Wyoming Tribune Eagle journalist Pat Hall once wrote that Baker printed 300 copies that sold out at 25 cents an issue.
“Considering that this first issue was priced to sell at 15 cents a copy, the Cheyenne citizens must have been very hungry for news,” he wrote.
The building that housed the Cheyenne Leader burned during the Great Fire of 1870, along with much of two blocks. That same week, Baker changed the name of his newspaper to the Cheyenne Daily Leader.
In April 1872, Baker sold the Cheyenne Daily Leader to Maj. Herman Glafcke, who then sold it in 1877 to two gentleman named J.B. Morrow and J.W. Sullivan.
The paper again changed hands in 1890, when Morrow and Sullivan sold the paper to John Carroll and Joseph Beckers.
Through the years, the Cheyenne Daily Leader experienced mild competition through small papers that made only small ripples in the Cheyenne news business. Those included papers such as the Cheyenne Daily Tribune, which lasted only three years, and the Magic City Record, which only hung on for one year.
The largest competition came from the Cheyenne Daily Sun, edited by Col. Edward A. Slack. He originally published the Laramie Daily Sun, but moved his operation to Cheyenne and began publishing March 3, 1876.
The Daily Leader gained more competition in 1894 when Sen. Joseph M. Carey founded the Wyoming Tribune. He published the first edition Dec. 11, 1894. Speculation at the time suggested Carey bought the printing equipment of the Cheyenne Daily Tribune, which folded in November 1894.
The long-held competition between the Daily Leader and the Daily Sun came to a close in June 1895 when Slack bought the Daily Leader from Morrow and Sullivan.
He published the first edition of the Cheyenne Daily Sun-Leader on June 24, 1895.
Hall wrote, “It was only after a month that Slack realized the hyphenated hybrid publication was a continuation of the state’s first newspaper.”
Slack published the July 23, 1895, edition as Vol. XXVIII, No. 262.
Slack was a prominent figure in the newspaper’s history and a powerful city resident. He advocated for higher pay for school teachers and the introduction of amenities we now take for granted in Cheyenne, such as plumbing, sewers and electric street lights.
Most noteworthy among his accomplishments is the organization of the Pioneer Association, which is widely credited with dreaming up Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Slack changed the newspaper’s name back to the Cheyenne Daily Leader on May 23, 1900.
In an editorial, he said, “A hyphenated name is inconvenient. The simpler title, the better for common use. Inasmuch as the Leader was the first newspaper in Wyoming and the name altogether appropriate, we decided to give it the preference.”
In 1901, Carey sold his Wyoming Tribune to William Deming. Under Deming’s supervision, the Wyoming Tribune became the largest newspaper in the state. He renamed the paper the Wyoming State Tribune on March 25, 1918.
In 1904, Slack sold the Leader to his son-in-law, William Bond, and Harry Clark. They kept the Leader for only two years before selling it to a Democratic syndicate. I.S. Bartlett became the editor. Hall wrote that Bartlett, in failing health, sold the Leader to W.S. Edmiston in June 1908. In May 1909, Edmiston renamed the paper the Cheyenne State Leader.
Edmiston promoted John Charles Thompson to editor of the State Leader. Thompson previously had been a reporter for the Daily Leader. He famously covered the trial and hanging of notorious hired killer Tom Horn, and was editor during the Teapot Dome scandal.
Thompson stayed with the paper through several changed ownerships before retiring in 1948.
Edmiston also purchased the first stereotyping equipment and rotary color press in the state to keep the paper in competition with – and hopefully ahead of – Deming’s Wyoming Tribune.
When circulation fell, Edmiston sold the State Leader in November 1911 to another Democratic syndicate. This one was headed by John Kendrick and John Osborne.
Finally, Deming bought out the Cheyenne State Leader in July 1920. He merged the Leader with his Wyoming Tribune on March 15, 1921. Deming ran a morning and evening edition and gave the merged paper the unfortunate name of Wyoming State Tribune-Cheyenne State Leader.
He eventually discontinued the evening edition and returned to the name Wyoming State Tribune in January 1930.
In 1929, Deming built a new Tribune Building on Carey Avenue, just north of the U.S. Post Office and Federal Building. That building no longer exists.
The Wyoming State Tribune wasn’t without competition for long, however.
On June 13, 1926, Tracy McCraken borrowed $3,000 to buy the Wyoming Eagle, a struggling weekly paper.
McCraken had been a reporter for the Laramie Boomerang while earning a journalism degree from the University of Wyoming. He also managed the Boomerang after serving in World War I.
“Wyoming Newspapers: A Centennial History” states that McCraken was the only person on staff at the Eagle.
“When the first month of his publishing career came to an end, McCraken was without money to buy stamps for statements to his advertisers. So McCraken made out the bills and delivered them himself,” it states.
Unfortunately, many advertisers had obtained coupons that amounted to “Get Out of Jail Free” cards from the previous owner, and McCraken collected a tenth of what he expected.
By 1933, McCraken pulled his newspaper out of debt and converted it to a free daily. Offering the newspaper free roped in many advertisers who realized nearly all of Cheyenne’s residents would see the paper.
But the Audit Bureau of Circulation wouldn’t recognize the Wyoming Eagle because of its free nature, which kept McCraken from collecting national advertisers. So he began the work of converting the newspaper to a subscription-based model.
He charged a nickel for the paper and printed it in two sections. Those who paid for the paper received both sections. Those who did not received only one. In order to read full stories and serials, readers needed the full paper. Through these methods, the Eagle eventually qualified as a subscription-based paper.
In February of 1937, Deming, in poor health, sold the Wyoming State Tribune to Alfred Hill of Fort Collins, Colorado.
By Aug. 1, 1937, McCraken had earned enough success to force Hill into a merger. In 1939, McCraken and Speidel Newspapers Inc. of Palo Alto, California, bought out Hill.
McCraken and other business associates then bought out Speidel, bringing both the Wyoming Eagle and Wyoming State Tribune under ownership of the McCraken family, which held for another 76 years.
McCraken also bought four other state newspapers. In 1938, he and Stanley Greenbaum bought the Laramie Boomerang. In 1939, he and Ted O’Melia of Rawlins bought the Worland Grit and renamed it the Northern Wyoming Daily News.
In 1941, McCraken and David Richardson began joint publication of the Rock Springs Rocket-Miner. Finally, in 1946, McCraken, O’Melia and others purchased the Rawlins Daily Times.
Tracy McCraken stepped down as publisher of the Wyoming State Tribune and Wyoming Eagle in September 1957, at which time his eldest son, Robert McCraken, took over.
Robert McCraken began the Empty Stocking Fund in 1962. Today, the fundraiser still helps provide Christmas food baskets to underprivileged families every year.
He also added a gray and white façade in 1964 to the brick Tribune Eagle building at 110 E. 17th St. The two daily newspapers had been housed for years in the building. The Elks Lodge was directly to the west, and the historic Cheyenne Club was the newspaper’s eastern neighbor before it was razed in the 1930s.
Today, Ballet Wyoming makes its home in the old Tribune Eagle building.
Robert McCraken took the first steps toward modernizing the newspapers when he converted the operation from hot metal typesetting to offset typesetting.
His son, L. Michael McCraken, who later became publisher, said, “That wasn’t just straightforward. That went through a lot of iterations as far as the technology, so that was kind of an ongoing process to get to the more modern typesetting.”
Robert McCraken made two other significant changes to the publications. In 1968, he published the first combined Sunday Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. He also moved the two newspapers in 1985 to the current location at 702 W. Lincolnway.
Michael McCraken said the building originally housed Arp Hardware and a farm equipment company.
Robert McCraken remained publisher of both newspapers until his untimely death in 1989.
Michael McCraken was working as the promotions manager at the time. He was promoted to executive editor in July 1990 and then to publisher in January 1991.
“I was hoping to work with my dad for a while, but that didn’t happen. I had a pretty good advertising and news background, but I was kind of hoping to work under his wing to learn more about being publisher,” he said.
Michael McCraken was 36 when he became publisher of the two newspapers. He said that made him one of the youngest publishers of a daily newspaper in the country.
Shortly thereafter, Michael McCraken chose to merge the Wyoming Eagle and Wyoming State Tribune into one paper, the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. The two papers published separately for the last time on April 1, 1994.
He said he had previously tried to convince his father, Robert, to combine the papers. “I could never talk him into that because that was how his dad had it with the two papers.”
In 2004, the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle began hosting Fridays on the Plaza, a series of free annual summer concerts at the downtown Cheyenne Depot Plaza.
“That was one of the best things we’ve ever done,”
Michael McCraken said. He explained that it started when Mayor Jack Spiker asked the WTE to support the renovation of the Depot Plaza.
Scott Walker, then vice president of operations and production, suggested sponsoring an event that would bring people downtown to enjoy the plaza. Walker served as publisher of the WTE from October 2015 to April 2016.
In 2008, Michael McCraken and the WTE’s Board of Directors spent $15.5 million to expand the newspaper and add a large press to the building. The MAN Roland Inc. Uniset 75 press cost $14 million alone.
Michael McCraken said, “The timing was terrible. That’s when the recession started kicking in and we started seeing the results of the decline in advertising revenues, which all papers were experiencing.”
He said the decision to expand came about because the WTE was experiencing a logistical challenge with printing color in the paper and had a higher demand for inserts.
“Our insert volume increased so much over the years that we just didn’t have enough room to handle everything,” Michael McCraken said.
At that time, they also redesigned the newspaper and dropped the hyphen from Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
Michael McCraken sold the Northern Wyoming Daily News in 2014, and sold the remaining four newspapers in the McCraken Newspaper Group on Oct. 1, 2015, to APG Media of the Rockies LLC.
“We had a couple owners that were getting older and wanted to get their affairs straightened out. Cindy (Marek) and I were the only family members working at the newspaper,” Michael McCraken said.
“That was kind of bittersweet because obviously you have the long family history there. It wasn’t an easy decision for me to make to pull the trigger on that.”
Cindy Marek, Michael McCraken’s sister, worked as the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s national advertising manager.
Michael McCraken said they sold the McCraken Newspaper Group to APG because the managers seemed like they would respect the history of the paper and put out a good product. APG also is family-owned.
He said he believes his father and grandfather would be proud of how long the McCraken family owned the newspaper. He is most proud of the improvements made to it.
“It took me a long time to get the staff in the newsroom to the point where we were having a impact on the community and winning a lot of journalism awards – not that you measure your success by those, but it shows you’re doing things that your colleagues recognize,” Michael McCraken said.
“We won more awards under (former executive editor D. Reed Eckhardt) and (Scott Walker) than in the history of the newspaper. And they’re the ones that made it happen.”
He added, “We obviously invested in the company over the years, and we tried to improve the quality of the product, and I think that shows in the results. And we won several lawsuits against governmental bodies that were attempting to keep public information from the public, so I’m proud of that.”
Following the sale of the newspaper to APG Media of the Rockies, Jeff Robertson, publisher of the Laramie Boomerang, also became publisher of the WTE, the Rock Springs Rocket-Miner and the Rawlins Daily Times.
APG Media of the Rockies owns those four newspapers, as well as one daily and a cluster of weekly newspapers near Idaho Falls, Idaho, and the Wyoming Business Report.
“The newspaper business is always evolving. The challenges we have today are completely different from the challenges we had 10-15 years ago,” Robertson said.
“It’s no secret that our print circulation numbers have shrunk since the glory years, but at the same time our readership is the highest that it’s ever been, thanks to the various delivery platforms that we offer.”
Most recently, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle managers implemented a paywall on the newspaper’s website. The WTE offers one free story a day, but readers must subscribe online or in print to read every story on the website, WyomingNews.com.
Robertson explained that when the internet first went mainstream, journalists believed putting as much news as possible online would bring in more advertising revenue.
“In hindsight, this was the wrong direction. The only thing that giving away our news for free accomplished was decreasing our paid circulation numbers,” he said.
“We need to change our readers’ thought process that, yes, what we put out there is worthy. It’s trusted, reliable news, and it’s worth the nominal subscription price for that information,” he said.
An added challenge is keeping up with new technology and delivery methods. “If there is a way we can figure out how to beam the news into somebody’s head, I’m sure we’ll figure out a way to make sure that happens.”
One thing that hasn’t changed through the years is the Cheyenne community’s thirst for local news.
“That’s the one thing the Tribune Eagle can do better than anyone else in the world. We know what our niche is, and that’s providing local content,” Robertson said.
“The thing that’s great about the Tribune Eagle is we have a fantastic staff across multiple departments. I’ve worked for a number of papers throughout the years, and I can’t think of any paper I’ve ever had that’s had a more talented crew than what we have here right now.”