The year was 1866 and the Civil War had come to a close. So, it was time for a new beginning when John Nelson Southern stepped off the river boat at Wayne City landing, north of Independence, with $30, a wife, and a 2-year-old son named William.

The year was 1866 and the Civil War had come to a close. So, it was time for a new beginning when John Nelson Southern stepped off the river boat at Wayne City landing, north of Independence, with $30, a wife, and a 2-year-old son named William.

Southern had been a lawyer back in Tazewell, Tenn., and assistant attorney general for the state. But, he also had been a Confederate soldier during the war, so therefore he was no longer allowed to practice law under the terms of reconstruction (teachers could not teach and preachers could not preach under those same terms).

Young William was born at home during a Civil War conflict when Confederate and Union soldiers converged on the house from opposite directions. The midwife assisting with William’s birth piled furniture for protection against flying bullets that were passing through the house.

Upon arrival in Independence, John Southern was not allowed to practice law here either, so the family took up farming just east of the Square. Three years later, Southern founded a weekly newspaper called the “Independence Sentinel.”

Young William grew up with lots of church and a strong work ethic on the farm, selling milk door to door from a 10-gallon can on the back of his spring wagon at five cents a quart. When he became old enough, he also went to work for his father on the newspaper.

When reconstruction ended, John Southern went back to practicing law and turned the Sentinel over to his brother, who operated it for several more years before selling out to a local politician.

By this time, young William had grown up and married the preacher’s daughter. He feared the new owner of the Sentinel had purchased the newspaper for political propaganda purposes, so along with fellow employees, Ellis Wright, a pressman, and Edward Freeman, a printer, they quit the paper and pooled their money. With $1,250 and a rented room in the Music Hall at 206 West Maple, they launched their own weekly newspaper on Feb. 19, 1898, “The Jackson Examiner.”

With three other newspapers on the streets of Independence at the time, this was a risky venture. But, determination and that strong work ethic paid off handsomely for the young journalist. William Southern became the reporter, editor, solicitor, business manager and the society editor, plus he had to find the money to pay the bills.

To circulate the first issue of the Jackson Examiner, Southern engaged several men with their horse and buggies to go throughout the town and countryside, leaving papers and selling subscriptions at the price of 50 cents a year. By the end of the first year, the Examiner had 1,545 subscribers and paid advertising totaling $2,000.

As the business continued to grow, Col. William Southern added the daily “Independence Examiner” in 1905, and moved to larger quarters. From the editor’s desk, the very outspoken Colonel supported every worthwhile civic-minded endeavor and championed the cause for decent and honest government, regardless of politics. He faithfully recorded the events and styles of the times as The Examiner grew to the largest newspaper in Eastern Jackson County, covering Independence, Blue Springs, Lee’s Summit and all of the other 18 cities across the county. Colonel Southern knew everybody and everybody knew him, a close friend of President Harry S. Truman.

Colonel Southern retired and sold The Examiner back in 1953. Today, well more than 100 years later, The Examiner is owned by GateHouse Media and Stephen Wade has taken the Colonel’s place as the publisher.

Reference: Files of The Examiner