Francis Henry Barnhart was born April 18, 1849, near the shores of Lake Chautauqua in Chautauqua County, New York. The details of Frank Barnhart’s early life are sketchy, but it is known that while still a boy he worked his way west to Iowa, where in Muscatine he became a printer’s apprentice. He next went to Marshalltown, Iowa, and entered into a partnership with four relatives – R. H., G. W., Warren, and Arthur A. – under the name of Barnhart Bros. and Barnhart, and together they published in 1865 a weekly newspaper they called The Advance. For a three-month period a daily edition was also published. After two years The Advance was forced to cease publication, and from the ashes Frank started the Central Iowa Democrat. He had no press of his own and so was forced to obtain his presswork from the rival Marshall County Times office. This venture survived for a year and a half, but in 1868 financial difficulties heralded its end and Frank had to seek other employment in the area. In 1870 he married Marilla Johnson and the couple had one known son, George.
After a few years the Barnharts moved to St. Louis, where Frank was employed by the St. Louis Daily Republic. Then the urge to publish his own newspaper once more caused Frank to head west to Lincoln, Kansas, where on March 5, 1873, the first issue of the weekly Lincoln County News was published with Frank as publisher and editor. William Buzick joined Barnhart as co-publisher and editor on April 3rd, but by July Frank had withdrawn from the News and established the Lincoln County Farmer, which was first published July 16, 1874. The death of his wife later that year caused him to leave Lincoln and in November 1874 he moved the Farmer to Osborne, Kansas. At Osborne Frank bought the printing press of the Osborne Times, which had gone out of business earlier that year. The first issue of the Osborne County Farmer debuted January 8, 1875, and the first subscription was traded to Benjamin Hilton for a coyote.
“We have taken wood, potatoes, corn, eggs, butter, onions, cabbages, chickens, stone, lumber, labor, sand, calico, sauer kraut, second hand clothing, coon skins, and bug juice on subscriptions in our time, and now a man writes to us to know if we would send the paper six months for a large owl. There are few things an editor would refuse on subscriptions, and if we come across any fellow who is out of an owl and needs one, we’ll do it.” — Frank Barnhart, Osborne County Farmer, October 1875.
Publishing a paper in those early days was hard work and often at times seemed an impossible task. The print paper was brought by stage from Russell, forty-five miles to the south, and was often delayed by high water and other unforeseen problems. Several times Frank and his two helpers had to work for twenty-four hours straight or longer to insure getting the paper out by the usual publication deadline, and midnight suppers were not unheard of. Once the paper was printed on rags in order to be published on time. Yet the Farmer remains the oldest continuously-operating private business in Osborne County, and its publishers from Barnhart to the present day can take pride in the fact that the paper has been published every week for over one hundred and twenty years.
“Frank Barnhart, who founded the Osborne County Farmer, was not a robust man physically, but he had two very essential qualifications–courage and industry–which, coupled with a buoyant and determined spirit, made him the ideal pioneer editor. Nothing daunted him or turned him from his purpose, and while the first few years were extremely difficult, he kept pegging away until he was firmly on his feet.
[In 1877] the list of subscribers was kept in an old blankbook, but after several weeks’ practice the mailing clerk had little use for the written list, memory being sufficient, unless several new subscribers had been added during the preceding week, which was not often the case. The subscription price was $2 a year, and when any subscriber wished to sent a copy regularly to a friend in the East he got the second copy for $1. It would surprise you to know how many of these additional copies were mailed every week. People were anxious for their friends to know all about the county, and practically every resident was an immigration agent.
It required a man with lots of grit, perseverance, stick-to-it-iveness, or whatever else you choose to call it, to run a paper under adverse conditions such as prevailed when the Farmer was launched and for several years afterwards, but Barnhart reaped his reward, and before he emigrated to Oregon he had the satisfaction of knowing that his Farmer was not only called, but was, the leading paper of Northwest Kansas.” — Howard Ruede in the Osborne County Farmer, January 7, 1909.
It is to Frank Barnhart that a lot the credit for preserving the early history of Osborne County is due. In 1876 he asked Calvin Reasoner to write a series of historical sketches documenting the first five years of the county’s history. In 1879 Barnhart published Alfred Saxey’s Historical Sketches of Osborne County, a series that covered historical and financial information on the county’s first ten years, and in 1880 he induced Zachary Walrond to compile The Annals of Osborne County. Published in the Farmer between 1880 and 1882, Walrond’s Annals minutely cover all social and business affairs that occurred in Osborne and many neighboring counties between 1870 and 1879.
On June 11, 1878, Frank married Emma H. Eckman in Osborne. In addition to his son George the couple raised two more children, Emma and Ray. Under Frank’s management the Farmer grew into a prosperous and influential business, and Frank looked to new challenges. In 1886 he sold the Farmer and the next year bought the Osborne County Journal, which he published for the next three years. The call for new challenges renewed itself and on January 1, 1890, he sold the Journal to W. S. Tilton. While questions arose over the transaction when fire destroyed the Journal’s printing plant the next evening nothing illicit was ever uncovered.
The next month Frank moved his family to McMinnville, Oregon, and bought the Yamhill County Reporter, which he published for nine years before selling it February 1, 1899. On March 21, 1900, he purchased the Sheridan Sun in Sheridan, Oregon, which he ran in partnership with his son, Ray. Only two months later Frank was working at his desk when he suffered a severe hemorrhage of the lungs. He lasted three days, and then passed away at his home in Sheridan on May 13, 1900. A member of the Christian Church in McMinnville, he was laid to rest in the Masonic Cemetery at McMinnville amid a large body of friends from McMinnville and Sheridan.