Frederick J. Hulaniski – 1997 Inductee

The history of Osborne County would be sadly lacking if tribute was not paid to one of the truly original characters to ever set ink to paper on the Kansas prairie.  Frederick J. Hulaniski, writer, author, judge, newspaper publisher, and mining engineer, was born January 30, 1860, in Sandusky, Lee County, Iowa.  Fred’s father, Julian Hulanicki, was an officer in the 1830 Polish uprising for which he was banished from Poland to America in 1833.   In 1838 Julian married Marcia Tuttle and the couple had six children, of whom Fred was the youngest.

Fred was educated in the military academy at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and at Omaha (Nebraska) College.  While in Omaha he learned the printer’s trade, at which he served an apprenticeship with the Omaha Herald. In 1875 he moved to Kansas and became connected with the Leavenworth Times and later was with the Topeka Capital. At the age of twenty-one Fred was employed in Cawker City, Kansas, as a printer in the offices of the Cawker City Journal. In the fall of 1880 his courtship of and consequent marriage to Miss Ruth Kerr became a local matter of great interest.

“MARRIED. – In this city, Tuesday afternoon [October 12th] by the Rev. C. I. Shackleford, Mr. Fred Hulaniski and Miss Ruth Kerr.  Fred is the ‘boss’ manipulator of metal in the Journal office.  He has for some time placed his affections where they would do the most good, and has laid the treasures of his heart and hand at the feet of the beautiful Ruth.  Ruth has not scorned or repelled the advances of her amorous young lover, but on the contrary, seeing in him the embodiment of all that is good and noble and believing to be the only person on God’s green earth who could make the little song birds sing notes of joy in her heart.  Her young affections have gone wholly out to him and not withstanding the objections of her misguided parents, she promised Fred to be his and his alone, at the drop of the hat.  Tuesday Fred, armed with a marriage license, proceeded to the house of the bride’s parents, and invited her to go and ride with him to one of the neighbors.  They started and stopped not until they arrived in this city, where they were duly united in the holy bonds of wedlock, as per above notice.  In the evening the stern parent came to town and finding the young people, he suggested to Mrs. Hulaniski that she take a seat in his carryall and go home with him and sleep with her mother. Fred considered this to be about the proper time to interpose the authority which the statutes of the state of Kansas in such cases made and provided have guaranteed unto the husband, and so consequently informed the old gentleman in very emphatic language that Mrs. Hulaniski should do no such d—-d thing.  Mr. Kerr saw through the millstone and left the house of Hulaniski to work out its own destruction, and sought relief in cursing the minister of the Gospel who had robbed him of a daughter.  Brace up children, and bear in mind that the course of true love never did run smoothly.” – Cawker City Free Press, October 14, 1880.

Fred and Ruth later became the proud parents of four children – Paul, Opal, Ruth, and Marcia. In January 1883 Fred moved his family to Bull City (Alton) in Osborne County, Kansas, and there began publishing the Western Empire, his first newspaper.

“Fred Hulaniski has bought the Bull City Key and will convert it into a six column folio, all home print, and will tack to it the name of The Western Empire. Rather a big name for such a little paper in such a little town.” – Downs Times, January 4, 1883.

“TO THE MORTALS NOW EXISTING UPON THIS EARTH, GREETINGS” ran the headline of Fred’s first editorial. He served as both editor and publisher and readily accommodated himself to Bull City, its customs and people. They, in turn, got over the initial shock of the style of their combative, flamboyant, and humorous editor and he became one of the town’s proud attractions.

“It was the last day of the year 1883, just forty years ago, that I, a lass of thirteen, first saw Hulaniski . . . There was to be a dance in the old Nethercutt building and the hotel [the Mitchell House in Bull City] was to furnish the supper. This particular hotel was my home, and being ‘in the way’ around the kitchen, my mother ordered me to go to another part of the house and practice the piano or read a book. I obeyed – most people obeyed my mother – and upon opening the sitting room door, there in an old hair-cloth armchair, one with walnut frame and white castors, sat the object of this communication.

He was a young man as cleanly cut in line and contour as any of Booth Tarkington’s heroes of the Indiana ‘80s. He wore a black Prince Albert coat and at his wrists three or four inches of white cuff – his hands, which hung listlessly over the arms of the chair, were slender, thin, white, aristocratic. His hair was almost blonde and hung in ringlets to his shoulders. I said, ‘Good evening,’ and while he answered me, he did not continue, so I took from under a pile of music – where it was hidden – my first novel, Tempest and Sunshine, and read quietly until my father and mother came in to speak to the stranger. I did not understand the trend of their conversation but it was about some newspaper rumpus in which the stranger had participated in some town – Cawker [City], Beloit, or Downs, I know not, but with a wave of his hand he used the word ‘illegitimate.’ I did not know what the word meant but it sounded big and I stored it away to use when I should next indulge myself in ‘showing off’ to the hotel guests, a stunt that frequently precipitated me into tears and an evening’s isolation in my room.

At one time ‘Huly’ had his office in a wee small place directly across the street from the Mitchell House just a shack between Gilchrist’s grocery store. About this time someone – probably Mrs. Hulaniski and some lady relatives who were visiting – presented the scribe with a tan colored cashmere smoking garment.  It had a red velvet collar and red velvet facings down the front and huge, velvet pockets; to wear with this were black velvet embroidered slippers, and sometimes he came to his office thusly attired.  I can see him – the picture is as clear as if the camera had focused it yesterday – rushing through the door of his small home, pens behind each ear, his long hair waving in the always blowing wind, as he headed up the street to interview an occupant of a farm wagon . . . .” – Lena Mitchell in the Alton Empire, January 11, 1923.

“Fred Hulaniski moved his family to Bull City yesterday morning. Mr. Kerr and daughter of Jewell County, father and sister of Mrs. F. J. Hulaniski, were visiting in town . . . The Western Empire of Bull City claims to be the only reliable paper on earth.  The Kansas Herald, of Hiawatha, makes the same claim.  One of the two men must be lying about the matter.” – Downs Times, February 1, 1883.

Thoroughly fearless in expressing his opinions, Fred used his brilliance of mind and distinctive personality to extoll his readers into discussions on the events of the day.  Not everyone was happy with Hulaniski’s stories on local affairs; three times disgruntled citizens tried to set fire to his printing plant.  He received more death threats during his first year of publication than perhaps any other newspaperman in the annals of Kansas history.  He deterred these potential perils to his person by openly wearing revolvers and secreting one or more knives in his clothing.

In the beginning Fred seldom failed to voice what he thought of his fellow newspapermen if they disagreed with him, and often they responded in kind. “Czarevitch Hulaniski” was his name when mentioned in the Stockton, Kansas, newspaper; in Downs and Osborne he was “Count Hulaniski;” and after a personal spat with the editor of the Portis Patriot he was ever after referred to as “Hole-in-the-sky.” Hulaniski’s propensity for igniting wars of words made still other newspapers wary. “We had been told that the Empire quill pusher wore horns, a brace of revolvers, and pawed the ground like a mad cow in a Bull City,” reported the editor of the Salem (KS) Argus in 1885. “We interviewed him at a distance and must say he looked every inch a gentleman – a perfect gentleman, sir.”

In the fall of 1883 Fred sought to influence the upcoming county election by starting another paper in Downs on the eastern edge of Osborne County. The Saturday Evening Lamp made its debut in October 1883, with Hulaniski again as both editor and publisher, while continuing to publish the Empire in Bull City; the only time in the history of the county any newspaperman has ever tried such a gamble. Fred soon discovered that two papers meant twice as many people came “looking for him” over his articles and he frequently had to stop off in between the two towns in Osborne in order get away from his angry detractors. The Lamp ceased publication after only five weeks; the experiment was over, but, as one contemporary author noted, the Lamp “packed more controversy and discussion into those five weeks than most publishers do in an entire career.”

Yet for all his dramatics and sometimes caustic language Hulaniski forced other newspapers to improve their quality and depth of writing and news coverage with the emphasis on more detail. His own Western Empire was widely read and remained a financial success throughout his three years of ownership.  In those years Fred made himself available for amateur theatricals, recitals, and other events that helped to maintain town spirit and pride, and served for a time as city clerk.  During the spring of 1885 scarlet fever swept through Bull City, and through those terrible weeks Hulaniski used the pages of the Empire to grieve with and to console every family who lost a loved one.  His words came even more from the heart when his only son, Paul, died of the fever and was laid to rest in the town’s Sumner Cemetery.

The gravestone of Paul Hulaniski in Alton’s Sumner Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Von Rothenberger.


The Western Empire of November 28, 1885, contained an editorial featuring the whit, irrelevance, and bluntness so typical of Fred’s editorial style: “The last issue of the Empire contained an account of a snipe hunt, wherein a lot of young bloods had considerable sport at the expense of some young dupe whose name we did not learn.  On Tuesday we received a letter from some fellow who signed “W.S.R,” and who evidently has tried on the shoe and found a perfect fit.  The letter reads as follows: ‘f. J. hulaniskyee— Want you To under stand that i Aint such A Blasted tool as you take me Too Bee And if you Ever stick Any Moore of your Slang in youre papper i Will Make It Moste Interesting for yu but i Think the Bigest fool Printed It. W.S.R.’   Now, we have not the remotest idea who “W.S.R.” is, nor do we care, but he is evidently a much greater ass than we first supposed, or he would never flare up and take unto himself a piece in a newspaper that contained no names whatever nor alluded to no one in particular.  If Mr. “W.S.R.” had kept still, no one outside of a few would have known it was him who gave himself so everlastingly dead away by holding the bag for Snipe, and we trust that in the future when he bites at old gags like this he will have common horse sense enough to button up his lip and keep mum.  However, if Mr. “W.S.R.” wishes to “Make it Moste Interesting” for the editor of this paper, we hope he will not deny himself that pleasure any longer than necessary, for if there is one thing above another we like, it is to be “interested.”

Shortly afterwards Fred sold the Empire and left Bull City, which had been renamed Alton the year prior. “F. J. Hulaniski, late of the Alton Empire, passed through the city Wednesday on his way to Leavenworth, where he takes a position on the daily Times.” – Downs Chief, July 1886.

“Vol. 1, No. 1 of the Kansas City Sun, F. J. Hulaniski, editor, is before us. It is a neat five column, eight page paper published in the interests of agriculture, religion and Hulaniski.” – Downs Chief, March 14, 1889.  Later that year Fred sold the Sun and headed west, moving to Ouray, Colorado.

“F. J. Hulaniski, the versatile ex-editor and founder of the Western Empire, is now assisting in the publication of the Plaindealer at Ouray, Colorado, and is dealing some telling blows against the third party movement for which he labored last fall until his stomach revolted at the task and he found it imperative to seek a cleaner field. His work on the Plaindealer is easily recognized by old acquaintances.” – Downs Times, October 8, 1891.

Soon Fred was the sole editor and publisher of the Ouray Plaindealer and in November 1895 he was elected elected county judge of Ouray County on the Populist ticket.  Fred’s taking over of the Plaindealer ignited “continuous warfare” between the Ouray Herald and the Plaindealer, starting in 1891 and lasting for over 20 years.  Fred referred to his rival as “the little red-headed woodpecker down in the Fourth Ward” – a district that included the red-light district of the time. The Herald editor, E.G. Bacon, called his counterpart “Mr. Hell on Whiskey.”

In April of 1899 Fred joined with some of the best-known men of the state of Colorado in the incorporation of a large publishing company in Denver.  During this period Fred was also engaged in mining enterprises in Colorado. These profited him greatly and he had offices at one time in New York.

“Count Hulaniski, who used to run a sort of a Sunday Sun paper in the cellar of Chris Knapp’s meat market, called the Saturday Evening Lamp, was in Concordia recently and the Kansan says: ‘F. J. Hulaniski, an old-time newspaperman of this part of the state, now Ouray, Colorado, was in the city last Wednesday and made the Kansan office a call. Count Hulaniski, as he was usually called, was one of the warmest propositions as a newspaper skinner there was in the state when he was in action. He had a paper in Bull City, now called Alton . . . He went to Colorado about ten years ago and landed at Ouray with the magnificent amount of 25 cents in his pocket, which he spent as soon as he could find the opportunity for a drink of whiskey and a package of smoking tobacco. He owns a newspaper out there and has become rich as a mining promoter. He is now on his way to New Orleans to spend the winter, in company with his daughter.’” – Downs Times, January 24, 1901.

“Ouray, Colorado, September 29th – The suit for divorce by Mrs. Hulaniski, wife of former County Judge F. J. Hulaniski, one of the best known newspaper men on the western slope, will never come to trial. The attorneys for Mrs. Hulaniski last night announced that a settlement had been reached and that an order will be entered this afternoon in the county court withdrawing the suit. The grounds of settlement will not be made public.” – Downs Times, October 6, 1904.

By 1906 Fred had moved on to California, where he published a newspaper in Mountain View.  Five years later he purchased the plant of a labor paper and started the Richmond Morning News, and later wrote editorials for the Richmond Record-Herald, both located in Richmond, California.  Fred also published a book entitled the Thinkograph, which then became the title of a monthly magazine he published from San Francisco.  Fred became well known throughout the state via his writings and activities and he took an active part in the development of Richmond and Contra Costa County.  In 1917 Fred published the book The History of Contra Costa County, which was well-received.  Among his many business interests at the time was the Wonder Gold Mine at Allegheny in the Grass Valley area of Nevada County, California.

On February 15, 1928, Frederick J. Hulaniski died in Richmond of a heart attack following a case of influenza.  He was interred in the Sunset View Cemetery at El Cerrito, California.

Frederick J. Hulaniski as he appeared in 1917. Taken from his book “The History of Contra Costa County”.

* * * * *

The following is a classic story by Frederick J. Hulaniski, related as only he could.

Looking Backward into Kansas Through Thirty Long Years

“Another Northwest Kansas newspaper blew into this editorial den this week and nestled down upon the littered roll-top among communications, complaints and bills payable, which sent me on a long hike into the past. It is the Osborne County Farmer, Bert Walker, editor; and I borrowed white paper and ink of it thirty years ago, and, maybe, paid most of it back.

I was young then, and Western Kansas was young, and all of us possessed less wisdom than Solomon, although the Solomon River ran nearby and turned the wheel that ground the corn that brought eight cents a bushel in the cribs that Jack built. As we get older we are all prone to look back into the past in reminiscent mood instead of looking ahead, for the reasons that the period ahead is short and, as a rule, we haven’t much to look forward to.

The present editor of the Osborne Farmer worked for me when he was a kid boy, at Peabody, Kansas . . . Now he has a fine newspaper and business and is rich enough to eat pie for breakfast if he wants to, which he does if he is anything like he was in knee breeches. I ran two newspapers in Osborne County at one time, one at Downs and the other at Alton, and often took refuge at Osborne, halfway between, to escape general results continuously erupting at both ends. Osborne was not always a haven of safety, either being the county seat and inhabited by land pirates, highbinders, blackhand conspirators and plutocratic oppressors of the plain people, who held the county offices which others wanted. When one set of men hold the offices which another set want, the ins are always land pirates, highbinders, blackhand conspirators, and plutocratic oppressors of the plain people, which fact can be proven by the outs. It became my duty, in the interest of the horny-handed son of toil, as most everybody was in those days, to help ‘turn the rascals out,’ and as fast as I got one rascal turned out another got in, and then both of them put in part time gunning for me.

One particular instance I remember will doubtless be recalled by most any of the old-timers there now, as the town was much excited and amused when the circus was going on and bets were about even as to whether I or the sheriff of the county would furnish the corpse for a first-class funeral. The sheriff’s name was Al Anderson, and he weighed over 200 and struck a ton. I knew he struck a ton because I got the whole ton right between the eyes, and saw a million dollars worth of fireworks and maybe it was two millions.

The principal crime the sheriff was guilty of was holding an office which somebody else wanted, and of that he certainly was guilty. He drove up to Alton one day with a pocketful of tax warrants, or something of the sort, and collected mileage, about sixteen miles each way, on each paper served, and I figured up from his bill to the county that he had driven his team of horses over a thousand miles in one day, and called loudly in my papers for the humane society to prosecute him for cruelty to animals. In the interest of that noble animal, the horse, I held that a thousand miles was too far for him to be driven in a single day, and I contend that to this day, thirty years later, that the position was well taken and true. Any man will drive a team of horses a thousand miles in one day is no lady. Now, you wouldn’t suppose that sheriff would get mad at my printing only what was true, but he did. He was real provoked. Probably he didn’t love horses as much as I did. In this instance I was the villain and Sheriff Al Anderson the fair maid. He didn’t look much like a fair maid, but we’ll let that pass so we can hurry along in this narrative and catch up with the blood-curdling details.

The sun rose over the Solomon River. I don’t just remember after half a lifetime whether it rose over the river or not; but never mind, it rose around there somewhere and grinned red and hot like any other blithering idiot as the sheriff and I sought each other’s gore at the Central Branch Missouri Pacific depot at Osborne and all the way up the street into town for half a mile. He had greeted me cheerily as I stepped off the train and put out his hand to shake hands. I didn’t notice that it was his left hand that was proffered, which was there where I was foolish. He yanked me up to him with his left hand and delivered that ‘ton’ with his right, which was as big as a ham and the ‘ton’ was a full 2000 pounds weight. I went down between the railroad tracks and plowed up the right of way with my classic features, leaving various and sundry particles of the features among the dust and cinders along the track, coming up finally bleeding like a stuck hog. My hair was long in those days, and it got into my eyes, and with the dirt and cinders in my face and the blood streaming from many cuts and bruises I must have been a sight for gods and men. Also I was as mad and crazy as any asylum inmate within a padded cell, and as dangerous as any other lunatic. I had no gun, but tore the buttons off a Prince Albert coat to get at a knife big enough to make a buffalo stop and think twice, and made a lunge at the sheriff.

For a wonder, he had no gun on him, either, an unusual occurrence in those days, as most everybody went armed. So Mr. Sheriff was right square up against it. No coward, he, by any means; but there was but one choice. It was either run or get hacked into hamburger; and so as I reached for him with that snickersnee he jumped about ten feet toward town and kept it up, making time like a scared jackrabbit would out on the adjacent prairie. I followed, bleeding, crazed, wild and murder in my heart, and the sheriff did a sprinting stunt never before or since equaled in that vicinity, and the crowd at the station followed, yelling like wild Indians, while hundreds rushed out of the houses or stuck their heads out from doors and windows and shouted encouragement to one or the other, or both. It must have been about a half mile up town to the main business street, but we made it in record time and turned to the right and down among the business houses, scattering people right and left like tenpins, and not ten feet apart. One fellow sought to stop the sheriff and got knocked into the middle of the street for his pains. Another sought to stop me and I reached for him with the knife, and if he is not going yet I have never heard anything to the contrary.

“The Great Chase” – a sketch of the famous street race of Anderson and Hulaniski in Osborne, Kansas.

Finally Anderson dodged into a hardware store diagonally across from the old Lipton House hotel, slammed the door and turned the key, which happened to be on the inside, while I danced a Highland fling out on the sidewalk. Then mutual friends butted in and took me over to the hotel and washed some of the dirt and blood off, and the sheriff sent an ambassador over with a flag of truce and a suggestion that we declare an armistice, or submit our war to arbitration, and my recollection of it now is that the arbitration was at a drugstore soda fountain where the prohibition elixir of those days was dispensed and caused lions and lambs to lie down together, and anybody else to lie down that got three or four shots of it.

The next chapter of this drama was pulled off at Alton, in the west end of Osborne County. Eight men were arguing with me one evening in front of Hop Rinehart’s drugstore, after the usual manner of political arguments in those lively old days, and as there was eight to one I stood a good chance of getting all that was coming to me. I was as busy as a toad in a tar barrel, doing the best I could, when Sheriff Al Anderson showed up across the street, coming fast in our direction and shedding coat and vest as he came. He grabbed one little fellow by the neck and one leg and threw him bodily though the store window, and then he and I had a picnic with the rest. And after they were disposed of the sheriff and I clasped hands across the bloody chasm and bloody sidewalk and were good friends forever after.

All that sort of thing has passed away now, in the place of sod houses and straw stables are beautiful and prosperous homes. That section of Kansas is one of the richest and best in the world, and doubtless when Editor Walker has occasion to go over to the court house to interview the sheriff or anybody else he does not feel called upon to carry along any implements of war such as are now being used over in Europe. But thirty years is a long time, and people, customs and countries change. The court house when I was there was right on the edge of a trackless plain. I have shot jackrabbits from the steps of that court house, and was fined for contempt of court by Judge Clark A. Smith for trying to shoot one out of the windows while court was in session, as was one Pete Mitchell, who kept a hotel at Alton and put in most of his time coursing rabbits with a pack of hounds.

I courted and married the best woman in the world in that section, and have got her yet, thank God. Two children were born to us in Osborne County, and our little boy sleeps the long sleep there now. The country and the people are associated with pleasant memories, love and good fellowship in my mind and heart, and thousands of happy things happened, altogether different than political wars, guns and knives and black eyes and prohibition booze and gory battles, and now after all these years as I look back and see it all again; I am willing to admit that not all of the county officers were land pirates, high binders, black hand conspirators and plutocratic oppressors of the plain people, and as far as Sheriff Anderson is concerned I will go so far now as to own up that he was a good and brave man, and I don’t care a dern if he did drive that team a thousand miles in one day. Probably it was a rattling good team.” – Osborne County Farmer, November 11, 1915.

One thought on “Frederick J. Hulaniski – 1997 Inductee”

  1. I enjoyed it greatly! Hulaniski wrote in a way that I was able to see in my mind the actions of the characters. I hope to read more of his material.
    Thanks Von! Ray Kurtz

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