The Donaldsonville Chief
The area around Donaldsonville, Louisiana, was settled between the 1760s and 1790s by French Acadians and Spanish Isleños (Canary Islanders). Planning of the town itself began around 1806, and it briefly served as the capital of Louisiana in 1830-31. Located along the Mississippi River at the heart of Louisiana’s sugar-growing district, much of Donaldsonville was destroyed by the Union navy during the Civil War. Although sugar continues to be an important part of the local economy, today the area is mainly known for its petrochemical industry.
The Donaldsonville Chief was founded in 1871 by Linden E. Bentley (1852-1944). Born in Ohio, Bentley came to Louisiana with his father, a surgeon in the Union army. After the Civil War, the family settled near Donaldsonville. In 1868, at the age of 16, Bentley and a brother published the short-lived St. Landry Progress in Opelousas. He also cofounded the St. James Sentinel at Convent in 1871 before moving to nearby Donaldsonville, the seat of Ascension Parish, later that year and founding the Donaldsonville Chief.Bentley was assisted in editing the paper by his wife, Ella Donnaud Bentley (1858-1900), with whom he founded the Louisiana Press Association in 1880. She served as its first vice president and was one of the state’s most respected literary women. The couple’s daughter, Ella Bentley (1881-1959), who would later marry Stanley Clisby Arthur, a well-known writer on Louisiana history and culture, also contributed to the paper’s management, as did their son, Granville Donnaud Bentley (1882-1966). He sold the paper in 1919 to James Von Lotten and went to work for the Texas Oil Company, eventually becoming general manager of its South American operations.
Founded as a Republican newspaper under the motto “Amicus Humani Generis” (“A Friend of the Human Race”), the Donaldsonville Chief supported federal Reconstruction policy in Louisiana. In the presidential election of 1872, however, Bentley endorsed fellow newspaper publisher Horace Greeley of the Liberal Republican Party, which opposed the reelection of Ulysses S. Grant and sought to end the Radical Republican agenda. In the 1870s, the paper was chiefly political in tone. Other topics of reporting included public education and the construction of railroads and levees. Regular letters from New York, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans reported on events in those cities.
Sports reporting began in the 1880s. At the same time, biographical profiles of national and world figures began to appear on the paper’s front page. Originally published as a four-page weekly, the Chief expanded to eight pages in the early 1900s when it started carrying fiction, cartoons, a farm and garden column, stories for women, and district court news. It was also around this time that a “Sugar Squibs” column began carrying news of interest to local sugar planters. Beginning in 1903, the paper reported on the damming of Bayou Lafourche, an outlet of the Mississippi River which up to that time had served as an important transportation artery for much of southeast Louisiana. Designed to control flooding, the project had unintended consequences for local water quality.
During World War I, the Chief reverted to four pages. It reported at length on Louisiana’s involvement in the war, carrying a regular “Red Cross Notes” column, and recording wartime paranoia (the article “No Masking on Mardi Gras,” for example, hinted at fears of espionage and intrigue). Other items of interest during this time period include charters of local businesses, “letters from the people,” and front-page announcements of “photoplays” (silent films).
The Donaldsonville Chief is still in publication as of 2012.