The Llano Colonist (Vernon Parish Democrat )

Vernon Parish

Vernon Parish, on Louisiana’s western border with Texas, was formed from portions of Natchitoches, Rapides, and Sabine Parishes in 1871. Leesville, the parish seat, had a population of 1,300 when it was incorporated in 1900. In the 1890s, the area was a Populist/agrarian stronghold and was at the center of a lumber boom until the late 1920s, by which time the parish had been almost completely deforested and turned over to farmland.

For more than 20 years, Vernon Parish was the site of one of the largest experiments in socialist communal living in U.S. history. In 1914, Job Harriman, the unsuccessful Socialist Party candidate for Vice President of the United States in 1900, founded the Llano del Rio Cooperative Colony in the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles, California. Water shortages, transportation problems, and personal conflicts led to the colony’s dissolution, but in 1918, it was reestablished under the name of New Llano (sometimes spelled Newllano) on a 20,000-acre tract of cut-over land near Leesville, Louisiana. Largely self-sufficient, New Llano soon had several hundred residents, and satellite colonies were eventually set up in Texas and New Mexico. Internal disputes and financial difficulties, however, led to its decline, and the colony was abandoned in 1939.

The Vernon Parish Democrat, founded in 1917, was published weekly in four to eight pages under the motto “If We Cannot Say Anything Good, We Say Nothing.” The earliest surviving issues date from 1919, when it was being edited by Ernest S. Wooster, a member of the Llano del Rio and New Llano colonies who would later chronicle their history in Communities of the Past and Present (1924). Wooster returned to California in 1920, turning the paper over to George T. Pickett, one of the original Llano del Rio colonists. Later that year, Pickett was elected New Llano’s general manager, whereupon George E. Cantrell took over the editorship of the Democrat.

The Democrat carried a mix of local, national, and international news, but is chiefly of interest for its reports on the New Llano Colony. Regular columns with titles such as “Colony Notes,” “The Colony Diary,” and “One Minute Chats with Colonists,” contain information on socialist ideology, daily life at New Llano, its various business enterprises (including a hotel, ice plant, rice farm, and print shop), and interactions between colonists and other residents of Vernon Parish, such as community entertainments and use of the colony’s public library, one of the best in the state.

In April 1921, the New Llano Colony began publishing a second newspaper, the Llano Colonist, after which the Vernon Parish Democrat shifted its focus to other topics. However, the Democrat continued to report on labor issues and by 1931 had been renamed the Industrial Democrat [LCCN: sn88064279]. It survived until 1937, when it was absorbed into the Leesville Leader [LCCN: sn84009669].

The Llano Colonist was nearly identical to the early Vernon Parish Democrat. In 1922, it was being edited by Carl Gleeser. Born in Germany, by the 1890s Gleeser was publishing the German-language Kansas Staats-Zeitung [LCCN: sn85066982] in Kansas City, Kansas. During World War I, as owner of its successor, the Missouri Staats-Zeitung [LCCN: sn85032368], he criticized American involvement in the war. This led to a U.S. Supreme Court trial in which Gleeser was convicted of violating the 1917 Espionage Act. After his release from the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, Gleeser moved to the New Llano Colony in Leesville, where he continued to publish articles, either by himself or others, on socialist and antiwar topics.

Like its predecessor, the eight-page weekly Llano Colonist contained regular columns, including “The Colony Diary: Being a Daily Report of Colony Life at Llano”; “Meanderings,” by Robert K. Williams, an assortment of brief remarks on socialism and cooperative philosophy; “The Junior Colonist,” written by various women of the community; and “Leesville and Louisiana Items.” The first page typically carried poetry on socialist themes. News from abroad included reports on socialism in Russia.

Publication of the Llano Colonist continued until 1937, two years before the New Llano Colony was abandoned. In 1947, , ex-colonists briefly revived the paper in Los Angeles under the same title [LCCN: sn93050662], publishing 14 issues.