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Background Image Front page of the Thomas County Cat from December 1885

Colby: The Thomas County Press

What do a cat and a news press have in common? Quite a bit, we learn, in the Prairie Museum of Art and History’s exhibition “The Nine Lives of the Thomas County Press.” Part of Humanities Kansas’s Crossroads: Change in Rural America initiative, “The Nine Lives of the Thomas County Press” starts with the story of The Thomas County Cat, a local newspaper first published all the way back in 1855. While The Cat closed its doors after six years of publication, other presses sprang up in Thomas County to take its place, including The Colby Free Press, which has faced many challenges since its founding in 1889 but has always landed on its feet. The Colby Free Press continues to exist today, “bridg[ing] the partisan divide in Thomas County and inspir[ing] community members to take action” to better their corner of the state.

View the online exhibit

Questions for Discussion

Take a few minutes to explore “The Nine Lives of the Thomas County Press,” and then answer the following questions:

  1. Are local newspapers important to the vitality of a community? Why or why not? What do we lose when a local newspaper shuts down?
  2. With more and more digital outlets for news stories available at no or low cost, many local presses are struggling. What do you think local news outlets could do to ensure their sustainability in the future?
  3. Does your city or county have its own press? What can you do to help support local journalism in your community?

Headshot of John Robert Connelly
John Robert Connelly, editor and owner of The Colby Free Press from November 1897 to November 1918. Image Courtesy of the Collection of the US House of Representatives.

Go Further

Now that you’ve explored “The Nine Lives of the Thomas County Press,” consider the following activities as ways to enhance your learning:

  1. Read the Brookings Institution’s 2019 report, “Local Journalism in Crisis” to go deeper on the causes behind the decline in local news outlets.
  2. Explore the Kansas Historical Society’s digital collection of Kansas newspapers! The Kansas Digital Newspapers Program makes over 12 million pages of historic Kansas newspapers available for browsing free of charge. Think of a topic of interest and start searching!
  3. Reflect on the ways that you are getting news about your local community. What sources do you go to for your information? Why? How do you determine whether or not a news resource is credible? Have you tried using a credibility checklist like this one, created by Kansas State University Libraries?
  4. Visit the Prairie Museum of Art and History (home to the Largest Barn in Kansas) and the Pioneer Memorial Library in Colby. What do these organizations, in addition to The Colby Free Press, tell us about the values of the Colby community?

Don’t forget to share what you’ve learned by telling us about it on Facebook or Instagram. We’d love to see a link to a surprising story you found in a historic Kansas newspaper, or a completed credibility checklist on a news article of your choosing. You can tag us with your photos and thoughts at @humanitieskansas, using the hashtag, #CrossroadsKS. We can’t wait to hear what you’ve taken away from these Kansas crossroads! 


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