THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ROCKY MOUNTAIN ECHO FOUNDER ELIAS T. SAUNDERS
by Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
A very fascinating pioneer from the pages of Pincher Creek’s local history is that of Elias T. Saunders. A printer by trade and the founder of our community’s original weekly newspaper nearly a century and a quarter ago, Saunders also established himself as a rancher west of town. New historical research has uncovered additional chronicles of Saunders’ frontier contributions to the Canadian west so this is an updated biographical sketch of his life.
NORTH WEST MOUNTED POLICE RECRUIT
Elias T. Saunders was born on March 25th, 1850 in London, Ontario. Prior to Confederation the region was part of the Canadas. According to the census records of 1901 and 1911, he was of Irish ancestry and he belonged to the Church of England. His nationality was listed as Canadian.
Like many of his contemporaries, Saunders caught the bug to participate in the western Canadian frontier. It was a land of exciting new opportunities and Elias Saunders was just one of the many new “recruits” to come to the Prairies. Saunders did so by joining the North West Mounted Police on June 2nd, 1881. His regimental number was 562. He was initially stationed at Fort Walsh which was in the Cypress Hills country and later at Fort Macleod which was the original N.W.M.P. fort. Saunders resigned his posting nearly a year and a half into his service, effective October 26th, 1882.
JOURNALISM CONNECTIONS WITH THE MACLEOD GAZETTE AND LETHBRIDGE NEWS
Remaining in Fort Macleod, Elias Saunders decided to pick up his old trade of journalism, one which he had practiced back in Ontario. This time it had a definite western Canadian flare. Being a community minded printer, he quickly saw the need for a local newspaper in this N.W.M.P. settlement. In 1882, he joined forces with businessman C. E. D. Wood in starting the Macleod Gazette.
Within a couple of years, Saunders settled in Lethbridge where he and Wood established the Lethbridge News, another weekly to dot the prairie landscape. The pair’s business arrangement was dissolved in November 1886 with Saunders taking over the business. This work in journalism Saunders found rewarding, particularly in the reporting of local and regional news. The News flourished into the early 1900s. Its successor was the current daily the Lethbridge Herald which in 1905 too was established as a weekly.
PINCHER CREEK CONNECTIONS: FAMILY, THE ECHO, AND RANCHING
In early February, 1897 Elias Saunders wed Caroline K. Keen. She was the daughter of John Keen who was the original Dominion Government Manager of the saw mill established at Mountain Mill back in 1879. Years later when the couple moved to Pincher Creek, his family provided Saunders with another local connection. She was fourteen years his junior, having been born on September 1st, 1864, also in Ontario. She too was of Irish ancestry and worshiped at the Church of England. The couple did not have any children. However, Elias T. Saunders was a relative of Jim Saunders, the South African War veteran who looked after Pincher Creek’s old outdoor skating rink.
Although Saunders did not relinquish his business interests in the Lethbridge News until late November 1905, some years earlier he had set his eyes on new business opportunities still further west. Pincher Creek had been a booming ranching settlement since its establishment in 1878 and the arrival of the railway some twenty years later provided an impetus for further development. This growth did not escape Saunders’ notice, ever eager to try out new press opportunities. The frontier community did not have its own weekly newspaper up to that point, and Saunders thought the timing perfect to establish one. Thus under his ownership and editorship the Rocky Mountain Echo, as it was originally known, hit Pincher Creek’s dusty streets on Wednesday, August 15th, 1900. He appointed lawyer A. C. Kemmis as the paper’s business manager. The four page spread carried the latest news from Pincher Creek and the surrounding districts of Cowley and Fishburn, as well as the latest cricket match highlights. These were accompanied by a series of display and classified advertizements from such local businesses as the Brick Hotel operated by Mitchell and Dobbie, Schofield and Co., General Merchants, and the local Hudson’s Bay Co. Store.
Elias Saunders had an eleven-year connection with the Echo. The paper flourished under his leadership. In 1906 its name was changed to The Pincher Creek Echo, in order to better reflect the growth which this settlement was going through. Early in the paper’s history, Saunders built a large one and a half storey frame building to house the Echo’s offices and printing press, the latter of which was located at the rear of the structure. This local landmark stood for years on the north side of Main Street, at the far west end of the old downtown core. During the early 1900s the flowing waters of the Pincher Creek swept precariously close to the north end of the building.
Saunders sold The Pincher Creek Echo in late January 1911. His business interests had changed to the ranching industry. E. T. Saunders was listed in the Henderson’s Directories for both 1911 and 1914 as a rancher. Back on July 2nd, 1909 he had put his initial down payment on ranching property west of town, the southwest quarter of Section 15, Township 6, Range One, West of the Fifth Meridian. This was formerly known as “School Lands”, and several decades later became part of the Fairview Ranch owned by the Zoratti Family. Within ten years, by September 20th, 1918, the property’s mortgage had been paid off. An interest rate of five per cent was charged by the Department of the Interior on all outstanding amounts. Saunders raised cattle on the ranch, and local folklore indicates that he thoroughly enjoyed the outdoor work, a significant change of pace from his earlier career with local newspapers.
Saunders faced declining health during the late 1910s and he and his wife Caroline moved down to San Diego, California in the hope that the warmer climate would improve his condition. Luck was not in Saunders’ favour as he passed away on Monday, January 19th, 1920. His passing made headline news in the Pincher Creek Echo. Ironically Saunders passed away within days of Howard E. Derrett who was one of his successor editors at the paper.
Saunders biggest legacy was the Echo which now is the second oldest surviving weekly newspaper in all of Alberta.
Most of the paper’s back issues are housed in the Archives of the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village. They were used as one of the research sources for this history article.