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COBB, THE MAN
THE last words dictated by Woodrow Wilson were those telling of his regard for Frank Cobb, which preface this volume. Henry Watterson, giving the history of his own rich life in newspaper making, wrote: "Frank Irving Cobb, is, as I have often said, the strongest writer of the New York press since Horace Greeley. But he can hardly be called a sentimentalist as Greeley was.
What Frank Cobb got out of life he earned. He had no favors of fortune save his own brave, clean, hardworking soul. Because he was not vain, never given to talk of himself, the data of his life which can be set down are scanty. Such facts as are here found are all which could be gathered by his friend and daily fellow worker, John L. Heaton.
Frank Irving Cobb was born in Shannon County, Kansas, August 6, 1869. In his early boyhood, as his friend George L. Rockwell remembers, "the buffalo herds still roamed the Western plains; there was still the overstage coach with its four- and six-horse teams carrying only the mails, passengers and light baggage, while ten- and twelve-ox and mule teams pulled the burdens of heavy freight. The Arapahoes, Cheyennes and Sioux were on the warpath; the Younger brothers, Dalton boys and Jesse James gang were engaged in their nefarious raids;
and last but not least among these primitive methods and hardships to be endured was the devastating pest, the grasshopper, devouring everything to the starvation of humanity. The Black Hills gold excitement and the Custer Massacre were his boyhood recollections as neighboring events.
Driven from Kansas by the grasshoppers, Minor H. Cobb, who had moved from a New York farm after the Civil War, took his son to the lumber woods region of Michigan. There, too, Cobb grew in a rough country among rough men. His formal education was gained in the public schools and the Michigan State Normal School. Such brief and elementary training as this opportunity afforded him was supplemented by experience and observation as a working boy in lumber camps and sawmill yards near his home. It was extended and completed by travel, by association with keen minds in this and other lands, and especially by eager and ceaseless study.
So, in this typically American career, a splendid physique hardened by toil in the open air sustained in its labors a mind unusually keen and quick and enabled it to draw information from every source and use it with power and self-confidence. Throughout his busy life Cobb was a scholar, wide-ranging in his interests, a linguist, philosopher, scientist-so far as an amateur can be that-political economist, historian and above all a tireless champion of political liberalism and human freedom. In this respect he lived and labored in the great tradition of the champions of progress in the English-speaking world.
Martin, Michigan, remembers him as the boyish superintendent of its high school in 1890. His friends might have expected him to follow the path trodden by so many American youth, teaching school while pursuing those legal studies for which his mind was so well attuned; but it was equally in line with tradition that by happy. accident he should have been drafted into journalism.
His first vote nearly coincided with his beginning newspaper work as a reporter on the Grand Rapids Herald, of which he became political correspondent and city editor. At twenty-four he shifted to the Grand Rapids Eagle as city editor; at twenty-five to the Detroit Evening News as political correspondent again. At twenty-seven he was editorial writer on the same newspaper, and he was barely past thirty when he became leading editorial writer of the Detroit Free Press, where he remained four years. His newspaper experience in Michigan, not fifteen years all told, was more varied and educative than would have been possible in the metropolitan field. He "covered" several sessions of the Michigan Legislature, some of them scandalous and all of them lively. He reported three national conventions of both great political parties, gaining a wide acquaintance with party leaders from every State, none of whom ever forgot the eager, impetuous, stalwart young man whose judgments were so mature despite his enthusiasms and his impulsiveness; whose strong features commanded attention, whose eyes reflected sympathy, merriment, kindliness and an unfailing interest in men of every
Michigan itself had its share of men with the bark on in those formative days. Henry Ford was known to the editor as a struggling young mechanic. Charles L. Freer was forming the matchless art collection he has since given to the Nation. Hazen Pingree, as Mayor of Detroit and Governor of Michigan, a whimsical patriot, was achieving national reputation; he relied much upon young Cobb's judgment. Julius Caesar Burrows and James McMillan were Senators. Strong characters like Chase Osborn and William A. Smith and "Joe" Fordney were coming forward. Such men chiefly appealed to the young journalist because they meant power or the promise of it; but his strength was great enough, his adaptiveness sufficiently all-embracing, to draw within his circle of acquaint