Daily Sentinel’s first publisher was a diligent watchdog of Grand Junction
Author’s note: Because The Daily Sentinel is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year, several of my columns throughout the year will focus on the Sentinel and its people.
On Nov. 20, 1894, the proprietors of The Daily Sentinel — I.N. Bunting and Howard Lee — printed an editorial celebrating the newspaper’s first anniversary.
But it’s the next item on the page that provides a glimpse of the newspaper’s focus, then and for more than a century come.
“The city fathers have decided to submit to the people the question of bonding this city for $250,000 for a water scheme,” the editorial said. “We predict the defeat of this proposition by an overwhelming majority.”
The editorial complained that, in proposing the bond issue, the city leaders had no firm idea of the cost of the water plan or even the amount of water that would be available.
The editorial highlights what would be a passion for Isaac Newton Bunting during the 18 years he ran The Daily Sentinel (Lee gave up active participation in the paper a few years after its founding, and later sold his interest to Bunting.) Bunting would be an outspoken advocate of civic improvement for Grand Junction, but also a critic when he thought local leaders were off track.
Bunting’s interest in the city led him to serve as mayor of Grand Junction while he was publisher of the Sentinel.
Most local residents know something about Walter Walker, the longest-serving Sentinel publisher, who took over in 1911 and remained in that job until his death in 1956.
But Bunting was just as important to this newspaper’s history, and to the city’s.
He kept the Sentinel going during its formative years, when there was tough competition, little circulation and not much money. He promoted the paper, the city and the surrounding region continuously. And he had the satisfaction of watching them grow rapidly.
Not bad for a man who had neither newspaper experience nor a political background when he arrived in Grand Junction in 1890.
Bunting was born in 1862 in Pottstown, Pa., one of five children of a reasonably well-to-do family — his father operated a successful hat and fur company. Isaac Bunting graduated from a seminary in New Jersey, then became a salesman for different firms, including a shoe company in St. Louis.
In 1886, he married Maude Wilson and moved to Kansas to enter the cattle and mercantile business with his brother. When the business failed, Bunting became a schoolteacher.
In 1890, he learned of an opening as business manager for the Grand Junction Star, the city’s first daily newspaper. Despite his lack of experience, he got the job. But Bunting chafed under the leadership of the Star, which was basically a house organ for the Grand Junction Town Company.
So in 1893, he and Lee purchased a small printing press from Denver, and on Nov. 20, 1893, the first edition of The Daily Sentinel hit the streets of Grand Junction.
By 1904, the paper’s circulation had grown to more than 800, and the Sentinel had six full-time employees, including a young reporter and editor named Walter Walker.
Among the early crusades undertaken by the Bunting-led Sentinel was an effort to get equipment to sprinkle the dirt streets of the city and reduce the dust.
The paper also pushed to establish a YMCA in the city, to get the federal government to build the Highline Canal and to establish Colorado National Monument.
One of the newspaper’s most ambitious projects — to convince the city to stop using Gunnison River water and obtain its municipal supply from the pure waters of Grand Mesa — took years to complete.
In 1906, the Sentinel reported how the City Council, led by Mayor Bunting, rejected all of the bids for the water project because they were too pricey. And someone at the Sentinel wrote an editorial explaining why that was the right decision, despite what a competing newspaper said.
In 1911, the Sentinel launched a campaign for the state of Colorado to take over the former Teller Indian Institute, which was then closed.
The property would eventually become the State Home, now known as the Regional Center.
It would be Bunting’s last major crusade. He died Dec. 3, 1911, while giving a speech at the Elks Lodge, one of several local organizations to which he belonged.
The Daily Sentinel’s front page the next day was filled with news about Bunting, his death and upcoming funeral. The most eloquent tribute was written by a man named A.C. Newton.
“Mr. Bunting has gone into the homes of hundreds and increasing hundreds of the people of this city; he has gone with words of counsel, of reproach, of consolation and good cheer; in every home there is today, as it were, a vacant chair; we have not agreed with him; we may even have bitterly opposed him, but in every issue of his paper there was much to praise and much in his life to esteem.”
Thanks to Zeb Miracle of the Museum of Western Colorado and Daily Sentinel Managing Editor Laurena Mayne Davis for assisting in the research for this column.