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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.
Franc Wilkie remained at home until the age of thirteen. He worked for area farmers and attended school in the winter. (1) He ran away from home for two years and managed to support himself in New York City before returning home to continue his cycle of farm work and school. He returned to New York City at the age of eighteen and tried blacksmithing, but disliked the business and again returned home. Deciding then to focus on a course of study, he used his forty minute lunch period while farming to study grammar. Following this success, he taught school during the winter and worked at carpentry during the summer taking every free moment to study. In 1855 he presented himself for examinations to enter Union College and did so well he entered college as a sophomore. (2)
As a writer, Wilkie gained a local reputation for poetry. (3) Some sent to the Daily Star of Schenectady, New York gained the attention and an offer from the publisher to become the of the Star for a salary of four dollars per week. (4)
With a Union College classmate, Wilkie in 1856 began a newspaper in Davenport, Iowa called the Daily Evening News. (5) This paper closed during the PANIC OF 1857. Moving to Elgin, Illinois, he joined Thomas Grosvenor, a law student, in publishing the Campaign Weekly. (6) In November, 1858 he wrote to several newspapers for work but received only one answer--from the Dubuque Herald. He took the job for ten dollars per week and worked from nine in the morning until 2:00 a.m. the following morning when the paper was printed.
When the Civil War began, the Dennis MAHONY, sent Wilkie to travel with the first two Dubuque companies of soldiers to answer President's call for troops. (7) His pay remained ten dollars per week, but he was required to pay his own expenses. After the Battle of Wilson's Creek, Wilkie returned briefly to Iowa. He discovered that he was a local hero and celebrity. At the same time, he published his most famous book, The Iowa First: Letters from the War (1861). Sharing the hardships of the Iowa First, Wilkie's recollections were full of camp news that reflected the excitement of the times without wandering from the truth. The Iowa First established Wilkie as one of the premier newspapermen of the time. It is still considered one of the best examples of Wilkie's writings.
Wilkie's reporting received the attention of the New York Times which hired him as its war correspondent for the western campaign. His pay increased to $7.50 for each column of type he produced and all his expenses were paid. He once turned himself over to the Confederates to get information for an article from the "other side." The New York Times called his bravery "unparalleled in the history of journalism." (8) It was his discovery of a letter at the Battle of Shiloh that led to the quick departure of Daniel O'Connell QUIGLEY from Dubuque. (9)
Wilkie wrote candid judgments of prominent figures he met including generals Grant, Sturgis, Sherman, Lyon and Fremont. Sherman, who Wilkie believed was censoring reporters' writing or not sending them at all, was not considered favorably but better than Fremont. (10)
In time believing the campaign in the West was over, Wilkie took a job writing editorials for the Chicago Times. He co-founded the Chicago Press Association and began the Times London bureau. (11) While there is scored one of the great journalistic scoops of all time by being the first reporter to obtain a copy of the then-new King James version of the Bible. (12) In 1871 he wrote Sketches of Notices of the Chicago Bar; Including the Most Prominent Lawyers and Judges of the City and Suburban Towns. (13) His Sketches Beyond the Sea was published in 1879. (14)
In the year he died, Wilkie's Thirty-Five Years of Journalism was published. (15) The book contained first-hand accounts of Dubuque from 1858 to 1861. His health had been failing, and plans had been made to take him to Mexico where the warmer weather was hoped to give him relief. (16) Funeral services were held in McVicker's Theatre in Chicago; he was buried in Elgin, Illinois. (17)
1. "Franc B. Wilkie," Dubuque Herald, April 12, 1892.
5. Salvaterra, David L. "Making of a Democratic Newspaper Man," Julien's Journal, August 2013, p. 42
8. "The Civil War as Reported by Dubuquers at the Battlefields," Telegraph Herald, March 8, 1964, p. 11
9. Seymour, Ron. "Daniel O'Connell Quigley," Online: http://iagenweb.org/dubuque/military/Rebel_Quigley.htm
10. Salvaterra, p. 43
11. Ibid., p. 48
12. "The Civil War..."
13. Wilkie, Franc. Sketches and Notices of the Chicago Bar: Including the More Prominent Lawyers and Judges of the City and Suburban Towns. Online: https://archive.org/details/cu31924018821722
14. Kennedy, William A. "Dubuque of 1858-1861 Called a Tough Town," Telegraph Herald, Feb. 4, 1940, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=ghJRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=jckMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2870,1677217&dq=fist+dubuque&hl=en
15. Wilkie, Franc. Sketches Beyond the Sea. ebook. Online: https://openlibrary.org/search?place_facet=Europe&author_key=OL1605653A&first_publish_year=1879&subject_facet=Accessible+book&has_fulltext=true
16. "Franc. B. Wilkie Dead," Dubuque Daily Herald, April 13, 1892, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18920413&printsec=frontpage&hl=en
17. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, April 15, 1892, p. 4
Hudson, David; Bergman, Marvin and Horton, Loren. The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, 2008