J. West Goodwin, editor of the Sedalia Bazoo, took a chance in the summer of 1872 when an out-ot-work printer from eastern Kansas wandered into the Bazoo office and asked for a day’s work so he could “keep body and soul together.” Goodwin hired him as a compositor, the employee who set the type for the printing press. The man was a skilled newspaper worker and moved from compositor to reporter to editorial writer.
The printer was W.H. Mugford. He stayed at the Bazoo until 1879, when he went to Dennison, Texas, but he returned shortly to Sedalia and began to work for the Sedalia Democrat. When he died in early April 1880, newspapers throughout the state eulogized him as an “editor, poet, and printer.”
According to his obituary in the Sedalia Weekly Bazoo, William Mugford was born in St. Louis in 1837. He began an apprenticeship under Mr. Ramsey, a prominent newspaperman in St. Louis, in 1854. He worked as a compositor for a paper in Leavenworth, Kansas, and as a freight hauler, carrying goods to Denver. He served in a Missouri regiment of the Union Army during the Civil War.
After the war, he worked at newspapers at Fort Scott, Topeka, and Pleasanton, Kansas, before coming to Sedalia. He was, when he first arrived in Sedalia, an intelligent, perceptive, and sociable man. He was married and had three sons. He was “kind-hearted” and “despised a mean act above all things.” For example, shortly after moving to Sedalia he was seen giving his coat to a beggar, asking only that the man someday provide a coat for another who was in need.
Mugford championed the poor, the outcast, and the marginalized. As an alcoholic, he may have felt society’s censure and been willing to have patience with others’ shortcomings. He was “true to his convictions,” wrote the Bazoo, and “firm in his principles.” According to the Kansas City Times, he was “much admired for his journalistic talent and much esteemed for his kind and generous heart.”
His death was the result of complications following a fall that injured his head. Doctors were “baffled” by what was identified as “erysipelas” that set in and caused his demise.
Mugford’s wake, held at his residence on West Fifth Street, drew a large crowd of family and friends. In typical 19th-century fashion, the press described the funeral in detail. Mugford was placed in a “handsome casket of walnut with silver mountings.” The phrase “Rest in Peace” was inscribed on a silver plate on the top of the casket. Flowers brought in his memory adorned the home, and the casket was draped with immortelles.
Following prayers at the home, the body was moved to First Congregational Church at the corner of Sixth Street and Osage Avenue. Muffled drums and tolling church bells announced the large procession that followed the hearse to the church. A larger crowd of mourners gathered as the body was placed in the chancel of the church.
Following scripture readings and the hymn “My Faith Looks Up to Thee,” asking Jesus to “bear him safe above, a ransomed soul” the Rev. Van Wagner delivered the message. When the service was over, the cortege moved slowly to Crown Hill Cemetery for burial.
Next week’s column details the message, which provides insight into attitudes toward alcoholism during the late 19th century.