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MEADOR, BEN DOUGLAS

MEADOR, BEN DOUGLAS (1901–1974). Ben Douglas Meador, journalist, was born on May 9, 1901, north of Matador, Texas, the son of pioneers James E. and Jennie Belle (Quarton) Meador. His father worked for the Matador Ranch as a cook. When Meador was six months old, his parents began a covered-wagon odyssey that took them to Moore County, Texas, Texhoma, Oklahoma, Dalhart and Quanah, Texas, and finally Cottle County, Texas, where the family settled. Meador walked three miles to a rural school and rode horseback to Paducah for his high school education, though he dropped out his senior year. His single sibling was Joe. With a chum, J. Dave Cameron, Meador roamed the plains and often camped out overnight. Around the campfire his interest in words and storytelling began. During the winter months he would isolate himself from the family by writing for long hours in the living room, where it was so cold that he had to wrap his feet in quilts and towsacks.

Meador was too young and, at ninety pounds, too thin to serve in the army during World War I. He and a number of other young men took jobs with a construction company at Camp Lee in Petersburg, Virginia. When an influenza epidemic swept the camp, Meador became ill, but was able to return home just as the armistice was being signed. He then enrolled in a correspondence course from a detective-training school in Kansas City and received a certificate in 1919. Armed with it and a letter from the president of a detective firm, he got a job as a detective in Fort Worth; two weeks later he returned home. In 1922 he went to Hollywood, California, with only two dollars in his pocket and no job. His first and only big break came when the director of a small independent film company, Shellcraft Studios, purchased two of his plays for fifty dollars each and gave him a job that paid seven dollars a day. Unfortunately the company went bankrupt, his plays were never used, and he lost the job. During the six years Meador spent in Hollywood, he jerked sodas in a drugstore, became an electrician for Fox Studios, and sold real estate. He subsequently returned to Paducah in poor health.

In nearby Matador he worked as a soda jerk in a drugstore, where he met Lila Tipton of Caruthersville, Missouri. The couple married on June 22, 1929. Meador secured his first newspaper job in the advertising department of the Childress Daily Index. He started the Matador Tribune and wrote a column called "Matador Then and Now." Publication ceased after only seven issues because of financial problems. Meador then took a job printing the hand-set Roaring Springs News and began writing his first "Trail Dust" column. After fifteen months he and his partner, Howard Hamilton, moved the newspaper plant to Matador and bought out the only competitor. Meador's Matador Tribune became the only publication in Motley County.

His weekly columns drew on his experiences in West Texas. Against a backdrop of the spectacular plains country, he wove his vignettes of cowboy life and ordinary folks and added his own humor and thought. In the next eight years the number of newspapers nationwide that carried the column grew, and Meador was widely quoted in a variety of publications, among them Reader's Digest, McCall's, Time, Newsweek, and a host of religious magazines. In 1934 "Trail Dust" was named best column in the state by the State Fair of Texas. The author was named Texas Newspaperman of the Year in 1952 by the Dallas chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, a professional and undergraduate fraternity for journalists. Meador was also honored with a full-page article in a 1969 issue of Editor and Publisher. In 1972 the Cimarron Valley (Oklahoma) Historical Association honored him with a plaque, now mounted in a small park that Meador dedicated to the memory of his parents and other pioneers of Motley County. He served a term as president of the West Texas Press Association and was elected twice president of the Panhandle Press Association. He also won about twenty state and regional awards for writing, reporting, and general excellence. A resolution passed on October 16, 1966, by the Texas House of Representatives honored Meador as a spokesman for West Texas for more than a third of a century. He is depicted in a historical mural at the Motley County Library. "Trail Dust" was first published in book form in 1940 and was reprinted in 1967 and 1970. The hardbound version brought Meador a White House commendation in 1967, and the Texas Tourist Development Agency purchased 250 copies in 1968 to send to the nation's travel press.

From 1948 to 1954 Meador served without pay as mayor of Matador. He was a Baptist and a Democrat. He died on September 27, 1974, in a Lubbock hospital and was interred at East Mound Cemetery at Matador. He was survived by his wife; they had no children.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Julian Stanley Nolen, The "Trail Dust" Columnist: A Biography of Douglas Meador (M.A. thesis, East Texas State University, 1974). Eleanor Traweek, Of Such as These: A History of Motley County and Its Families (Quanah, Texas: Nortex, 1973). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Jeanne F. Lively

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Jeanne F. Lively, "MEADOR, BEN DOUGLAS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fme58), accessed October 22, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.