JOHN MILTON SHEETS
is one of that body of men who are either a powerful force for good or a strong force for evil, depending on the personality of the men themselves. This body of men are the editors of our newspapers. Mr. Sheets is the editor of the Oblong Oracle, and of all the editors in the state none is more active than he in the cause of good government. He is a thorough believer in the necessity for editorial fearlessness, and is particularly earnest in his fight for the purity of the country press, which has such a tremendous influence on the politics of the country. The Tribune in commenting on a speech that Mr. Sheets, as president of the Illinois Press Association, had made before that association in Chicago says, The success of any movement for reform depends upon the courage and breadth and force of the press. These words were practically quoted from Mr. Sheets, but the Tribune adds, Such a movement depends upon the attitude of what may be called the lesser press but which is in fact the greater press the newspaper of the smaller cities and towns, the so-called country press. The huge metropolitan newspapers are likewise influential and bear upon their shoulders a tremendous responsibility. But the country press is a greater power and sustains a greater responsibility. It is fortunate for the American people that this mighty force is not unfaithful to this service and that so many of those who control and direct it maintain a high sense of duty, courage and wakeful patriotism. Mr. Sheets is one of the leaders of these men of whom the Tribune spoke in such glowing terms, and while such men as he are standing in the positions of responsibility, we may trust that the snarl into which the public affairs of this commonwealth have been tangled will eventually be straightened out.
John Milton Sheets was born at Oblong, Illinois, in Crawford county, on the 29th of March, 1875. His father was also a native of Oblong, the date of his birth being the 20th of November, 1853. His great-great-grandfather, William Sheets, came to America from Germany and fought through the Revolutionary war. His great-grandfather was born in Virginia and was a veteran of the War of 1812, and helped to defend Fort Knox at Vincennes, Indiana. His grandfather was born in Indiana, in 1817. His son John was the father of John Milton, The Sheets family has the distinction of fighting in every war the country has had, including the Black Hawk war, except the Mexican, and application was made for enlistment for that war but the quota had been filled.
John Sheets, the father, has been engaged in a number of occupations through his life. As a young man he was a farmer, then he went into the lumber business as the operator of a saw-mill, and his last enterprise has been the manufacture of concrete. He is now interested in this business, which has proven to be very successful. He was married on the 27th of January, 1874, to Harriet Winger, a daughter of Adam Winger, who was born in Indiana. Eleven children were born of this marriage, John Milton being the eldest. Of this large family nine are
living. Mr. Sheets, Sr., is a Democrat in his political views, and his fraternal affiliations are with the Odd Fellows and the Modern Woodmen of America. He is a devoted member of the Christian church.
John Milton Sheets was brought up in the environment of a country town, with no particular incentive to take up the work in which he has spent the greater part of his life. He attended the public schools and was graduated from the high school. On the completion of his school work he entered the postoffice as a clerk, and when he was twenty-one years of age he received the appointment as postmaster. He held this office until the change in administration brought about a change of officials. He then went into the newspaper business.
He bought out a paper that had been in circulation for two years, known as the Oblong Ledger, and changed the name to The Oracle. He then had an opportunity to buy The Leader, which he seized upon and combined this paper with the one he had just purchased. The first issue of The Oracle was published on the 4th of June, 1897, and from that day down to the present the circulation has steadily increased. It is now about twelve times as large as it was originally. The plant of the paper is new and contains much modern printing machinery. Connected with the paper is a very fine job department, where excellent work is done. The Oracle is an eight page weekly, and its politics are Democratic, though as Mr. Sheets says the disgraceful situation in Illinois to-day is due neither to the Republican nor to the Democratic parties, but to bipartisan political dishonesty. Consequently his paper, while loyal to the Democratic principles, denounces those men who, hiding behind the shoulder of this great party, work for the interests of big business. The paper has been instrumental in raising the price of real estate by bringing before the public eye the merits of some of the properties in the county. The paper is anti-saloon in policy and was very efficient in the fight to drive saloons out of the county. When the question of good roads came up before the public The Oracle led the forces, and kept Insisting day after day that good roads were necessary to the progress of the county, and now the county owns many stone roads, and the roads all through the section have been greatly improved and are kept in good condition. The Oracle took the initiative in advocating the laying of concrete walks, with the result that Oblong has now more concrete walks than any other town of its size in the state. Another valuable campaign in which the paper led was the one which advocated the building of a railroad from Charleston to Mount Carmel. This line is now operating under the name of the Oil Belt Railroad, from Oblong to Hardinville. Mr. Sheets was not only active in urging that the people do all in their power to secure the railroad, but he was one of the incorporators himself and has always been interested in its success, especially since it is owned by local capital. He gave it the name it now bears. He is an ardent advocate of scientific farming and it was mainly through his efforts that the town established a small farm near the limits, which is under the direction of the agricultural department of the State University. Another matter that is close to the heart of this editor is the general education of the townspeople after they have completed their school life. The ease with which people in the smaller towns drift into a rut and lose interest in the affairs of the outside world, seldom attempting to keep abreast of modern thought in either science, literature, the stage or the pulpit, was clearly seen by Mr. Sheets and he did much towards bringing good lecturers to the town. He first began the work speaking from the columns of his paper, but later he took direct charge of
it and has brought many noted men to the town. His business ability is undoubted, and he was one of the incorporators of the First National Bank, of which he is now one of the directors.
Mr. Sheets is deeply interested in historical subjects, especially in the modern ways in which history is being handled, and in the psychological and sociological phases of the study. He is a member of the American Historical Society, which has headquarters in Washington, and also of the Illinois State Historical Association. In a professional way he is a prominent member of the societies to which he belongs, the Democratic Editorial Association and the Illinois State Preys Association. During 1911 he was president of the latter organization, being the youngest man who had ever been elected to that office. While he was presiding officer he made the address that has been mentioned before, his subject being mainly the Lorimer question. The address was a powerful one judging from the applause with which it was greeted and the comments which it elicited from the reporters. The Tribune says, President J. M. Sheets, editor of the Oblong Oracle, was the man to take the bit between his teeth and overturn association precedents at the close of a long, impassioned plea for purity among the country newspapers, and a stand for independence in politics when 'yellow dog' candidates were named by party bosses. The sentiment of Mr. Sheets address may be gathered from the following: Shame on the situation in Illinois today. Politics is good when wholesome and without taint, but in Illinois today some men in power are a hindrance to good government, and the sooner the Brownes, the men he has assisted to office, and those of his ilk, regardless of party affiliation, are divorced from the politics and official family of the commonwealth the sooner will our great state make the retribution necessary to resume its position in the vanguard of decency, honor, and statehood rank. From this extract it should not be difficult to see where Mr. Sheets stands. The Tribune in further comment says, In Illinois we are passing through a crucial period, in which the powers of misrule are making a desperate stand against exposure and ruin. Whether this fight for honest government shall triumph depends chiefly upon the courage and conscience, the insight and candor of the so-called country editors whose enlightened civic spirit spoke out in the address of the president of the Illinois Press Association. It is the still small voice of the smaller paper that utters what the still small voice in the conscience of the people speaks. And that voice is a voice of thunder. No finer tribute could be paid to Mr. Sheets than the above words, and we may only hope that he may be spared to continue the good work in which he has been so active.
On the 25th of November, 1896, Mr. Sheets was married to Pearl Odell, a daughter of W. J. Odell, who has since died. He was one of the leading hotel men of the county, and was well known throughout the section. Mr. and Mrs. Sheets have one child, John King Byron Sheets, who was born on the 15th of January, 1912, being the fifth generation of Johns in the Sheets family. Mr. and Mrs. Sheets are members of the Methodist church and in the fraternal world Mr. Sheets is a member of the Elks, the Knights of Pythias and the Modern Woodmen of America.