Christopher Columbus Danley (1818–1865)
Christopher Columbus Danley was a soldier, political activist, and newspaperman in the early days of Arkansas statehood. His adroit use of his newspaper, as well as his own political efforts, made him an often formidable opponent of the political dynasty known as “The Family,” a powerful group of Democrats who dominated Arkansas politics in the years between statehood and the Civil War. He also served as state auditor from 1849 to 1855.
C. C. Danley was born on June 5, 1818, in the Missouri Territory. His father, James Danley, was an early pioneer in the Missouri and Arkansas territories. While Danley had at least two brothers and a sister, there appears to be no documentation concerning his mother.
Danley set out on a military path. Records indicate that he was accepted to West Point but chose not to attend. However, Danley served in the Mexican War. Entering the service in June 1846, he rose to the rank of captain in Company B of the Arkansas regiment under the leadership of Colonel Archibald Yell. In January 1847, he was captured by the Mexicans at Encarnacion but was later able to escape, although a wound received during the war left him crippled for life. Recognized as a war hero for his efforts, upon his return to Little Rock (Pulaski County) after the war, he was greeted by a detachment from the U.S. Arsenal that offered an artillery salute in his honor as he came off the ship on crutches.
Following the war, Danley plunged into politics. In 1848, he was elected state auditor, narrowly ousting Elias Conway, a member of the reigning “Family” that controlled much of Arkansas politics beginning in the territorial years and into the early years of statehood. In a subsequent rematch, Danley again achieved a narrow victory to retain his office. Danley suddenly resigned his position as auditor in 1854, giving Elias Conway, who was by then governor, a chance to appoint a successor.
While he was auditor, Danley’s Democratic political loyalties appear to have changed, and he became one of the state’s most prominent supporters of the developing Know-Nothing Party. In 1853, while serving as auditor and looking to expand his influence in the state, Danley bought the Arkansas State Gazette and Democrat newspaper from William E. Woodruff. He owned the paper until he died in 1865, but reflective of his shifting political loyalties, in 1859, he dropped “Democrat” from the name, renaming the paper the Arkansas State Gazette.
Under Danley’s leadership and with the help of former Democrat and U.S. senator Solon Borland, who took over the editorship of the paper, the Arkansas State Gazette worked to energize the Know-Nothing cause, matching wits with the paper of “The Family,” the True Democrat, which trumpeted the Democratic Party’s cause, asserting that the Know-Nothings were little more than disguised Whigs. While prominent Know-Nothings spread across the state in advance of the 1856 election, Danley took aim at his former electoral opponent Governor Elias Conway, referring to the bachelor as “Miss Nancy.” When the Know-Nothing cause crashed following the party’s defeat in the election of 1856, Danley was left adrift politically, a reality that was made clear when his 1859 bid for a state Senate seat was unsuccessful. However, still in search of a party and influence, Danley served as a delegate to the 1860 Baltimore, Maryland, convention that nominated John Bell for president and Edward Everett for vice president on the Constitutional Union Party’s ticket.
The war divided the Danley family. While brother William joined the Union army and died late in the war, Danley was one of three people chosen to serve on the Arkansas Military Board, which was given the job of coordinating the state’s military operations. In addition, he continued to run the newspaper until September 1863, when publication was suspended as Union forces gained control of Little Rock. However, in April 1865, having taken an oath of loyalty, Danley was able to resume publication, expanding operations and turning the former weekly into a daily paper. Danley, who never married, died on October 3, 1865. He is buried in Fairview Cemetery in Van Buren (Crawford County).
For additional information:
“Christopher Columbus Danley.” Findagrave.com. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=41097848 (accessed April 6, 2018).
Dillard, Tom. “Politicians ‘Know Nothing.’” Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 6, 2016. Online at https://www.pressreader.com/usa/northwest-arkansas-democrat-gazette/20160306/283291751706456 (accessed April 6, 2018).
Dougan, Michael B. Community Diaries: Arkansas Newspapering, 1819–2002. Little Rock: August House, 2003.
“On This Day: Chester Ashley Returns.” Department of Arkansas Heritage, May 27, 2015. http://www.arkansasheritage.com/blog/chester-ashley-returns (accessed April 6, 2018).
Smith, Harold T. “The Know-Nothings in Arkansas.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 34 (Winter 1975): 291–304.
William H. Pruden III
Last Updated: 02/17/2020