Silliman Evans was considered “the all-time, all-American diesel engine of Texas reporting” and according to the Tennesse Newspaper Hall of Fame, “the most influential political reporter in Texas”. Beginning his newspaper career with the De Leon Free Press, he became the owner and publisher of the Nashville Tennessean, one of the founders and publicity director of American Airlines, President of the Maryland Casualty Insurance Co. and an organizer of the Chicago Sun newspaper.
He started as a printer’s apprentice at the Free Press at age 12 during his father C.A. Evans’ tenure as De Leon Methodist Circuit pastor around 1906. His father later became pastor of the First Methodist Church (1909-1910).
He begin writing for the Free Press in 1910 working for then publisher W.C. Lighfoot along with another young man named Relis L. Scott who later purchased the paper. Evans gained a good deal of notoriety from an article he wrote about the death of a Bull Dog which was really about the death of a prominent De Leon citizen. Around 1913 he left De Leon where he attended Polytechnic College (now S.M.U.) in Dallas.
He soon joined the the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. There, he began his lifelong relationship with its publisher, Amon G. Carter. During the Desdemona oil boom 1918-1920 he became the Star-Telegram’s primary reporter covering the oil field. Following the boom Evans worked in Waco and Houston. In 1919 he became managing editor of a temperance sheet. He eventually joined the staff of the Dallas Morning News before returning to the Star-Telegram where he became its Washington D.C. correspondent. Noted as one of the most influential political reporters in Texas, his political godfather was considered to be Houston financier Jesse H. Jones.
Evans was noted for his fight against the Klu Klux Klan and its political intrigues in the early 1920s. On January 25, 1923 he was a member of a group that heard Burke William Mathis first suggest that a much discussed college for west Texas be located in Lubbock and be named Texas Technological College. The Texas Legislature voted to create that new college in February and Amon Carter served on a committee to secure a location for the school–that ended up in Lubbock.
Around 1924, Silliman married Lucille McCrea from Cisco. They had two sons, Silliman Evans Jr. and Amon Carter Evans.
While in Washington, Evans became close friends with then Speaker of the House John Nance Garner of Uvalde, Texas and is credited with swinging Garner’s delegates to Franklin Roosevelt when it became obvious Garner could not win the Democratic nomination of 1932 but secured the Vice-Presidential nomination. Evans then managed Garner’s press relations during the campaign. He was rewarded with the position of 4th Assistant Post Master General for his efforts. He became a staunch Democrat and once noted in his paper that ”no Republican is fit to hold public office”. Even so he found a few Democrats during his career that he also thought were unfit and went after them in his newspaper. The Tennessean was one of only four major daily newspapers to endorse Harry Truman in 1948.
Evans became involved in two business ventures before purchasing the Tennessean. He became president of the Maryland Casualty Insurance Co. and then joined a group of investors that organized American Airlines where he served as publicity director. His son Silliman Jr. became the first president of the airlines.
The Nashville Tennessean traced its roots to the Nashville Whig, a newspaper that was first published in 1812. The Tennessean was placed in federal receivership in 1933 after its publisher, Colonel Luke Lea and his son were sentenced to prison for their role in the failure of a North Carolina bank. The paper was later purchased by another bank which operated it for a period before auctioning it off on January 7, 1937. The paper which had a circulation of 76,275 was purchased by Evans for $850,000. He took control of the paper on April 17 and within 45 days had returned it to profitability. He quickly began negotiations with James Stahlman owner of the Nashville Banner, to share buildings and print facilities keeping both papers viable. The Banner dropped its Sunday issue and the Tennessean ceased afternoon publications. The arrangement lasted over sixty years until the Banner folded in 1998.
In early 1941, Marshall Fields III, heir to the Fields department store fortune began an effort to compete with the Chicago Tribune. He brought in Silliman to establish and run the Chicago Sun which began publication in early 1942.
Evans had had several heart attacks in the years prior to his death with the latest occurring only a month or so before his death. He had attended the funeral of his longtime friend Amon G. Carter publisher of the Fort Worth Star Telegram against doctor’s orders. Following the funeral, he retired to his room at the Fort Worth Club that evening. He apparently died in his sleep of a heart attack on June 16, 1955. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Nashville.
Following his death, his son Silliman Evans Jr. then 30, took over the Nashville Tennessean. Like his father, he had started in the newspaper business at the early age of 8 working as a printer’s devil, and later hawking papers on the street. At age 18 he joined the Air Transport Command. Silliman Jr. died of a heart attack at age 36.
His younger brother Amon Carter Evans then 29, who had also worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram took over as ownership of the paper passed to he and his mother. He became the CEO in 1962. Amon appointed John Seigenthaler as editor and publisher. During Seigenthaler’s management, the paper changed its name to The Tennessean.
Gannet Corporation puchased the Nashville Banner only to sell it and acquire the Tennessean from the Evans family for a reported $50 million. Seigenthaler continued to run the paper until his retirement in 1992. He went on to serves as USA Today’s founding editorial director.
Amon who was born on August 4, 1933, died on May 11, 2011 at age 77.
Silliman’s brother was married to Phynis Pittman daughter of B.J. Pittman and sister of B.J. Jr. and Ralph Pittman. They were divorced.