THE STORY OF LIBERAL, MISSOURI
BY O. E. HARMON
Published by THE LIBERAL NEWS, J. P. MOORE PRINTER, LIBERAL, MO, 1925
That Famous Barbed-Wire Fence
In 1881, one H. H. Waggoner made an addition (sic) Liberal with the view of getting a place where Orthodox Christians could live to themselves. Here they could live unmolested and watch with contempt the doings of their infidel neighors. But alas! their joy was to be short lived. A wicked barbed-wire fence did the mischief. An account of the building of the fence is given in the newspaper, “The Liberal,” of April 18, 1883, and is as follows:
“G. H. Walser has bought the Waggoner’s addition to the town of Liberal. The readers of the Liberal two years ago will remember that this addition was the great bone of contention between the Liberals and the Christians. The addition was laid out by Mr. Waggoner for the purpose of inducing immigration of Christians who would be strong enough to out number the Liberals and defeat the enterprise. That was prevented by a high post and barbed-wire fence which was immediately put on a strip of land adjoining the town which had been laid off into lots, which they mistook for a street.
By this fence they could neither get ingress nor egress. They could not climb over the fence because it was too high; they could not crawl under it because it was too low; and could not crawl through because of the stickers on the wire. So they just sat down and swore that we were the meanest set on earth, and we guess we were. We saved the town by it and now we are happy.”
The above is the Liberal side of the story. Another account of it is given by Clark Braden in his famous pamphlet on Liberal. It is as follows:
“When some persons who would not submit to infidel bull-dozing, began to settle on lots that Mr. Walser did not own, outside of his town plot, the infidels of Liberal actually undertook to build a wire fence around Liberal, across public highway so as to prevent Christians from entering the town, even to go to the depot. One Monday morning all Liberal could be seen at work, digging holes, carrying posts and wire and putting up this evidence of infidel toleration and liberality. Walser’s wife and other female infidels were driving down stakes as ostentatiously as possible. The railroad authorities telegraphed that they would remove the depot if the lunacy was not abandoned; and that freak of the infidel lunacy was abandoned.”
That barbed-wire fence was an ingenious contrivance to separate the sheep from the goats, or the saints from the sinners, whichever way the reader may desire to put it. The writer does not pretend to say who were the saints and who were the sinners. At any rate, the erection of the barbed-wire fence formed an interesting episode in the history of Liberal.
Allusion is made above to Clark Braden’s pamphlet on Liberal, a few words about the history of the man may not be out of place here. Clark Braden was a native of Ohio. He received his early education at Hiram College in that state. This is the same school President Garfield once attended and where the martyred President was at one time a teacher. In his younger manhood Braden was an infidel. Later he became converted to Christianity and entered the ministry of the Christian church. At the same time he was a teacher, and according to reports of his pupils who attended his school he was a teacher of considerable ability. When the writer first knew him he was at the head of a school at Carbondale, Illinois, known as Southern Illinois College. About 1869-70, he came to Anna, Illinois, where the writer lived and preached once a month, delivering three sermons at each visit.
Most of the time during his ministry he was a teacher and he organized the first teachers’ institute ever held in Southern Illinois. He was a great controversialist, and not many months passed when he was not debating either with some infidel or some preacher of another denomination. He debated with G. W. Hughey, a Methodist minister at Vienna, Illinois. Also with Fishback, Underwood and other Free-thinkers. He also wrote several books among which is one entitled, “The Problem of Problems.” This book is an able effort to prove the existence of that Supreme Intelligent force which, in the religious world, is called God.
Braden was a fighter and sometimes an intemperate one. He seemed to glory in controversy, as the people of Liberal learned on his visit here. He debated with C. W. Stewart ten times in Liberal, and there are some still living here who remember Braden’s visit to the town. This was in February, 1885. He was placed under arrest while here, and as the writer understand it, was arrested on a charge of embezzlement from a firm in Nebraska. Braden’s pamphlet recites his arrest on a charge of libel, in which he was acquitted.
Braden’s pamphlet is a severe reflection on the character of the people of Liberal. The writer does not express himself as to the truth or falsity of these charges. He leaves that to the judgment of persons who were residents of Liberal in the early years. The fact is, the pamphlet was written and caused a big stir at the time.