George MacDonald on “The Truth Seeker” and George Walser

The Truth Seeker Company published, in 1929, George E. MacDonald’s “Being the Story of the Truth Seeker, with the Natural History of its Third Editor”.

The Truth Seeker was a periodical begun in 1873 by freethinker D. M. Bennett. George MacDonald had been its fourth editor, succeeding his brother who had become editor after the brief period Mrs. Bennett held the position subsequent the death of her husband in 1882.

In the book, MacDonald briefly writes on Walser having attempted to include Bennett in the founding of Liberal.

A man destined to cause the Freethinkers much embarrassment ran, at Lamar, Missouri, a paper named The Liberal. He was G.H. Walser, who founded the town of Liberal, in that state, to be the home, exclusively, of Freethinkers. Incidents in the after fate of Liberal as a town must be mentioned in this record as they occur. In the beginning of 1881, Walser and his wife deeded Bennett “all lot No. three (3), in block No. seven (7) in Liberal.” The Doctor printed the debenture and returned thanks.

Walser apparently respected Bennett’s work, and probably also thought that a possible association of Liberal with Bennett would have been beneficial. Bennett being ensconced in New York and unlikely to move to the Midwest, it’s impossible to know, however, if Walser had hopes that Bennett might take him up on his offer, or if the deed was purely for show, Walser certain that Bennett would remain in New York.

Which brings up the question of what happened to this deeded land, who came in possession of it ultimately and how.

We also learn that the free love debate of 1886 was continued in at least a couple of issues of “The Truth Seeker”, and that Walser himself wrote “The Truth Seeker” upon the unveiling of the deception of the spiritualist, Bouton.

During this year (1886) the difficulty of maintaining freedom of opinion in a small community became apparent in the experience which the town of Liberal, Missouri, was going through. The father of the town, G.H. Walser, had been converted to Spiritualism by a tricky “medium” named Bouton, and had displaced Henry Replogle, a Materialist, as editor of his paper, The Liberal. Mr. Replogle began to print a paper of his own called Equity, devoted to the principles of libertarianism. Mr. Walser objected to Equity, first, because he did not think the town needed two papers; second, because Equity was labor reform, while he was a capitalist.

Add to this the fact that Replogle advocated social freedom, and Walser had a case with which he could go before the community. He had employed a lecturer named C.W. Stewart, who, addressing a Sunday night meeting in the Opera House, proposed that the persons holding objectionable views about sex and marriage should be led to the outskirts of the town and invited to keep going. Mr. Walser endorsed the speech and called for a rising vote of approval. This brought to their feet as many as did not wish to be understood as approving of free love. Of the contrary minded, four persons arose, including Mr. Replogle. Two days later a mob attacked Replogle’s house, heaving rocks, firing guns, and sticking a dagger in his front door, The demonstration divided the town. Mr. Chaapell (note: Jay Chaapel) Spiritualist but Liberal, resigned from the editorship of Mr. Walser’s paper. The disputants brought their deplorable quarrel to The Truth Seeker, July 17 and July 31. Then came the exposure of the medium Bouton, who had converted Walser and been indorsed under oath by Stewart and others, with a diagram of the premises and test conditions. (T.S., June 27, 1986. [sic]) But the exposure, occasioned by a fire in the medium’s house which brought to light the devices of Bouton, was so complete that Walser himself wrote to The Truth Seeker about it, and Bouton acknowledged his deceit. That was another blow to the town of Liberal. A still harder one was delivered by the local railroad company which, itself being in the coal mining business, refused to transport Walser’s coal except at discriminatory rates, and Liberal, being a coal town, suffered accordingly. Its industry was crippled. Freethinkers were compelled to sell their property and look elsewhere for employment; and as no one else would buy, they sold to Christians.

Mr. Walser’s belief in spirits survived the exposure as fraudulent of the phenomena upon which it was established. Instead of returning to Rationalism he appears to have become more credulous and more fanatical. I am unable here to tell what became of Mr. Walser, except that within the past few years I have seen a pamphlet containing religious poetry of his composition that showed he was out of touch with Freethought and was as religions as a hymnbook.

The full text of MacDonald’s book can be found here at skepticfiles.org.

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