Waggoner’s Addition and the Barbed Wire Fence–J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

Checking with the copyright catalogue, I find copyright was made in 1963 by J. P. Moore but was never renewed, which means the book has entered the public domain. The author is long since deceased.

THIS STRANGE TOWN–LIBERAL MISSOURI
A HISTORY OF THE EARLY YEARS
1880 – 1910

BY J. P. MOORE

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Waggoner’s Addition and the Barbed Wire Fence

[pages 15-19]

On May 20, 1881, a man named William H. H. Waggoner, who owned a tract of land adjoining Mr. Walser’s domain on the north, dedicated and filed for record Waggoner’s Addition to Liberal. It was laid out in both residential and business lots; and to this addition he invited Christians to come and settle.

If Mr. Waggoner did this in a sincere desire to promote Christianity, or in the hope of selling some pasture land at town-lot prices, was not revealed. But at any rate he did not hold forth for long, as will be seen.

There is no record that there was any immediate great influx of Christians, or others, to this new addition. But there is a record that the circumstances stirred up something of a hornet’s nest, so to speak, among the Freethinkers. Mr. Walser and his friends were so aroused that they built a high barbed wire fence between his balawick and the newly-founded Christian preserve.

The fence was built on a narrow strip of land, owned by Mr. Walser, that lay between the two areas. For years this fence has been seized upon by columnists and feature writers as juicy material in sensational stories about Liberal. So the story of the barbed wire fence, as told by these writers, must be known far and wide.

A most clear mental picture of the fence and the friction can be gained by reading accounts of the fence. One account published in “The Liberal,” Mr. Walser’s newspaper, now long since defunct, in the issue of April 18, 1883, 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 outnumber the Liberals and defeat the enterprise. That was prevented by a high post and a barbed wire fence which was immediately put up on a strip of land adjoining the town, which had not been laid off into lots, which they mistook for a street. By this fence the 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 they could not crawl through because of the stickers on the wires. So they just sat down and swore that we were the meanest set on earth, and I guess we were. We saved the town by it and now we are happy.”

Analyzing the foregoing, it sounds like Mr. Walser was doing a little crowing over his strategy, and that Mr. Waggoner’s campaign was of rather short duration. Waggoner didn’t stand by his guns as a dedicated person would have been expected to do. He sold out after only one year and eleven months. If his profit was great or small, or if he sustained a loss, is not known.

If there was much concern at the time amongst the citizenry on either side of the fence, it is not a matter of record. But the repercussion came about two years later, when in 1885 there appeared in Liberal a crusading evangelist by the name of Clark Braden. Braden seized upon the circumstance of the fence and issued a spirited pamphlet in which he gave a different account of the barbed wire fence barrier as follows:

“When some persons who would not submit to infidel bulldozing began to settle on the lots that Mr. Walser did not own, outside his ton plot, the infidels of Liberal actually undertook to build a wire fence around Liberal, across a public highway so as to prevent Christians from entering the town, even o 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 ‘tolerance’ 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 infidel lunacy removed.”

Braden’s account, one might say, was highly temperamental; but it was not wholly factual. For one thing, there is no evidence that the fence was built “around” the town, as actually it was built in a straight line, and on private property, and not across any public highway, as already explained. The depot of hat is now the Frisco railroad was outside the south town limits at that time, and easily accessible to the residents of the country roundabout. The residents of Waggoner’s addition could have gone around either end of the fence if they had wished to do so, as it was but little more than a quarter of a mile long. The Missouri Pacific railroad did not come until 1885, two years later than the fence building episode.

There is no doubt the whole affair did present something of an inconvenience to the people living in Waggoner’s addition, and discouraged newcomers. Also it could have influenced Mr. Waggoner to sell out and abandon the project.

There have been those who mistakenly believed this fence to have been built between Liberal and Pedro, and in a north and south direction. But such a belief is erroneous, because at the time there was not yet any Pedro.

Knowing Mr. Walser as I did, it is my opinion that he alone conceived and financed the building of the fence; and that it was built in a gesture of contempt, and more as a psychological than a physical barrier. As to how well it actually worked, we now have as evidence only the conflicting stories of Mr. Walser and Mr. Braden on which to base our judgment. Anyway, the fence is long since gone and so are the principals involved.

To locate Mr. Waggoner’s Addition: Begin at the jog on North Main street; run thence west to the Missouri Pacific railroad right-of-way, thence south along the right-of-way to the north line of the Neutral Strip (Read of the Neutral Strip in the following chapter): thence east to Main street; thence north to place of beginning. This encompasses the addition.

The private property on which the fence was built was and is a strip of land 57 and 1/2 feet wide, lying between the original town of Liberal and Waggoner’s Addition, and extending east and west from the Missouri Pacific right-of-way to Denton street.

Waggoner’s Addition as a rival settlement could not have offered a very serious threat to Liberal as there were no business or other civic establishments therein; and I have been able to pinpoint only eight dwelling houses that could have been built in the addition before Mr. Waggoner sold out.

These eight houses are the two first and the last one on the block north on Main from Maple stree; then three houses on the north side of Kneeland street, sometimes called Pacific street, and the two other houses, now gone, that stood at the south end of dead-end Myrtle street. Myrtle street is just one block west of College street. Of the others, only one, the one first north of Maple on Main, is in near its original state at the time of this writing. It may be gone or altered before this is in print. All the others have been extensively remodeled.

Of the two houses at the south end of Myrtle street, one was destroyed by fire and the other was moved to a farm, northwest of town.

After consolidation, both the original town and the new section soon grew until it was necessary to add other additions. There are few persons now living who have other than legendary knowledge of that early day controversy, soon there will be none; it is all now in the dim past.

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