Clark Braden’s Pamphlet–from 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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Clark Braden’s Pamphlet

[pages 38-44]

Reference has already been made to a pamphlet written and published in early Liberal by a crusading minister named Clark Braden, excoriating the founder of the town and other residents as infidels, and the town in general as immoral and grossly wicked. A first edition of the pamphlet was published in 1885, then followed by a revised and more severe edition in 1886.

In his pamphlet Braden states that he was “written to” in 1884 by parties living in Liberal to come and deliver a series of lectures in defense of Christianity and against infidelity. He says he came in February 1885, and delivered the lectures, beginning February 5th. Mr. Braden was a copious writer; and, no doubt, a free-wheeling orator. Certainly he was fired with the zeal of his convictions, and was violently bitter against Freethinkers, all of whom he seems to have classed as infidels. Naturally, there was retaliation from those whom he assailed.

In O. E. Harmon’s Story of Liberal, Missouri, published in 1925, Mr. Harmon says he knew Braden back in Illinois, before Braden’s visit to Liberal; and that in his younger manhood Braden was himself an infidel, but later became converted to Christianity and entered the ministry of the Christian church. In this respect he was somewhat like the Apostle Paul, first opposed to Christianity, then a zealous crusader for it.

Braden writes that he delivered a series of ten lectures and debated ten times with a citizen named Stewart. Stewart was a Freethinker. It is assumed the topics debated covered Christianity, Freethought and infidelity.

There is no discounting Braden’s activities did have considerable impact on the community. He stirred both friend and foe of the Freethought movement.

But the schism in Liberal had already taken place; and Denison had been founded before the coming of Braden. Waggoner’s addition was platted in 1881, and sold out to Mr. Walser in 1883. The plats of the two parts of Denison, or Pedro, had been filed April 10, 1884, and the exodus from Liberal to Pedro also occurred before Braden came in 1885.

The writer of this history of early Liberal had the opportunity to read Braden’s revised pamphlet more than fifty years ago. In his lectures and debates, Mr. Braden may have expounded in behalf of the Christian religion, but he had little to say about it in his pamphlet. In the pamphlet he seemed to give his attention mainly to his quarrel with the infidels, of whom he was very uncomplimentary, and apparently hated vehemently.

At the time of my first notice of the pamphlet there were yet living here, and in vigorous maturity, some of the very first comers to Liberal, who had passed through the whole siege. By far and large most of them were good, honest and moral persons. But make no mistake, not all were perfect. In such a polygenetic lot as was first attracted to Liberal, there were “a few rotten apples in the barrel.” Because of the notoriety of Braden’s pamphlet, the document cannot well be ignored in any comprehensive history of the period. A few excerpts will be given.

Mr. Braden’s crystal ball seems to have told him that one day Liberal would be swallowed up by Pedro. On this point he wrote:

“In May 1884, a number of persons who would not submit to the infidel insolence and bulldozing moved fifteen of the best buildings in Liberal onto a plot west of Liberal and started the rival town of Denison, now called Pedro. The town is now the crossing of the Kansas City & Memphis railroad and the main line of the Missouri Pacific . . . When the writer (Braden) returned to Liberal in 1885, he engineered movements that resulted in separating Liberal from Pedro as a school district, and that gave Pedro a post office. The depot in Liberal will be abandoned. The infidel fiasco will collapse, and when the few infidels left in Liberal have, like the Arabs, folded their tents and silently stolen away, Pedro will be one of the most promising towns in the southwest. There are two meeting houses and two churches in Pedro. The writer (Braden) preached in Pedro and had one house dedicated. The other has since been finished. Pedro will one day be one of the best towns in southwest Missouri, and will be a monument in the difference between Christian liberality and tolerance and infidel intolerance and bigotry, as Liberal will be of infidel folly and vice, until it disappears in Pedro.”

Many years have passed since Mr. Braden wrote those lines, and his prediction, it can now be said, was more than somewhat short of being accurate. Continuing his prophecy of doom for Liberal, Mr. Braden wrote:

“Three times as many as have been cajoled and hoodwinked into settling (in Liberal) have afterwards left, and generally after losing all they have, as now remain. C. S. Thayer left after selling for $900 property that cost him $1,200. Others have left abandoning their property. There were more than twenty vacant houses in this small town the last week of November, 1886. The Burgesses have left, leaving behind the most valuable property in Liberal. Sparks & Ivy, merchants, have left. The Todds who had the only respectable stock of goods ever in the place were trying to get away. The Yeomans, the Allens, the Belks, the Lyons, the Boutons, the Replogles, etc., had left. Walser had abandoned the place and gone into business in Wichita, Kan. His property is advertised for sale. So anxious is he to sell that he offers $2,000 to anyone to find him a purchaser. Nine-tenths of those left behind would leave if they could get half that they invested. Half would leave anyway if they had the means to get away…

“Walser has fleeced all he can with his lying agents, circulars, advertisements and letters, and now wants to sell. The bonds and warrants of the town are offered at fifteen cents on the dollar, and without purchasers…The public school has no building to meet in, the partly finished schoolhouse is locked up and loaded with debt; business men are moving their goods, people are leaving, and those that are left look more like mourners awaiting the funeral, or criminals awaiting the penalty. So stands Liberal, December 1886.”

Wow!!! How did Liberal ever survive after such a catastrophic situation? But it did somehow survive; and what Mr. Braden prophesied for Liberal happened to Pedro, instead.

As to those who were quitting the sinking ship, Mr. Braden was more than partially in error. Mr. Walser never abandoned Liberal. He did open a temporary office in Wichita, as a sales office for his coal business. His mines at Liberal were operating and shipping in volume. The Belks did not leave Liberal, as many persons yet living can testify; and there is nothing in the history of the Belk family to indicate they ever had any thought of leaving Liberal. Dr. Bouton did not leave. There is history as to Dr. Bouton’s subsequent activities. The Burgesses never left. Their bodies rest in the Burgess tomb in Liberal, yet today. Mr. Yale went to Joplin some years later, where he became prominent in civic affairs. Of the others, I have no record. This was many years ago and it is possible that most, if not all, have long since been harvested by old Father Time.

Mr. Braden also gave his attention to the social and moral conditions of the day, as he saw them, in Liberal. Quoting from his pamphlet:

“The hotels have been low dens of the cheapest character…Their accommodations are not the worst feature. They have been dens of iniquity under thin guise of hotels. Mr. Burgess told Mr. Holland (R. F.) that abundance of evidence could be furnished to prove that Thayer’s hotel was a brothel.”

Speaking of Sunday entertainment in Liberal, Mr. Braden said:

“These Sunday evening entertainments usually closed by clearing the U. M. L. hall of seats and dancing until towards daylight. There was no lack of freelove men and women to accompany the dances, and sprees with free practice of the creed…There was never a time when there were not from three to six places where liquor could be obtained…Profanity has ever been the commonest speech in Liberal…Infidelity in all lands and ages has been characterized by lewdness. Liberal has been an infamous illustration of this fact.”

Mr. Braden relates that once a town meeting passed an ordinance against prostitution, in which action Mr. Walser concurred, also denouncing freelove. But Mr. Braden impugned the motive, viz:

“There was an old crank in Liberal named Morse…who issued semi-occasionally a little leaflet called ‘The Principles of Life,’ and who peddled books on sexual topics, and as Walser says, vomited his filth and called it philosophy.”

Braden called the ordinance against prostitution a farce. Further, Mr. Braden says that a Mr. Stewart joined Mr. Walser in denouncing freelove and prostitution. He quotes Mr. Stewart as saying, “The seducer should be disposed of with a shotgun.” But Mr. Braden denounced these actions as being a chance for Mr. Walser “to attempt another job of whitewashing.” Also he said in this meeting a man named Oram and a man named Henry Yeomans arose and avowed themselves freelovers.

If Mr. Braden’s findings in respect to morality in Liberal, and to Mr. Walser’s financial dealings are no more accurate than his prophecy of doom for Liberal and the ascendancy of Pedro, then credence should, perhaps, be placed in his other writings with considerable reservation. One might assume that he was highly temperamental and spoke and wrote in a high state of passion. No doubt there was bad mixed with the good. But then, as now, the great majority of people must have been good, honest, decent persons.

In his pamphlet Mr. Braden said nothing or little to promote the philosophy of Christianity.

Other preachers of Christianity have followed Mr. Braden to Liberal. (Read of them under the headings, “The Churches Came” and “The Cranks Came”). None imitated him. They were men sincere and dedicated to the preaching of Christianity–which they did–and their efforts were fruitful; still others followed through the years. Some of these, no doubt, found sin here; but if any of them have found Liberal to be, or to have been, such a cesspool of iniquity as described by Mr. Braden, their findings to that degree have not been reported.

One might wonder about the purity of Mr. Braden himself: “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

It seems reasonable to assume that every person wishes to be free to think as he pleases, and to speak his thoughts, if he so desires. But Freethought as a philosophy is no longer a militant entity in Liberal.

Perhaps we should here let the Rev. Mr. Braden rest. He had his say, and if it made him happy, well and good. Meanwhile Liberal has become a town of considerable prominence, while Pedro as a separate unit is no more. It is only a small residential section of Liberal.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

NOTES: The “Oram” mentioned above is actually Owram.

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