Freethought Liberal turned to spiritualism, much aided by the ministries of the mediumship of Dr. J. B. Bouton. Then in 1887-88 there was a fire at Bouton’s, a trap door was found, and his chicanery was exposed. Mr. W. S. Van Camp and Mr. J. H. Roberts had aided with acting as spirits.
Rather than hide what had happened, the duped people of Liberal put out the word. George H. Walser, the town’s founder, having been himself converted to spiritualism, wrote notifications giving the facts on what had been discovered in Bouton’s home.
In turn, Bouton then wrote his own side of the story, published in 1888. He portrayed himself as a doctor whose ruse was a planned dispensing of bitter medication in order to help the citizens of Liberal get over the “contagious disease” of spiritualism–never mind that it was a plan that played out over nearly four years and involved his concertedly–and with great delight–converting even diehard materialists to spiritualism through his pretenses. And never mind that Bouton did not out himself. His plan to cure the people of Liberal of their belief in spiritualism, which curiously involved convincing non-believers that he was a true medium, appeared to have no end date. It was the fire that brought out the truth.
I located a surviving copy of J. B. Bouton’s book at DeGolyer Library at the Southern Methodist University and they generously sent me a photocopy of it which I will be reproducing here over the space of the next month or two. The book is forty pages long and not divided into chapters.
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HARK FROM THE TOMB A JOYFUL SOUND!
SPIRIT ECHOES FROM “OVER THERE”
A CONSISE HISTORY
OF THE “WONDERFUL MEDIUM”
Dr. J. B. Bouton., Liberal, Mo.
Price 25 cents for single copy; five copies for $1; 100 copies for $16.50; sent post paid to any address in the United States at the above named price. Address the author, Dr. J. B. Bouton, Liberal, Mo.
Copyrighted 1888 by Dr. J. B. Bouton
W. S. Allison, publisher, Liberal, Mo.
TWO YEARS AMONG THE SPIRITS
IN THE GODLESS TOWN OF LIBERAL, MISSOURI
I am aware of the fact that it would be folly in me to attempt to justify myself in the minds of some of the humiliated Spiritualists, who were so confirmed in the belief that they had been holding sweet communion with those who had only passed to a higher life, to return again, which they have learned to be a delusion.
I have practiced medicine for more than twenty years, and have often found it necessary in extreme cases to make the patient a little sicker, by giving medicine to remove the cause. Then, if they will take their medicine all right, there is no danger.
This thing called Spiritualism is a contagious disease, and a dangerous one. About four years ago, I discovered that it was spreading rapidly throughout the country, and was getting a dangerous hold here in Liberal. Seeing the necessity of a remedy, I prescribed what I then believed to be the only safe and effectual one–which was to give those afflicted a Liberal dose of spook syrup, and then show them he material of which it was composed. I administered the remedy, and the superstitious took it as greedily as ever a child took candy lozenges “and cried for more.” They had never taken anything half so sweet. But when the time came to exhibit the formula of which it was composed–as one of my patients, G. H. Walser, said in his struggle for revenge–“they vomited with shame;” you, more, they foamed with rage, and a few of them have threatened to prosecute me for maltreatment, although Mr. Walser had declared publicly that “even if it was a fraud, it was a good thing, because it was bringing the people together and uniting them”–this was on the principle mentioned in “Holy Writ”–“continuing in sin that grace may abound.”
Up to that time that I became a medium, there was a variety of opinions or isms here in Liberal, it being a Freethought town, and claiming to be the “only one in the world.” Each ism striving for the ascendency soon caused trouble. The time for the lion and the lamb to lie down together had not yet come. Seeing the necessity of something to counteract the unhallowed influence of the evil spirits in our midst, I concluded to introduce other and better spirits. These soon learned to know my voice, and would come forth in all their glory and grandeur. There was some grace in their footsteps, heaven was in their eyes, and their faces (some of them) like Solomon’s of old, were dark, but very comely–especially Uncle Absolom’s, Big Thunder’s, and Old Snag’s–one negro and twin indian chiefs who were very noted characters at my seances. Bro. Walser, at that time, said he would give $1k000 for one of the diamonds which ornamented Big Thunder’s wardrobe; but to-day, I suppose, he would not give a nickle for his whole outfit.
pg. 2 INDORSEMENT
We,the undersigned citizens of Liberal, Barton Co., Missouri, have a personal acquaintance with Dr. J. B. Bouton, and know him to be a man of TRUTH and a WORTHY CITIZEN.
We have been given the privilege of examining the conditions under which certain slate-writing takes place in said Dr. Bouton’s house, alleged to be through the instrumentality of spirits. We have availed our selves of said privilege, and have made a thorough examination of said premises, and we hereby pronounce it utterly impossible that said writing can occur through visible or tangible human agency:
C. W. STEWART
D. P. GREELEY
C. W. GOODLANDER, Jr.
JOHN G. MAYER
G. H. WALSER
State of Missouri, Barton County.
Subscribed and sworn to before me, a Notary Public in and for the county of Barton, state of Mo., this the fifth day of June, 1885.
F. L. YALE, Notary Public
HOW IT ALL CAME TO PASS
In the fall of 1884, the Spiritualists of Liberal induced a medium by the name of Search to visit Liberal. It was expected by them that his seances would open the eyes of many unbelievers and cause them to believe in spirit phenomena. Search was said to be one of the best slate-writing and materializing mediums in the world. He held two seances. The first was among “believers” and gave such satisfaction to them, that several skeptics, myself included, were invited to attend the second. It is not necessary for me to describe the manifestations that night further than to say they were transparent. I told some of the believers present that I could beat that seance myself, without the aid of the spirits, and the sequel proves it true. The skeptics present could easily see taht it was a fraud, and a very weak one at that; but the Spiritualists pronounced it genuine, grand, wonderful, and convincing. This set me to thinking as to how far credulity and superstition could carry people when they once get started in that direction, and it gave me an inspiration. Other skeptics who were there thought as I did, as subsequent facts will show.
Pg. 3 MY EXPERIENCE AS A MEDIUM
Early in 1885, a few of my neighbors (some Spiritualists among the number) proposed to hold circles at my house. The Spiritualists thought by doing so they would get manifestations which would convince me and others of the truth of Spiritualism. A night was set for circles–Tuesday night of each week. For the first two or three nights we got very little evidence; the table would shake a little after sitting at it some time. At last I concluded to try my hand and see if I could not make it a little more interesting. We used a small, pine table, the legs of which were close together. It would tip very easily. By pressing down on my side I could make it raise from the other, and soon found in this way to make it rock as I desired, and to answer questions. We agreed that one tip meant “No,” two “don’t know,” three “Yes.” In this way we could have the supposed spirits spell out names or messages by going over the alphabet. When we got to the first letter of the name, if I knew it, the table would tip once, and so on, until the entire name was spelled out. It became interesting. Some one would say, “O, that is wonderful!” Then another would ask if any of their spirit friends were present. The table would generally answer “Yes,” as it is supposed by believers that spirits are always present. “Can you spell your name for us?”–some one would ask. If I happened to know the name myself the table would spell it; if I did not, the answer “No” was given.
These were the only manifestations we got for about two weeks when they became stale with me; but all the rest were wonderfully delighted. I would often ask them if they really believed it to be the work of spirits. The answer would be: “Yes, it must be spirits. If not, what can it be? Any one can see that intelligence is there, and we are unable to account for it in any other way.” I would say I was an investigator, and was not ready to give my opinion just yet. After the time arrived to break up our circles the members thereof would remain a half hour longer, rejoicing over our wonderful success, and even then reluctantly retire to their respective places of abode. I begun to think I was making pretty fair headway in my investigations. When we first begun our investigations quite one half of the members of any circle were Materialists; but now, firm “believers.” Thus far I had all the evidence I desired and must prepare something new for the next meeting. When the time came all were promptly on hand. Each took his respective place in the circle. Soon the table began to tremble–this being produced by a quick, tremulous motion of the hands on the table. Mrs.
Pg. 4 MY EXPERIENCE AS A MEDIUM
Weems, who took upon herself the office of speaker, said, “The spirit friends are here. Can you tell us who you are?” The answer “yes” came. “Will you give us your name on the slate if we call the alphabet?” “Yes.” A slate and pencil were procured. Mary Rosecrans’ name was spelled out. Mrs. Weems shouted for joy and exclaimed: “O, Mag! I am so glad you have come. This is the first time we have ever heard from you since you passed to spirit life. Now you want to tell us something–I know you do! Are you happy over there?” No!” “I was afraid you were not happy. You are troubled about your children. If they were well cared for would you be happy?” “Yes.” She would have asked many more questions, but some other spirit took possession of the table, shook it roughly, and thus caused much uneasiness among the members of the circle. The question was asked: “Who are you?” I gave the table a sudden hoist about six inches from the floor. This caused some alarm. “Is this Mag?” Another jump–“No.” “Can you tell us who you are?” The answer “yes” came with three bounds of the table. “Mag, can you tell us who this strange spirit is?” Three gentle tips of the table, “yes.” “Will you give us the name on the slate?” “Yes.” Mrs. Weems called over the alphabet and the name Snag was spelled. I told them that I once knew an old Snake Indian by that name, when quick as thought there came three loud and distinct raps on the table, produced by pressing firmly the ball of the fingers on the surface, and pushing forward a very little at a time, which will cause a soft, but very distinct cracking sound. With a little practice any one can do this without fear of detection, especially when the light is turned down, so as to produce proper conditions. These raps were something we all had been anxious to obtain. Spiritualists think that when they can produce raps they are making progress toward development. The old Indian would always rap, but never tip the table. We all enjoyed ourselves that night conversing with old Snag. He was a very funny old Indian. At first we thought the old fellow was mad at some of the party; but after we got the conditions to please him he was very funny and communicative in his way; but we failed to get satisfactory answers to questions asked him. Some one made the remark that he believed Snag was drunk, when in an instant three loud raps were heard. “Yes,” said one, “he is drunk! he says he is.” I knew very well that he was drunk when he was killed, for I stood within twenty feet of him when he was shot dead from his pony in Montana. We could not get a straightforward answer to any question unless about whiskey or tobacco.
Pg. 5 SNAG CHEWS TOBACCO
That meeting was very interesting to all, myself not excepted. At an unusually late hour we broke up, with the understanding that we would meet at another house. The time came, and all were on hand. We found our old friend Snag present, and waiting for us. He took possession of the table and no other spirit was permitted to come near it. He gave us to understand that he wanted whiskey or tobacco. Mr. Mayer asked him if he would eat tobacco if some was given him. He said he would. A good sized piece was laid on the slate, and I held it under the table with one hand while I laid the other on top of it. The light was turned very low, so as to make conditions right for dead Indians to chew tobacco. I laid the slate on my knee, took the tobacco off and put it in my own mouth. We were told by the usual raps that the work was done. The light was turned up, and the slate laid on the table. The tobacco was gone. All exclaimed, “Is not that wonderful!” Mrs. Weems turned to me saying: “Now what do you think? Can you still doubt it?” I replied, It is very strange. I never saw anything like that before–I hadn’t. Some one of the party brought a flower from the garden and laid it on the slate and asked Snag to get another like it and lay it by the side of the one on the slate. The light was turned down, I passed the slate under the table as before. Soon raps were heard. The light was turned up; but instead of the flower we found writing saying: “Go to hell with your posy! me want whiskey!” This brought the exclamation from all present: “It is wonderful: if we just keep up our circles, we will soon get materializations!” All agreed that they never saw any thing like that. After the light had been turned down I laid the slate on my knee, wrote the message, and signed Snag’s name. Mr. Mayer said, “If my father is present I want him to write his name on the slate.” Three soft raps, quite different from Snag’s, were heard. “That is another spirit–it must be my father,” said Mr. Mayer. The slate was cleaned, and I put it under the table with one hand while the other rested on top of it. The light was turned down as before, and a song was sung. Soon raps were heard. The lights were turned on, and the slate brought forth with Mr. Mayer’s father’s name in full. He declared it was his father’s own handwriting–he knew it was; for his father wrote a different hand from any one else.
After the circle was broken, nearly an hour was spent in talking over the grand success of the evening.
News of the wonderful manifestations spread through the town and surrounding country like wild fire.
(to be continued)
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The Weems were Albert Weems and Lora Rosecrans. Albert was born 1852 in Indiana to Thomas D. Weems and Mary. His family was in Leavenworth, KS by 1860. I’ve been unable to locate Lora and her family in the 1860 or 1870 census.
Lora and Albert were in Kansas in 1880 and had moved on to Oklahoma by 1900.
1880 Dunlap Morris Kansas
49/51 Weems Albert 28 painting b. IN father b. PA mother b. NC
Lora 27 b. IL father b. OH mother b. KY
Maud 7 b. KS father b. IN mother b. IL
1900 Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Oklahoma census shows:
Weems, Albert March 1852 48 married 25 years, b. IN father b. OH mother b. IN
Lora b. Jan 1853 47 4 children with 4 surviving, b. IL father b. OH mother b. KY
Daisy March 1883 17 b. MO father b. IN mother b. IL dressmaker
A bio on Charles Weems, a brother of Albert, reveals their father, Thomas, was in the Methodist ministry until he was “superannuated” in 1890 due to ill health. Thomas’ father was David, son of John Weems, one of Washington’s biographers, a friend of his and his attending physician during his final illness. David Weems emigrated to Iowa and died there in 1879 at the age of 75. Thomas was born and reared in Ohio, moving to Indiana at the age of 15, marrying at 18, and given as moving with his wife to Missouri, but they left for Illinois because of the pro-slavery sentiment. His wife was Mary Reese, daughter of Zachariah, who was a Quaker. Albert’s other siblings were Elwood W., James, Thomas R. and Lulla M. (Snider). It looks like Thomas Weems stayed in Illinois after moving there.
An early business at Liberal was Mayer and Weems. Capt. John G. Mayer, a carpenter, was a pioneer resident of the town and I’m assuming this is the Mayer of Mayer and Weems. Carpentry and painting, sounds like.
The 1900 census of Ozark, Barton, Missouri shows:
Mayer, John G. head 1839 Oct 60 married 34 years b. IN father b. Germany mother b. KY carpenter
Margaret I. wife May 1845 55 7 children with 7 surviving b. IN father b. PA mother b. KY
Mary L. Oct 1868 31 b. IN parents b. IN teacher
Ada A. Jan 1869 30
Minnie L. May 1874 26 printer and typesetter
Carl A. Sept 1876 23 farmer
Alta V. Nov 1878 21 bookkeeper
Dixie B. Dec 1887 12 at school
SWANK Elizabeth E. daughter Jan 1871 29
Jacob A. son-in-law April 1859 41 b. OH parents b. OH teacher
John W. grandson July 1898 1 b. MO father b. OH mother b. IN
In 1880 they were living in Shelby, Ripley, Indiana and it looks like the only child of theirs who had married by 1900 was Elizabeth.
The Missouri Heritage site shows John Mayer as dying in Barton County Dec 7 of 1925. His wife, Margaret Indiana Mayer died Dec 15 of 1930 in Barton.
Who Mary Rosencrans was I don’t know, but she sounds like she may have been associated with Liberal as Bouton was familiar with her name and death.