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 transcribing here. The book is forty pages long and not divided into chapters.
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Pg. 11 SPIRITS GATHERING BY THOUSANDS IN LIBERAL
Some of our “Syndicate” would nearly always be present and have the mediums inquire of their spirit controls if they could tell, or if they knew, whether any or all of these wonderful manifestations at my house were really genuine spirit manifestations, and they were always informed that these were the real genuine article. I had some one at that kind of work all the time we were operating, and my work was always reported “first class;” so it became very evident to me that it was all a delusion from beginning to end, and that I was just as good a medium as the best. And in confirmation of my conclusion, all of the old Spiritualists who came to my circles said that they had attended the seances of some of the best mediums in the world, and they had never seen anything as satisfactory as that obtained through my mediumship. The different mediums who attended the meetings at my house, would often became entranced, and the spirits would talk through them and tell us that the spirits were making arrangements to gather in large numbers in the fall of 1886, and concentrate all their forces upon Liberal, hold a revival meeting, and through me, produce greater and more wonderful manifestations than had ever been witnessed in the world.
On one occasion, while a slate was in the closet, I made a mistake which came near proving serious and letting the cat out of the bag as effectually as the burning of my house did. It happened in this wise: I thought that I heard the signal raps, and opened the closet door too soon. The secretary overhead, had not replaced the slate on the shelf, but was just in the act of doing so when I opened the door, and thus revealed his hand at the top of the closet. I then thought the jig was up, and the devil would be to pay; but I closed the door quick as possible and remarked that the spirit was just in the act of writing. “Yes” said one, “I saw a spirit hand–It was the most beautiful hand I ever saw!” “Yes, I saw it” said another, “”O, it was grand!” When I saw that all were satisfied that it was a spirit hand, I felt quite relieved. It was told all over town next morning and the scoffers tried to make capital out of it; but the only effect this had was to more firmly unite the Spiritualists in defending me from this “vile slander.”
On another occasion a sealed letter was laid on the slate and placed in the closet for the spirits to read and answer. The reply was written on the slate in good style and the slate returned to its place; but the letter was forgotten, and retained by the operator up stairs. When the slate was then out for examination several exclaimed: “Why where’s the letter?” I confess I was bothered a little and would have preferred
Pg. 12 A LETTER SPIRITED AWAY
to have been up stairs myself just then, instead of having to face the audience; but face them I must, so I remarked that the spirit must have taken the letter. “Of course they have,” said one, “I have known spirits to do the same thing often.” “Yes,” said another, “I have too, and sometimes they never bring them back.” “Perhaps,” said the owner of the slate, “if you would place it on the shelf again, the spirit would bring back the letter.” I replied that I was impressed that it would; and then placed the slate on the shelf, and requested the spirit to return the letter. The circle was formed again, and the first stanza of “John Brown” sung, when we heard raps. Now we will see if it has been returned, said I–I was very sure the letter would be returned. I opened the door and took the slate from the shelf, and, sure enough, there was the letter in perfect condition, unopened, exactly as when placed in the closet. All agreed that the spirits intended this pass a test of their powers. “I tell you” said one, “we are going to get something in a short time more wonderful than this.”
I have often gone to other places by request to hold seances. In all such cases I was prepared with pasteboard faces concealed about my person, because I never could have as favorable conditions abroad as at my own house. At such times I would have curtains placed at the door about four feet high and sit behind them in a dark room. Music of some kind was very essential and we always had it. Some persons would sit close to and at the side of the door. When so situated they would see the thin edges of the paste board spirit face when I held it up to the view of beholders, and I have sometimes heard them remark when these spirit faces came full into the door: “What a thin face that spirit has!” I would smile and think yes, it is rather THIN! But well posted Spiritualists could always account for the thinness of the spirits. They said that in order for a spirit to materialize it must have matter of which to form itself, and that it was not always possible to gather from surroundings sufficient material substance to form a fully developed spirit. This they would say was the reason why these poor spirits were so thin; and those who did not understand spirit philosophy were satisfied with that explanation. These poor thin spirits could never talk, but they could answer questions by a nod or shake of the head, which was very satisfactory. Sometimes a person would imagine the spirit to be a departed friend, a father, mother, brother, sister, child, or other relative and in quire: “Is that father?” If the spirit nodded his head, the speaker would say, “Yes that is is father. I recognized you as soon as you came to the
Pg. 13 BIG MED ALL RIGHT ME GO!
door. I am so glad you have come. Can’t you come again sometime and materialize more fully?” Another nod from the spook. “Thank you! do come again.” The spook would bow itself back into darkness behind the curtain and disappear. Then remarks like these would follow: “How can any one doubt Spiritualism after seeing the like of that?” “O well,” another would say, “such folks haint got half sense.” I would sit in the dark behind the curtain, enjoying my own opinion in regard to their remarks, but I kept it to myself.
Slates, or paper and pencil, were placed in the room used as a cabinet, with a request that the spirits write a message thereon. If the spook would only write his name it would gratify them very much. When these requests were made and the spirits were unable to write, the medium came to their assistance, and got under control to a sufficient degree to enable him to find the slates and do the writing–that is if I happened to know the names of their departed friends whom they believed to be present or the facts in regard to their history to a sufficient extent to enable me to formulate a message. But, thanks to our Syndicate, whose labor in hunting up information had been so through and exhaustive, I had plenty of material on hand for this phase of mediumship, and was seldom found napping. When the seance was over and the curtain removed, they would rush pell mell into the room, snatch up the slates from the bed or table, glance at the name written thereon, and press them to their overjoyed hearts, then return to the seance room to rejoice over what they had received. When the excitement which always following the closing of a seance had subsided, a circle would be formed for my benefit, they would place me in the center, saying, that the spirits had to draw heavily on me for power to materialize and write and this must necessarily exhaust me very much. One of them who was supposed to possess more healing power than the rest would rush into the circle exclaiming that some great healing spirit had come to restore what the spirits had abstracted from me in materializing. It was generally some Indian spirit–there would be a sort of pow-wow gone through with, lasting ten or fifteen minutes, when the actor would say, “Big Med all right! me go.” That finished that part. Then another one of the party would go off into a sort of cataleptic fit, and the company, of course, would think that some spirit had control of the person, and so whatever was said by the individual while under control was perfectly reliable, and worthy of credence by all, and consequently much importance was attached to all this party said or did by those present.
Pg. 14 NO MEDIUM GREATER THAN BOUTON
So while under this influence he or she, as the case might be, would act as medium, through which the spirit would talk, and generally give us a program for our next meeting. After ten or fifteen minutes this medium would come from under the influence; then the time and place for our next meeting would be determined. These meetings never amounted to much unless I was present; then they were “grand.” The circles were held until a late hour, then the people would return home happy in the belief that they were attended by the good spirits which had been with them at the circle. The impression made upon my mind at these seances was quite different of course from that on other members of the circle, and every one was adding a link to the chain of evidence which would finally overthrow the whole business. Often when alone I have sat and wondered how men and women, some of more than ordinary intelligence, could become so thoroughly imbued with superstition, and so easily deceived. Then you may say: “You do not believe that trance mediums are influenced or controlled by spirits of dead persons?” No, indeed I do not! If they are thus controlled, all spirits are lying spirits or else extremely ignorant! I speak thus positively through knowledge obtained by a careful and thorough investigation of the subject. Note the following: At nearly all the circles held where they had all the conditions required for the best results and where the most wonderful manifestations were given, the question would be asked: “Are all of the wonderful manifestations produced through Bouton the work of spirits?” The answer was: “They are.” The question was often asked by my confederates if I was a good medium, and if there were any better mediums than I. The spirits invariably answered through the other mediums to whom the question was put, “There are none better.”
Now what do these facts teach us? Simply this: These mediums did not speak under spirit influence, or else their controls were no wiser or no more truthful than themselves. If the mediums were deceived by my work, it certainly was the duty of their controls to open their eyes to its fraudulency, instead of indorsing it, thereby giving fraud pre-eminence over all genuine spirit manifestation. Yet facts show that somebody, or some spirits, either lied or were mistaken; and to confess that a being possessing super-human intelligence could not detect the trick in my work, is damaging as well as absurd. Yet to argue that the spirits knew, but deliberately lied about the matter, is to admit that all truthful ones (if any) were too ignorant to discover the trickery and raise a dissenting voice, or were intimidated by the liars, hence kept silent.
Pg. 15 HENRY REPLOGLE REPORT
April 30th 1885, I held a very successful seance in my house, and the following is a report of it published in THE LIBERAL of that date, by Mr. Henry Replogle, then its editor:
[Note: I am placing in blockquote to separate from the rest of the text.]
Under Skeptic Conditions
We have been a few times invited to attend seances by our Spiritualistic friends, and have always reported them as we saw them, which was not always the most favorable to the purported phenomena. But we were true to ourselves by stating the facts as they appeared to us. Now that we have witnessed something that is more favorable to our friends’ position, we are in honor, bound to acknowledge it, and again give the facts as we saw them, however much our senses may have deceived us. The accompanying circumstances are as follows:
A. Weems and his wife, Mrs. Lora Rosecrans Weems, our materialistic friends and neighbors who had been investigating the so-called phenomena of spiritualism at circles among the confirmed Spiritualists of our town, and had failed to find anything satisfactory, were visiting Dr. Bouton and wife of this place one evening, and they proposed in a jest that they try sitting at the table and see what the result would be. As they say, with no hope of any manifestation, Mrs. Weems and Dr. Bouton sat by a small stand or table, when in a few minutes the table began to tip and act as they are said to do at seances. After this our friends John G. Mayer and his wife, both confirmed Materialists, were invited to take part in the investigation of the phenomena, and after sitting regularly once a week for a few months, by means of a system of spelling by calling over the alphabet till the table tipped, when the letter was reached that the purported spirit desired to use in spelling out the sentence, several intellible [sic], and some strange communications were spelled out, and finally that the spirits would write on a slate if Dr. Bouton would hold it under the table. A slate was cleaned and examined to the satisfaction of those present, and held by one corner under the table by the Dr. The company watched him till the rapping announced that the writing was done, when the slate was laid on top of the table. On it were found the two words “That’s all.” So skeptical were they that each accused the other of writing it to have some fun in having the other believe it to be genuine; but good faith was restored and it was decided to try again another evening. So these skeptics met at the residence of Dr. Bouton on Saturday evening, and through the usual tapping learned that if they would put the slate in a closet or clothes press that was in the room, that the spirit of Mr. Mayer’s father would write on it.
(to be continued)