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. 16 REPLOGLE’S REPORT
Mr. Mayer says up to this time he was as skeptical as ever, though he had asked for and received some marks upon the slate that he held under the table himself. He now cleaned his slate thoroughly making sure that no writing or marks were on it and put a bit of pencil on it, and the Dr. placed it on a shelf in the closet and closed the door, came away and sat down while the company sang. In a short time rapping was heard on the door and Dr. opened it and handed Mayer the slate, on which were the words: “My Dear Son I am not dead I Still live John G Mayer.” Mayer declares this was written in a hand exactly like his father’s. This was the test that completely upset his Materialism, as he and his father had agreed that whoever died first would make known to the other the fact of a future life if there was any, and it was possible to communicate. After this, under similar conditions, Mrs. Booth received the following: “Dear sister your hard days will soon end and you will hear good news. Lizzie Gearhart.” Mr. Branson, the following: “Dear Father, I am often with you. Francis.” This is a condensed history of the phenomena produced by this circle as gathered from them. We have lived by them and known them for several years and never had any reason to doubt their honesty or truthfulness. All this in our Materialistic associates and friends, aroused our curiosity to see for ourselves, and upon invitation went with a number of others to a seance at Dr. Bouton’s residence, and the following is what we saw to the best of senses under what seem to us to be very fair conditions.
Arriving at the seance, we found Dr. Bouton, Mrs. Weems, Mr. and Mrs. Mayer seated around a small table which was answering questions by tipping and would tip until the legs on one side would be one foot from the floor. To touch it produced a very peculiar sensation when it was thus controlled. After a few minutes it was learned through this medium that a purported spirit friend of Dr. G. Thompson was present and would write on a slate if placed in the closet mentioned. As I was the hard-head of the occasion I took a lamp and examined the closet to my satisfaction, after which Dr. Thompson having his own slate handed it to us, when we cleaned it thoroughly, placed a small piece of pencil on it no larger than a wheat grain, and handed it to Dr. Bouton, who took it by the corner, holding it up to full view of the company and slowly placed it on the shelf in the closet, closed the door, and locked it, sat down beside the closet, placing one hand against it, while the rest sang a few minutes, when a faint tapping was heard from the closet.
Pg. 17 REPLOGLE’S REPORT
All now ceased singing, and the Dr. arose, slowly opened the closet, and in full view of all took the slate by the corner from the shelf where it could be seen by us all, carried it to the table, and to our unutterable surprise there was in a full, bold hand three lines of writing as follows: “My son, I am glad to be able to say anything to you. Develop your wife, she will make a good medium. J. Thompson.” It was tried again with other slates, but with no success. We were invited to attend another seance on Saturday evening, and wishing to satisfy ourselves better in regard to the closet, we went there and examined it as thoroughly as could be without taking it to pieces.
On Saturday evening we again went at the usual hour and found present, besides the four sitters, G. H. Walser, Mrs. Walser, and S. C. Thayer. It was but the work of a few minutes to get the table in full operation, from which it was learned that the spirit of Mary Rosecrans, sister-in-law of Mrs. Weems, was there and would write on a slate of placed in the closet. Mr. Walser being the “hardhead” on this occasion, as we had been at the previous seance, examined the closet to his satisfaction, and washed and dried the slate thoroughly. After he had satisfied himself that there was no writing on the slate, he carried it to Dr. Bouton, who, with one hand behind him, took it by the corner in the other and placed it on the shelf with Mr. Walser by his side in full light of the lamp, watching him closely. He then closed the door, fastened it, sat down in front of the closet with his back to it and his hands in front of him, while the others sang a few minutes, when rapping was heard on the door. The Dr. then arose and opened the door, and with Mr. Walser by his side took the slate from the shelf and handed it to Mr. Walser who brought it to the table and found to his unspeakable astonishment writing which read as follows, “Lora, I tried to show myself to you the other evening in my room, but it seems that you did not see me. I will try again soon. Mag.”
After this the sitters arranged themselves at the table and soon found that a purported spirit friend of Mrs. Walser was there and would write. Mrs. Walser had brought her own slate and Mr. Walser washed this and dried it thoroughly. He then placed a small piece of pencil on it and carried it to the Dr. as before and saw it safely on the shelf. The Dr. then closed the door and seated himself as before. After singing ten or fifteen minutes old and familiar songs, and still no raps, it was concluded there was no writing
Pg. 18 WALSER HEARS FROM D. M. BENNET
or that we had failed to hear the rapping. So the Dr. said, “If you have written, please rap on the door,” when three low but distinct, measured raps came; just while all were breathlessly listening. The door was then opened as before, and the slate carried by Mr. Walser to the table, and to the astonishment of all, contained the following: “Friend Walser. I am glad to have the opportunity to say to you that there is truth in spirit phenomena and a continued life. DMBennet,” with the D. M. and B run together and the peculiar, crippled n’s that characterize his signature. The signature was as perfect a facsimile of his signature whereever we have seen it, as could be on a slate. After interested inspection and commenting, and some more tipping of the table, the hour having come to adjourn all went to their homes. This is what we saw and as we saw it. Now it remains for some one to find out what we did not see; that is how the writing got on the slates, if no one present did it, and if they did do it, how they deceived our senses so completely that all failed to see the trick if such it was.”
The above article was the first one of any importance published in regard to the seances at my house. It had been carefully planned to get friend Replogle to attend for the very purpose so fully accomplished. We believe that if earnest effort had been made on our part, he could have been entirely converted to spiritualism, and in fact some of our band, personal friends of his, took the pains to half give away the secret to him to save him from believing; but the object was gained–a free advertisement in the Liberal which would be noticed by other journals and thus give us an opportunity to test the general public’s credulity, as well as that of our own little village.
The message to Walser from D. M. Bennet in the above article, was important in more than one direction. It was from one prominent Liberal dead, to another living. This message had been carefully considered several days previous to the seance. It was intended to flatter Walser without arousing his suspicion, and at the same time take him in: the subject matter confirming Spiritualism, to be of sufficient dignity and importance to preclude the idea that I, or any assistant I might have could have written it, and yet of such a nature that the Spiritual papers would give it notice–provided Walser was caught with the bait. It was a success in all these particulars; it accomplished everything, and even more than we expected–Walser “fessed up” and acknowledged himself a convert to Spiritualism, and was as proud of his message as a boy with his first pair of boots. It renewed the sensation in town, and
Pg. 19 YALE LECTURES AGAINST SPIRITUALISM
the slate was inspected by all who wished to see it. Letters from Bennet were compared with the writing on the slate, and all saw a great resemblance between them. The Spiritualists evidently would have staked their salvation on the handwriting alone, so well had my slate-writer succeeded; but the Materialists and unbelievers of all classes indignantly denied any similarity between them, and criticised the message sharply. And I might add that my slate-writer criticised it as severely as any of them, and I really feared that he was going back on us, but he didn’t. One notable feature in our developments was the fact that they provoked the unbelievers as much as they elated the others. One would deny as vehemently as the other would affirm. Looking back to that time, it seems almost incredible that non-believers in ghosts could interest themselves so much in a matter of so little importance to them, and get so hot and excited over the success of my circles, but so it was; and we utilized this fact to spread curiosity, advertise our success, and increase the interest. To do this, the war must be kept up. Our Syndicate consisting of unbelievers, could do a great deal toward this by denouncing me as a humbug, and opposing the Spiritualists by well-timed criticisms and caustic comments and inciting others to do the same, which they often did to my own indignation and embarrassment, and I had to bear the joke a little too far. In fact I was becoming the lion of the town, the center of attraction, and was either blessed or damned by every one in it–a position which it took no little dignity to maintain. But the Syndicate resolved to “go the whole hog or none,” and make the most of it by increasing the opposition to me and my circles as much as possible, believing that the more war made on me, the more defenders I would have, the more adherents and the more friends.
To this end Frank Yale was induced to lecture in the hall in Liberal, against Spiritualism, with me and my circles as a text. How he was induced to do so it is unnecessary to tell. Like Truesdell, we must keep back one or two little secrets–even a secret teller has secrets that he wont [sic] tell. It is sufficient to say that he lectured, and he did his work so perfectly, abused me so roundly, criticised Spiritualism so justly, and gave my secrets away so candidly, that Ib began to think that he had overdone the thing and the jig was up with all of us; but our Syndicate had judged wisely, and the lecture was a success for us; for no sooner had Yale taken his seat than a dozen Spiritualists were on their feet to indignantly deny the accusations made against me by him. They stout-
Pg. 20 C. W. STEWART’S REPORT
ly defended me until a late hour and had a decided victory judging from a spiritualistic standpoint. Among my defenders on that occasion was Mr. Walser. Yale had so criticised his message from Bennet as to irritate Walser, and did it in such a way that a return fire from him was sure to come. This, we believe, was Walser’s first public confession of “faith,” and while he went on defending Spiritualism and me in an outburst of indignation, with satire, eloquence and pathos, I thought I never heard a man speak as this man spoke–I hadn’t.
Yale’s lecture, and the debate which followed, made matters so hot that I deemed it best to hold no circles that week, but on the next Sunday the matter was again brought up in the Spiritual Society’s meeting, and discussed again, ending in a vote being taken on my honesty. It resulted favorably to myself with a single exception–Prof. C. W. Stewart protested that the vote was out of place and unnecessary. I found by this almost unanimous vote that I was rising in popularity as a medium rapidly. I will now give entire an article published in the Truth-Seeker, and written by Prof. C. W. Stewart, which describes the next important victory achieved, and which substantially fixed my standing on a solid foundation, viewed from a spookite standpoint:
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TRUTH SEEKER, SIR: Apropos of the discussion now going on between ultra Materialists and Spiritualists, I wish to briefly describe certain phenomena now going on at this place.
Some time last winter a few skeptics formed a circle for the purpose of independent investigation of alleged spiritual phenomena. They soon obtained raps, table-tipping, etc., and early this spring a slate was placed under a table and a message was written upon it. The rest of the circle accused the gentleman who held the slate of perpetrating a trick, and he was naturally indignant at the accusation. At the next meeting of the circle the raps averred that the spirits would write, and when asked where to put the slate, the said put it in a little closet built in the room where the circle was held, at the residence of Dr. J. B. Bouton.
Accordingly, the slate was placed in the closet and the door locked, Dr. Bouton taking a seat on the outside. Soon raps announced that the door should be opened and a message was found written on thee slate.
Mr. G. H. Walser took a slate then, and under the most rigid test conditions a message was found written, and the name of D. M. Bennet signed to it.
–to be continued–
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The plot thickens. Reprinting Henry Replogle’s report, Bouton then infers that Replogle had some intelligence about the deception from friends of his, but the wording is such that we are left to question how much Replogle did indeed know, whether he was privy to enough knowledge to be himself considered a confederate of sorts (withholding his tongue as a reporter rather than exposing Bouton) or whether he was simply steered clear of entrancement.
Replogle’s report was written in 1885. By 1886 he was no longer working on that paper, displaced by Walser, so Replogle started his own, “Equity”. Soon after that, perhaps after a disagreement on free love, he is said to have left town. It seems to me that if Replogle was as intimately briefed on Bouton’s situation as Bouton seems to suggest, Replogle would have had nothing to lose by exposing Bouton when he left Liberal. And one would wonder why he didn’t report on it while still in Liberal, if ostensibly made aware that all was not as it seemed (as Bouton says), or at least when he was heading on his own paper. As Bouton is a liar, it’s difficult to know what to purchase of his telling of the story.
Replogle was born in Indiana in 1858. His father stayed in Indiana but I find that Henry’s sister, Mary, b. 1864, was married to a man named William Riley Gershom in 1889 in Jasper County, Missouri, one county over from Barton. What was she doing there if her father and stepmother (her mother having died) were up in Indiana? Had Henry and wife, Georgia, left Replogle but not removed very far? We know they were publishing the paper, “Egoism”, out of California from 1890 to 1897. Did they leave Liberal and move immediately to California, or were the Replogles perhaps in nearby Jasper as the Bouton story played out? Were they there, perhaps, up to the time that Henry’s sister was married?
After 1900 Henry appears in Denver. The 1910 Denver census shows him with a Henrietta as wife, to whom he’d been married a year. They were still there in 1930 when he was 72 and she was 62. Henrietta was from Missouri. One wonders where she originated from in Missouri, if it may have been somewhere around the Liberal area.
Continuing on to some of the other persons mentioned above.
Branson was Jesse Wiley Branson and is found in the 1900 census still living in Barton County.
1900 Ozark, Barton, Missouri
Branson Jesse W. Sept 1829 70 md 40 years b. TN parents b. VA market gardening
Sarah E. March 1835 65 3 of 5 children surviving b. TN father b. NC mother b. VA
Jesse Wiley was born in Marion County, Tennessee and would die in 1907 in Des Monies, New Mexico. His wife was Sarah Ellen Gault. A former wife of his was Nancy Francis, and they’d had a daughter named Nancy Francis, born April 1860 in Cedarville, Crawford, Arkansas. I don’t find a death date for this daughter but I would hazard this is the spirit Jesse believed to have communicated with him.
The physician, D. G. Thompson, was Glasgow Thompson, married to a Callie Weddington. There were in Bates County, Missouri in 1880. Identified as early citizens of Liberal by Replogle, they were still in Barton County in 1900.
1880 Prairie City Bates Missouri
Thompson Glasgo 48 physician b. SC parents b. SC
Callie 43 b. TN parents b. NC
Leola 16 b. TN father b. SC and mother b. TN
Pearl 14 b. KY
Elmer 13 b. TN
1900 Ozark, Barton, Missouri
Thompson Glasgow Oct 1832 67 md 5 years b. SC parents b. SC soliciting agent
Charlotte H. April 1832 68 b. NY parents b. NY
Ulrich Z grandson July 1883 16 b. AR father b. not known mother b. TN typesetter
Try as I might, I’ve been unable to discover who Booth and her sister Lizzie Gearheart were.
The really stand out story here is Bouton portraying Bennett in spirit form, approving Spiritualism.
D. M. Bennett was a famed freethinker with whom Walser had been associated in Paris, Illinois in the 1870s, had begun publishing “The Truth Seeker” out of there in 1873 then moved to New York and continued publication. With the founding of Liberal, Walser had sent Bennett a deed to land there. Bennett thanked him but didn’t take him up on the offer to relocate to Liberal. He died in 1882. And here Bouton had the calculating gall to bring the atheist Bennett into the mix, producing messages from him to Walser.