There are a fair number of articles on Liberal that are floating around the internet which place all their trust and faith in a Revd. Clark Braden and what he had to write on Liberal in the 1880s. None give in full the pamphlet on Liberal that Braden published in 1886, “A Dream and its Fulfillment, An Expose of the Late Infidel Would-Be Paradise, Liberal, Barton County, Missouri”, nor also an earlier newspaper article for which Braden served as source. By a long shot, these are not complimentary writings, but I thought it would be good to hunt them down, transcribe them, and place them up here, so all may have available the full source rather than chosen bits.
J. P. Moore wrote on Braden’s pamphlet in his book, “This Strange Town–Liberal, Mo”, and the chapter and some of his opinion on Braden can be viewed at that link.
“Fifty Years of Freethought”, which was published in 1888, had a few things to say on Braden:
A debating Fundamentalist of the time, the Rev. Clark Braden, supposed to be a Campbellite, dogged Freethought lectures and defied them to meet him. He was a vituperative polecat, and Christians who engaged him to meet Underwood or Jamieson did not repeat the order. B.F. Underwood unveiled this honorless and characterless individual in The Truth Seeker of August 2, 1879.
A meeting addressed by Putnam in Oakland in May, 1888, was interrupted by the intrusion of the Christian champion and rapscallion, Clark Braden, reinforced by a local preacher named Sweeney and one Bennett, local agent of the Comstock society, with a demand to be heard and a challenge to debate. Mr. A.H. Schou of Oakland, who was presiding, said he would leave it to the audience whether these persons should be allowed to take up the time of the meeting, since the character of Clark Braden was well known throughout the coast. The audience voted a loud and unanimous No. The minister Sweeney begged he might inquire what was Mr. Putnam’s objection to Clark Braden. Mr. Putnam replied: “I will tell you why I will not debate with him. I refuse to meet Clark Braden in public debate because he is a blackguard and a liar.”
There was curiosity to know how the Christian champion would take that. He shouted something at the speaker and then walked stiffly forth, followed by the Rev. Mr. Sweeney and Comstock’s young man. As they went, Mr. Schou sent after them the reminder that if a Freethinker had entered Mr. Sweeney’s church and created this sort of disturbance of the meeting, he would have been placed under arrest instead of being allowed peacefully to depart.
This man Braden, whose argument consisted in an attack on the good name of Freethinkers, usually did not return to serve the same Christian community twice. The religious people who employed Braden had a custom of meeting afterwards to pass resolutions repudiating him as too rank to be borne with. He professed to be a Campbellite, or “Disciple,” and when the churches of that denomination could be worked no longer, he went to the Methodists. A religious paper in Winfield, Kansas, The Nonconformist, gave him this piquant mention: “It is yet to he reported that Clark Braden was ever received in a community the second time, except in company of the officers, with jewelry on his wrists.” At one place, where he debated B.F. Underwood, the Christians who employed him told him he was injuring their cause, and he had to borrow $20 of Underwood to get out of town. In return he sent to Underwood a letter in which he told how the Rev. John Sweeney, Underwood’s next opponent, was to be defeated. There was absolutely no good in Braden. His backers in Oakland came to grief.
B. F. Underwood wrote a booklet of 26 pages titled “The Kind of Man Clark Braden Is”. How I would like to get my hands on that!
Now, on to Braden’s booklet, which I present a few pages at a time. The full booklet may be found via the tag, “a dream and its fulfillment”.
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THE FULFILLMENT OF THE DREAM
About ten years ago, G. H. Walser, then a prominent lawyer and politician of Lamar, the county seat of Barton county, Missouri, made a desperate effort to make an infidel community of that city. Finding that the religious sentiment of the town was too strong for him, he laid off a town, which he called LIBERAL, on a tract of land that he owned, on the Kansas City and Memphis railroad, in the northwest part of Barton county. The avowed object in building up Liberal was to organize a community, in which no one believing in Christianity would be allowed to settle, or live. The writer was written to, in January 1884, by parties living in Liberal, requesting him to come to Liberal and deliver a series of lectures in defence of Christianity; and against Infidelity. In February 1885, he visited Liberal, and delivered the lectures, beginning Feb. 5th. He had circulars scattered all over the place inviting the Infidels to present, in writing, all queries and objections they desired. A decent Christian community would have attended, listened courteously, and presented their objections, in writing, in an orderly manner, as requested. Before the writer had been in Liberal twenty-four hours the Infidels were busily at work, practicing the warfare of Mephitis Americanus, befouling the writer with abuse and filth. S. C. Thayer, a leader in Liberal, was busy, Feb. 3 and 4, showing to every one, a pamphlet concocted by B. F. Underwood, to lie out of meeting the writer in fair debate, in which the writer was slandered in the most infamous manner. All others were busy, and the air was thick with the most infamous fabrications.
One thousand copies of this pamphlet, as an extra of the Infidel paper, were scattered as widely as possible. The air of Liberal was thick and black with slander.
The writer delivered ten lectures. Having invited the Infidels to present, in writing, all the objections they could, he warned them he would not allow them to interrupt him or abuse him without restraint, and break up the lectures in a row; as they always had hitherto done. He challenged them to select and endorse a representative to meet him in orderly debate. Plots were concocted to interrupt him, break up his lectures in a row, to mob him; and parties staying at Liberal then, have assured the writer since, that his person and life were freely threatened and would have been assailed, if the Infidels had not been afraid to attempt violence; as they knew the writer and his friends were ready to meet such attempts in such a manner, as to put an end to them and the cowardly ruffians who perpetrated them. Walser was selected to accept the writer’s challenge, and backed out. Fishback, the champion of Spiritism, was selected, and backed out. At last C. W. Stewart met the writer in debate, ten sessions. The writer delivered twelve lectures and made twenty speeches in debate. In none of these did he utter one word of personal attack, on any one in Liberal, or connected with it. A large audience, by a unanimous standing vote, Feb. 15, requested the Infidel paper to publish, as a reply to Underwood’s lying pamphlet, that it had circulated so widely, the address and resolutions adopted by a mass meeting of all citizens of Meaford, Canada, in regard to this lying pamphlet of Underwood. This reasonable request was flatly refused by this Liberal organ of the Liberals of Liberal, that has the effrontery to style itself “The Liberal.” Press, tongue, pen and telegraph were kept busy slandering the writer.
The writer was in Nebraska from Feb. 20 to April 23. Walser and his crew were busy, through mails, press and telegraph; slandering the writer as widely as they could. Thayer read to all who would listen, a letter from one L. L. Luse, that he knew was a clerical imposter and scoundrel, who had been kicked out of the Methodist church, for lying, swindling, fraud, perjury and adultery; who was trying, by perjury to rob the writer of $765. In this letter the writer was slandered in the most infamous manner. For three months, infidel mouths, pens, press, and the mails and telegraph, teemed with slanders of the writer.
Saturday, Feb. 7, Prof. Grayston, Principal of the Great Liberal Normal and Business Educational Institute in Liberal, and leader of the Sunday Instruction School and Sunday Evening Entertainment; and Dr. Bouton, one of the pioneers and leaders in Liberal, came to the writers’ room in the residence of R. F. Holland; and in a long interview, in the
presence of several persons, made a thorough expose of Walser, the founder of Liberal; the people of Liberal, the various enterprises of Liberal, and its real condition. They urged the writer to publish their statements, and offered to furnish him, for that purpose, all the facts they could. The writer learned from other sources, that their statements were true; and learned other facts. He had the facts to make a most damaging expose of Walser, Liberal, its people, and everything connected with it. Notwithstanding the torrent of abuse that the writer endured for three months, he never gave publicity to the facts he had in his possession, although urged, by two leader in Liberal, to do so. In his thirty-two speeches, he never uttered one word reflecting on a person in or connected with Liberal. Nor did he in any other manner. These facts are stated, that it may be thoroughly understood, that not only did the writer not begin the campaign of slander and abuse; but that he endured, in silence, for three months, a torrent of vilification, although he had the means of making a crashing retort, and was urged to do so, by two leaders of Liberal.
The writer was interviewed, in Lexington, Missouri, April 22, by Sam Keller, a correspondent of the Globe Democrat of St. Louis. The interview was published in the Globe Dispatch of St. Louis, of May 2. The Globe Democrat sent a reporter to Liberal, who published, in the Globe Democrat of May 3, a most damaging report of affairs in Liberal. The writer returned to Liberal April 23, and delivered six lectures in Liberal. In these lectures he ventilated Walser, Fishback, Yale and the parties who had been covering him with defamation, for months. He was arrested for criminal libel, in his statements, published in the Post Dispatch and was tried before Judge Hall, in Lamar, May 18. After the prosecution had presented their evidence, the case was submitted to the jury, without any rebutting evidence by the defence, and the jury speedily brought in a verdict of “No cause of action.” Then the Post Dispatch, R. F. Holland, and the writer were sued for twenty-five thousand dollars damages, in a civil suit. Learning that the defence were thoroughly prepared to prove that Liberal was a den of infamy, and its hotels brothels, the prosecution asked to have the suit dismissed at their own costs. Infidels are lying, claiming that the writer signed a libel. It is a lie made out of whole cloth. The writer defies the infidels to face him in any courts in the United States.
For more than two years, Walser and the infidels of Liberal, have been following the writer, and assailing him, wherever they could learn his whereabouts, with all the malignity of fiends, and the filth of a skunk. Having been treated in this way for more than two years, the writer now proposes to ventilate Liberal, its infamous founder, and vile crew, in such a manner as to render their slanders harmless. He would be recreant to a duty that every man owes to his own reputation, if he did not do so. There are other reasons, any one of which, would, alone, fully justify his course. For years there have appeared in the infidel papers of the United States and Canada, in real estate journals, and in nearly all kinds of papers, glowing puffs of this latest infidel would-be Paradise. Puffs have been scattered broadcast in circulars. Great notoriety and eclat have been given to this infidel land of promise, by press notices, descriptions and comments.
No doubt there are infidels, all over the United States and Canada, who long for a sight of this infidel land of Canaan, and its new Jerusalem, as devout Mohammedans long for a sight of Mecca, and for the same reason, they have never seen it. Hundreds have been duped into making a pilgrimage to this Infidel Utopia, only to waste time and money in the journey; or to be worse swindled, in being duped into settling and losing all they invested. The facts stated in this pamphlet, it is hoped will prevent any one being duped hereafter, by the following lying puff, that has been published in papers, scattered in circulars; and has stood for years, in the columns of the little infidel sheet, published in Liberal, although every one in Liberal knew every statement was a lie.
“Liberal is a thriving town of about five hundred people, all of whom are sober, trustworthy and industrious. It is the only town of its size in the United States, without a Priest, Preacher, Church, Saloon, God, Jesus, Hell or Devil. We have now and have maintained, from the first, Sunday Evening Entertainments, which have grown to be of such interest, that none of our people will miss a single evening, if they can help it. We have also a Sunday Instruction School which is the center of attraction–a place where old and young meet and discuss any subject that can be suggested. To once attend this school, will insure an interest that will bring each one back forever after. Last, but not least, we have established a Normal School, in which Liberals, all over the land, can educate their children in every department of literature and education, and at the same time, have them in the best of Liberal society, with the advantages of our Sunday Instruction School, and our Sunday Evening Entertainments. All that is needed to insure a new citizen, is for some Liberal to come and stay with us over Sunday, and it is sure to bring about a transaction at the land office. This fact speaks for itself too plainly to need much comment. We have a live little paper, called ‘The Liberal’ published at one dollar and a half per year. All desiring information concerning this new departure of a town, can address ‘THE LIBERAL’ at Liberal, Barton Co., Missouri.”
The writer has had the best of opportunities to learn the facts in regard to Liberal. He has conversed, in regard to the matter, with persons who lived where Liberal now stand, before such a town was dreamed of, and in and near it ever since; with the first settler in Liberal; with persons of every variety of belief; and with leaders in Liberal who know its “true inwardness,” from the beginning.
–to be continued–
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Some information on names given above that I’ve not encountered before, and some additional info on individuals of whom I’ve written before.
R. F. Holland. Who was R. F. Holland with whom Clark Braden stayed? R. F. Holland is likely to be Robert Franklin Holland, born 1842 in TN, who was married to a Julia A. and Electa Bumgarner. He moved to Missouri in the early 1880s and died at Leroy in Barton County in 1920. Whatever brought him to that area of the country, I don’t know, and have no idea if he was an early Liberal settler who may have turned sour, or if he was a Christian incensed with freethought policies of the town and determined to introduce biblical philosophy. Electa’s family had moved to Barton County in 1871 and so predated Walser and the freethought community.
It’s difficult to tell from the above if the spiritualist Rev. A. J. Fishback was living in Liberal or not, but it sounds like he may have been.
L. L. Luce would be Levi L. Luce, found in the Fairbuy, Jefferson County, Nebraska census in 1880. He was an editor, born 1842 in PA, married to Olive R. Their sons then were Willie B., Newton, Arther L. and Henry, all given as born in Pennsylvania. He was a Methodist minister and Rowell’s American Newspaper Directory, published 1879, shows him as the editor, when in PA, of “American Citizen”, established 1878, published by H. M. Wolcott & Co. His grievances against Braden, whatever they were, were published in “Braden Unmasked, a Scathing and Fearless Expose of his Character”, a 35 page book written in 1885, and perhaps we would find something in them in “State of Nebraska vs. L. L. Luse” from 1885 and “The Braden-Luse Affair”, also from 1885, a letter concerning the suit signed by C. T. Phillips, B. F. White, F. L. Littleton and W. T. Totten.
Like Underwood’s book on Braden, Luce’s is another one I would like to lay my hands on.
I’m surprised to see Grayston listed here as going to visit Braden with Bouton in order to lodge complaints with him. I will get to Grayston in another post, but from what I’ve read of him it seems peculiar to me that Grayston would have put any trust in Braden. Also, it’s disorienting that he went to Braden in company with J. B. Bouton who in early 1885 would begin the several years’ long spiritualist hoax on the people of Liberal. Knowing how Bouton lied to so many of his friends, it’s to be wondered what he said to Braden, but his hoax makes suspect whatever his testimony may have been. Grayston, putting his trust in both these men, seems to display here a lack in good judgment of character. Either that, or Braden is misrepresenting Grayston’s visit.