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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When the “Post Dispatch” and the “Globe Democrat” turned the calcium light of the press on Liberal, Walser acted as slovenly housewives often act when they see a neighbor approaching. They frantically seize a broom and begin to stir up the dust and stench, and only succeed in making them more apparent and offensive. Walser had meetings held nightly in his residence, and had an investigating committee appointed; as an Infidel bluntly said: “to decide whether Liberal should remain a whore house, as it had been so far; or they could undertake the hopeless task of trying to make a decent town of it.” The result was that they only stirred up the filth and stench of Liberal, and made it, if possible more apparent and offensive. It started quarrels that have culminated in bursting up this Infidel den. The criminations and recriminations of the factions in Liberal, have unearthed and proved tenfold more and worse, than appeared in the “Post Dispatch” and “Globe Democrat”.
As Liberal is the first attempt made in the United States, to establish a community on so intolerantly an Infidel basis, the results are important, and should be generally known. They are of vital importance to both Infidels and Christians, for they go far towards deciding the mooted question: “Can Society be established permanently and successfully, on an anti-religious basis?” The experiment has been tried in Liberal, under unusually favorable circumstances. Walser who originated and controlled the movement, was a man of large means, and when he began the enterprise, had almost unlimited sway in Barton county. Infidels of United States laud him as one of their leaders. Infidels have invariably asserted that the Infidels in Liberal have been “the best of Liberal society.” The location and surroundings of Liberal have been unusually favorable. The advertisement given to the town by Infidel papers, the eclat of such an unusual enterprise, the notoriety given to it by the press of the United States and Canada, have given to Liberal such a “boom,” in puffing at least, as few towns have had. Infidelity has had absolute control of Liberal for seven years, and almost complete sway in the surrounding country. We are justified then in saying that, if a system ever had an opportunity, and full freedom to display what it can do, Infidelity has had the in Liberal. We will now summarize the facts learned.
G. H. Walser the founder and proprietor of Liberal, first “achieved greatness,” in Paris, Edgar county, Illinois, where he was running a store, on which he secured an insurance far beyond its value. It mysteriously got a fire, and was saved several times. The last time Walser was found in bed sound asleep, and hard to awake, though the wick of the candle in his room, was still smoking. He was watched, caught in the act of setting fire to the building; and spent three years in jail, part of the time in irons, for an attempt to break jail; and escaped the penitentiary, by the chicanery of D. W. Voorhees, his attorney. He was dismissed from the army in disgrace for crime and misconduct, and although he has made desperate efforts to be restored, he has failed. It is a disgrace to the G.A.R. and the Post in Lamar, that the name of this army renegade pollutes their rolls. While living in Carthage, Mo., he concocted a railroad bond fraud. By hiring villains to hold a pretended bond election in thinly settled towns, by perjury, forgery and fraud, he loaded towns with fraudulent bonds, sold them, and escaped the penitentiary, by compounding his villainy. He next took part in a gigantic land steal, in which the United States government was defrauded out of tens of thousands of acres of the best land in Southwest Missouri, at a few cents per acre, as worthless, because “Swamp lands.” He has swindled scores, in disposing of the land he stole from the government. A common piece of villainy was to show a purchase, an excellent piece of land, giving as its number, that of a worthless piece. The purchaser soon found that he had paid the price of good land for worthless land, and without remedy, for Walser was careful that there be no witnesses. But time would fail us to tell all of the noble deeds of this benefactor of humanity, this leader in reform, G. H. Walser, founder of the latest Infidel Paradise, Liberal. Some of them will come out in the other portions of our narrative. But only a fragment can be told.
Mark Walser, his hopeful son and lieutenant, reared under the instruction and example of his illustrious sire, spent a part of his promising youth, in a house of refuge, for crime. In Lamar, he ran in debt, wheedled friends into going his security, and ran off in the night with his goods, and left them to pay $4,000 for him. He forged the names of two friends, as securities to notes, on which he borrowed money in bank, and his illustrious sire had to buy him off, to save him from the penitentiary. His last exploit, as far as heard from, was to draw out of bank in Fort Scott, between five and six thousand dollars, as his father’s clerk, and use it–overdrawing his father’s account, and embezzling the money. He is a ruffian and scoundrel of the blackest dye. Life father, like son; like leader, like people.
Liberal was laid out on a portion of the land Walser stole as “swamp land,” or from the United States. Such is the founder of Liberal. Such is the land on which it stands.
There must be a town at or near where Liberal stands. The nearest town, Lamar, is 17 miles distant, Fort Scott, Nevada, and other towns are over 25 miles distant. The surrounding country cannot be excelled in fertility and beauty, and is underlaid by one of the best coal beds in the west. The people of the surrounding country are unusually thrifty and intelligent. With right management, Liberal would today, be a town of 5,000 people, and with one hundred fold the wealth in it, that there is in Liberal. Scores of towns, with less advantages, have reached such figures. Glowing announcements of this infidel paradise, were made in all infidel papers, and all infidels were exhorted to flock to this infidel land of promise
flowing with the milk and honey of what is called “free thought.” After seven years of most persistent and unceasing gassing, blowing and puffing advertising and writing up, gratuitous and otherwise–with agents traveling, lecturing and canvassing for the town–with all the notoriety and eclat such an enterprise would give to the town, among those who call themselves “Liberals,” and who boast that they monopolize the brains, talent, money, intelligence and business sense of the age; there are not now within one mile of the depot in Liberal, more than 500 people; and of these more than half are in the rival Christian town, Pedro. It would be an easy matter to find, in United States and Canada, hundreds of towns that have, in less time, and with less advantages, reached ten times the population of Liberal, and fifty times its wealth.
There are not more than two buildings in Liberal that cost $3,000, not half a dozen cost over $1,500, and a great majority cost less than $1,000. There never has been, in Liberal, a stock of goods that cost $10,000–but few cost $3,000. The hotels have been low dens of the cheapest character–have changed hands frequently, and have stood vacant much of the time. Commercial travellers have stopped at Lamar, and paid the railroad fare of merchants from Liberal and back, rather than endure the hotels in Liberal. Their accommodations are not their worst feature. They have been notorious as dens of infamy, under a thin guise of hotels. Mrs. Miner, one proprietor, used to ask male guests to sleep with her. Mr. Finley, former sheriff of Barton county, told R. F. Holland, that women came to the door of his room, more than once and offered to sleep with him. Scores could give similar testimony. Mr. Burgess told Mr. Holland that abundance of evidence could be furnished, to prove that Thayer’s hotel was a brothel; and Walser and Thayer withdrew the suit against the writer and others, because they learned that defendants would prove that Thayer’s hotel was a den of infamy.
With all its boasting of “science,” “education,” “free thought,” “liberalism,” for seven years, Liberal had no public school house. All schools were held in dwelling houses or in the only public building in the place, a small building that did not cost over $600, loaded down with the stupendous title, “Universal Mental Liberty Hall. This is the only building, erected for public purposes, in Liberal, during its seven years’ existence. It would be hard to find a town, under the control of Christians, with the age and advantages of Liberal, where there are not from five to ten public buildings, that cost, each, from five to ten times as much as this one building in Liberal. A school house was started last spring, is only partially finished, is loaded with debt for money borrowed to erect it, and was locked by the builders, under a builder’s lien, and stood in that condition the last week of November, 1886.
Five times as many of those who have been duped into coming to Liberal prospecting, by the lying puffs sent out broadcast, have left without settling, as have remained. If the “transaction at the land office” is not forced on the prospector by a ring that surround him day and night and stuff him during the first twenty-four hours, it never occurs. Those who have sense enough to look around for a week, leave, declaring that they could not be hired to live in such a place. Three times as many of those who have been cajoled and hoodwinked into settling have afterwards let, and generally after losing all they have, as now remain. S. C. Thayer left after selling for $200, property that cost him over $1,200. Others have abandoning (sic) their property. There were more than twenty vacant houses in this small town the last week of November, 1886. The Burgesses had left, leaving behind the most valuable property in Liberal. Sparks and Ivey, merchants, had left. The Todds, who had the only respectable stock of dry 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, Kansas. His property is advertised for sale. So anxious is he to sell, that he offers $2,000 to any one to find a purchase. Nine-tenths of those left behind would leave if they could get half what they invested. Half would leave, anyhow, if they had the means to get away.
Mr. Carpenter, a miller from Montague, Texas, was duped into coming to Liberal, by lying, advertisements and puffs, and wheedled into putting all he had into the little old steam grist mill. After losing $1,600 and having scarcely enough left to purchase a ticket, he left for Texas. The sharks in Liberal had his money, and he had a dearly bought experience of the glories of this infidel paradise. The case of a farmer from Canada, of mechanics and scores of similar cases can be given. Walser has fleeced all he can by his lying agents, circulars, advertisements and letters, and now wants to sell. The bonds of the town and its warrants are offered at fifteen cents on the dollar and without purchasers. The marshal in November, 1886, sued the town for the eighty-five cents he lost on each dollar of its warrants issued to pay him. The coal mines, of which so much was said in the paper in Liberal, have not averaged a car of coal per day during the time they were worked. The miners were idle three-fourths of the time, and Walser is preparing to close them. The paper has suspended and the office material is for sale. The public school has no building to meet in, the partly finished school house is locked up; and loaded with debt, business men are removing their goods, people are leaving, and those that are left, look like mourners awaiting a funeral, or criminals awaiting the penalty. So Liberal stands December 1886.
–to be continued–
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NOTES: Much of what Braden says here, I can’t begin to address, which is one reason I’ve preceded these posts with excerpts of what others had to say of Braden’s character. I wish I had the materials that were written about him in order to counter-balance.
The Burgesses definitely did not leave. The Belks did not leave. The Boutons did not leave, despite the controversy aroused by J. B. Bouton’s hoax seances. I had read Bouton had left in connection with that but his family remained and it seems he did and was buried there. O. E. Harmon listed in his book on liberal that John G. Todd and John H. Todd were among the surviving pioneer residents of Liberal, being there for forty years. Walser did not leave, at least not for many years, and J. P. Moore addresses some of this in his chapter on Braden in “This Strange Town–Liberal, Mo”. The Replogles did leave due an ideological falling out, and Braden has some unflattering things to say about them later, as they were free lovers.
I don’t have anything on Sparks & Ivey and wish they could be identified, as with the Lyons and the Miners. I’m unable to identify them as well at this point.