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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They are agreed in but one thing, the vilest abuse of religion and in hatred of all restraint. Mrs. Lyons, for a long time President of the Sunday Evening Entertainment, answered the question, “What is Freethought?” from her presidential chair. “It is to think just what you please, talk just as you please, do just as your please, and it’s nobody’s business, but your own.” That has been the rule, and the state of society among a lot of cranks and outcasts, living such an idea, can not be imagined.
Having by his Jeremy Diddler trickery, in regard to his lots, made serfs of his dupes, Walser was able for years to gratify his intolerance and hatred of Christianity, in trying to keep believers of the Bible out of Liberal. He organized a secret society, like the Mormon “Danites,” which he called “The Sacred Brotherhood. A committee, like the “Whittling Deacons” so famous in Mormonism, was appointed to interview all strangers. Dr. Bouton, Thayer Pitts and others acted on this committee. Walser’s orders were: “If you conclude that strangers are believers of the Bible; lie on them; bull-doze them; do anything to drive them away.” When some persons who would not submit to infidel bulldozing, began to settle on lots that Walser did not own, outside of his town plot, the infidels of Liberal actually undertook to build a wire fence around Liberal, across public highways, so as to prevent Christians entering the town, even to go to the depot. One Monday morning, all Liberal could be seen at work, digging holes, carrying posts and wire, and putting up this evidence of infidel toleration and liberality; Walser’s wife and other female infidels pounding down stakes as ostentatiously as possible. The railroad authorities telegraphed that they would remove the depot, if the lunacy was not abandoned, and that freak of the infidel lunacy was abandoned.
The Liberals of this Liberal town delight in surrounding Christians, who come into town on business, and abusing Christianity and Christians, in the vilest manner. They will flock around them in stores, on the street, in the post office, and depot. One reason why a post office was established in Pedro, within sixty rods of the office in Liberal, was that Christians could not go for mail or send their children without such insults. Walser placarded the walls of the depot and post office with insults to Christians. Infidels will flock into the business places of Christians, and even go to their houses, to engage in such work. Guests in the hotels, and in their houses are not spared. The most intolerant and abusive persons in the world are these self-styled Liberals. The worst of social ostracism was practiced. Particular pains were taken to insult and bull-dose Christians. Walser entered the store of W. H. Simpson, a Christian who had paid for his lot, and owned all on it, and insolently told him “he could entertain his notions if he kept them to himself; but he must not talk them, or have any religious meetings or exercises on his premises, or he would have to leave.” Walser was promptly and properly ordered to leave the store. He then sent a ruffian into Mr. Simpson’s store to abuse him, who was driven out with a pitchfork. Deliberate and persistent attempts were made to ruin Christians in character and business, and to drive them off. Scores of instances can be given. The rival town, Pedro, was started by persons who would not submit to such bull-dozing intolerance. For years no place could be obtained, in this Liberal town, to hold religious meetings, unless ministers and Christians would permit infidels to get up when they pleased and occupy as much time as they pleased, in ribald abuse of religion. Mr. Ashbaugh, a Methodist minister, held the first meeting in an unfinished elevator. The infidels in their paper assailed him and all preachers and Christians with the coarsest slander and abuse. As infidels persisted in interrupting and breaking up meetings, a small meeting house was erected; Christians hoping to be let alone in their own house. But the hope was a vain one.
Infidels, by force of numbers, tried to vote religious literature out of the Sunday school, and vote in infidel literature instead. They flocked into the school and church, talked their abuse, interrupted the exercises with their stuff.
In a ribald blasphemous editorial in the Liberal of July 14, 1882, Walser avows that he arose in a religious meeting, in the meeting house, Sunday, June 13, and interrupted the preacher, and in a lengthy harangue stated that, because he had a pretended claim to ownership of one-twentieth of the property (obtained by trickery for this very purpose) he would exercise the privilege of speaking when and as long as he pleased, and would inflict on an audience, met for religious worship, his ribald abuse of religion, whether they objected or not, and at his own will as to time of interruption and the length of time he would occupy. He and his crew raised a riot and broke up the meeting, and all attempt to hold religious meetings in Liberal had to be abandoned.
For the purpose of getting an opportunity to insult Christians and abuse preachers, the Infidels in Liberal have offered their halls to preachers and have urged Christians to hold meetings in them. Two ministers were invited to hold a meeting in the hall, and the most positive pledges were made that they should not be interrupted, or interfered with in any way. At the close of the sermon there was a short prayer meeting. The infidels had one of their number, Weiler, kneel down and offer a most blasphemous mockery of prayer, in which the Saviour was addressed: “You G–d d–d dirty little bastard.” The preachers and Christians left the house in horror and disgust, amid the laugh and jeers of the infidels.
An aged minister, Mr. Tidings, was urged by the infidels to speak in their hall. He consented to do so, if they would pledge themselves not to say a work, or interfere in any way, for, as he said, he was too old and feeble to engage in controversy. Such pledge was given. At the close, Yale, one of the ranters of Liberal, who had aided in inviting him, and in making the pledge that nothing should be said by infidels, arose and began a ribald abusive harangue, driving Christians from the house in disgust. It was their avowed purpose to allow no religious meetings in Liberal, except when they could, by interruption and abuse, and insult, turn them into an infidel tirade against religion, and gratify their hatred of religion, in abusing and insulting preachers and Christians.
The meetings of the writer were the first ever held in Liberal that were not broken up in that way. The infidels had been using the Opera House for their jamborees for years, and had not paid the owner, Mrs. Burgess, even the merely nominal rent she charged them. She had turned them out, and was indignant at their treatment of her. The writer rented the Opera House, with the assurance that the owner would back him with all her means, in enforcing order. There were plots to raise a row, break up the lectures, mob the lecturer, but when infidels learned that not only would the law be enforced, but that violence would be met in such a way as to end it and the perpetrators also, their courage, like that of Bob Acres, “oozed out at their fingers’ ends.” The writer said what he pleased, and compelled infidel ruffians to keep still.
The liberality of Infidelity in giving money to sus-
tain “free thought” has been strikingly illustrated in Liberal. At the end of six years they had no public school building, owned by the district. Schools had been held in the little U. M. L. Hall, or in houses erected for residences. Now they have the skeleton of a building, buried in debt and locked up under a mechanic’s lien. The only public building is a small frame that can be erected for $600. Remember this is the only public building in this infidel paradise at the expiration of seven years. Contrast it with the school buildings and churches of Christian towns of seven years’ growth. As there has always been an excess of cranks, who were full to the bursting with abuse of religion, the infidels of Liberal have paid but little for the gas that has been set free in their meetings. The infidels in Liberal have not in seven years expended, directly and indirectly, $3,000 for the support of their “free thought” There is not a Christian town of the same age, and opportunities for growth, that has not contributed in the same time, from fifty to one hundred times as much for Christianity.
The religious intellectual and moral exercises most popular in Liberal are shows, dances, Sunday fishing, and dancing picnics. It is a standing remark in Barton County, “Everything in Liberal must be a dance, a spree, or end in one.” It is a lesson of history, that people addicted to dances and shows have been conspicuous for their intellectual and moral status!! Their sprees, dances and jamborees are corrupting the youth of the surrounding country, and even sceptical parents are anxious to move away, or have the den broken up. A few facts will show the character of the culture afforded by the Sunday Evening Entertainment. One of the decorations of the “Universal Mental Liberty Hall” is a horrid caricature–a hideous picture, blasphemously labeled–“A picture of God.” The Deity is usually spoken of as “Old God.” Walser’s first wife, the model and leader in Liberal, used such language before large audiences. Miss Yeomans, one of the teachers and leaders in Liberal, read to a session of the Sunday Evening Entertainment, in May, 1885, an obscene essay, describing the plans, she attributed to the Prophet Jonah and his wife, in regard to the number of children they tried to have. Male and female infidels leered and roared over it lasciviously and vociferously. Under the name of “scientific talks and discussions” language was constantly uttered in these meetings, that Walser, in an editorial in the Liberal says should only be heard in lectures to medical students. He speaks of it in another editorial as “forcing filth, in the name of philosophy, on the audiences,” as “vomiting filth.” These Sunday Evening Entertainments generally closed y clearing the U. M. L. Hall of seats, and dancing till towards daylight. There was no lack of free love men and women to accompany the dances and sprees with the free practice of their creed. Said one infidel to the writer, “If you could be around one of their dances and jamborees, and see what is going on, you would think you were in Sodom.” It is this that causes the lewd of Lamar and surrounding towns and country to flock to Liberal on Sundays and to its jamborees.
The infidels take special pains to work on Sunday, in violation of the law of the State. They take pains to drive through Pedro on Sunday, with their bands playing, when going out to Sunday picnics. Last Fourth of July was celebrated in Liberal, on Sunday, with base ball, shooting and all sorts of noisy displays and games and sports, and closed with a dancing jamboree. The processing took special pains to parade as noisily as possible through Pedro. The boast about the sobriety of Liberal is a shameless falsehood. More liquor has been sent to Liberal, from the beginning of the place, than to any other place of the same size on the Kansas & Memphis Railroad. There has never been a time when there were not from three to six places where liquor could be obtained, and almost without concealment. One grocer kept a large oil take full in his grocery, as publicly as oil, and disposed of it almost as freely. But few of the infidels are total abstainers, and many are habitual topers. Drunkenness and drunken rows are as frequent in Liberal as in any town of its size in Missouri. More drunken infidels can be seen in Liberal in one year than drunken church members among a thousand times as many church members, during the same time.
The town has been notorious for its rows and scrapes. We have mentioned the brutal assault of the Walsers on Grayston. Walser tried to swindle Gilmore, the man who opened his mines. In a suit Gilmore’s evidence was believed, instead of both the Walsers’, and Gilmore obtained a judgment. The cowardly Walser ruffians followed him into a store, and while old Walser stood before him abused him, the cowardly ruffian, Mark Walser, sneaked up behind him and knocked him down with a weight. Then the two ruffians stamped and kicked their helpless victim, splitting his ear, his lip, fracturing his jaw, old Walser tauntingly yelling at him, “G–d d–n you, why don’t you lie still?” Replogle taunts Walser with this brutality in “Equity” No. VI.
Walsers were fined for this brutality. They had Gilmore arrested for perjury. The court took his evidence instead of the Walsers, and he was discharged. In “Equity No. VII” Replogle tells how Walser attacked him with a chair in the post office, shouting, “You G–d d–n s–n of a b–h,” although Replogle refused to say a word in reply to his abuse. These are but a few out of many similar affairs.
Liberal has been famous for its lawsuits. If an infidel got mad at another, he rushed before a magistrate or to Lamar, and charged his enemy with some crime, or misdemeanor. There was no trouble to find charges. It was a common remark in Lamar, that Liberal had more suits in court than ten times its population in any other part of the county, and that Walser and his crew could always prove anything they wanted to establish, with an excess of witnesses. There was no trouble to get men and women to swear what was wanted. It was useless for an outsider to go to law with an infidel. As one man remarked to the writer “they could swear his eye-teeth out of his head.” An infidel stole over $400 from W. A. Delissa, a merchant in Liberal not an infidel. Walser was always in law, and his serfs were always ready to prove anything he wanted.
In no town was backbiting and slander so prevalent. If what infidels said of each other was true, so far from having “no hell or devil” in Liberal, all Liberal was a hell, and its infidels were the devils.
When Walser’s wife sued for a divorce, to prevent her obtaining alimony, Walser hired Yale one of the leaders and lecturers in Liberal, to produce in court, letters he said Mrs. Walser had written to him. In settlement Walser signed an acknowledgement that he forged the letters and hired Yale to commit perjury in swearing to them. Such is Walser and his principal lieutenant, Yale. The mails were repeatedly rifled of registered letters in the postoffice. Six cases of stealing occurred in April 1885.
–to be continued–
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The Ashbaugh mentioned is likely the Methodist minister Orren M. Ashbaugh.
I’m having no luck, thus far finding Thayer Pitts, and I’ve got a couple of different possibles for Gilmore, don’t know which one is the right one. Weiler? A last name. Have no idea. Same with Mr. Tidings. W. H. Simpson was a Liberal personality, mentioned by Harmon, written of by Moore, who eventually left his family in Liberal and took off for parts unknown.