Prologue–J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

1880 – 1910


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(Once So Called)




[pages 3-5]

This treatise is a history of the beginning and early years of Liberal, Missouri. Liberal has variously been called an infidel town, an atheist town and “this strange town.” If the town has deserved or merited either, any or all of these appellations, and if bad or good, has always been a matter of individual opinion. This has all been because of the unusual purposes of the founder and the antagonisms he encountered in the early days of his efforts to implement his plans.

Exciting vocal and sometimes physical activities were generated within and roundabout, and continued in one degree or another for a number of years.

The founder of Liberal was a Freethinker and hoped to establish a community in which fellow Freethinkers might have the opportunity to join in forming a sort of colony, and enjoy living among those of kindred thought, unannoyed by opposition–and as an example to the world of the possibility of such. He had been raised in the Christian faith, but because of reasons satisfactory to himself, he had become dissatisfied with the dogmas of the church, as of that day; and the hierarchy he thought to be intolerant and narrow in its thinking. So in his town churches were to be excluded, with strong opposition to any teaching of the Christian religion. As to any other religion, there seems to have been no pronouncement.

In that day–1880–“Freethinker,” to the church, was an ugly word and meant “Infidel.” So the setting up of any such anti-Christian community quickly became a sharp and wicked thorn in the side of Christiandom, which was to be counteracted with all honorable strength. The result almost became an example of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object–but not quite. Which gave way, the reader may have the privilege of being judge. To simply say that friction was generated would be a mild statement. Word battles were wild and furious; and Liberal soon became known, not only as an infidel or atheist town, but as a very strange town.

Through the years, from time to time, there have come professional feature writers to journalize on Liberal and its eccentricities as “this strange town.” The reason will be seen as the reader peruses these pages. A previous “Story of Liberal, Missouri,” has been written on a more limited scope, and published some years ago; and a few pupils in the Liberal high school, students of English, have undertaken to write limited sketches on the subject–so strange is the early history of Liberal still thought to be, even after the passage of so many years.

It might be stated that in that early period there was a considerable movement towards Freethought across the country. But nowhere else, to this writer’s knowledge, did the cult crystalize to the point of founding a town dedicated to the proposition of that philosophy.

It has been the endeavor of this writer to chronicle, in more or less vivid detail, the peculiar history of early Liberal, to the end of correctness and fairness. And the writer hopes to present it in a style that will appeal to the reader, and at the same time preserve the dignity of all concerned. These few lines are a prologue to that story–the story of what has been called “THE STRANGE TOWN,” the town that was different.

In this history in a very few instances it has been found to be desirable to step a little beyond the period of 1880 to 1910, in order to complete an important story, or to relate its equally important sequel. This, I believe, will be appreciated by the reader.

Foreword–from J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal Missouri”

1880 – 1910


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[pages 1-2]

In presenting this history of the early years of Liberal, Missouri, a brief foreword seems appropriate.

I have endeavored to write only of the first thirty years of the town’s history–1880 to 1910. This covers the period from the founding until the death of the founder, which comprises an epoch in itself–the period in which the unique history for which Liberal is noted was made. Various “isms,” “ideologies” and eccentricities figured in the town’s genesis. It was all this that made the early history of Liberal different from the humdrum, colorless annals of the beginnings of the ordinary town across the country.

The founder of Liberal and the persons associated with him in the early and formative years were individuals of positive minds, thoroughly anti-Christian in their thinking and outspoken in their heterodoxy. As the town progressed with its main purpose, as might have been expected, this position drew the fire of those who opposed such. These differences resulted in many verbal clashes–and some physical activities, too. These situations have added spice to the history.

The conditions that lead to the temper of the town’s founder, and of those who joined with him, may be theorized as having been spawned in a period of reaction to an earlier period–one of extreme religious intolerance, when heretics were tortured and suspected witches were burned at the stake. When the founder of Liberal was born in 1834, a century and a third ago, echoes of the agonizing cries of the tortured and burned in the name of Christianity, at Old Salem, were yet more than faintly reverberating across the land. Te result was that with many individuals the reaction sent their thought pendulums swinging to the opposite extreme, in the Christian concept. The founder of Liberal was among the latter, and as a sanctuary for persons of kindred belief Liberal was conceived and became a fact. To what degree this primary influence still persists in Liberal, the reader of this history may form his own opinion.

I have tried to be accurate and factual in what I have written about the persons, activities and things. Parts of the narrative may shock the sensitivities of some readers: but it is all a part of the warp and woof of the cloth from which the town’s early history was cut. It is THE history and cannot now be changed. Any thing else would only be fabrication–not a history. I expect my writing to receive the approval of some and the criticism of others. In either case, the die is cast and the work will have to stand or fall on its merits.


Liberal, Missouri, 1963

List of Illustrations–J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

1880 – 1910


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List of Illustrations

J. P. Moore, Author–Frontispiece

View of Main Street–8

Hotel Denison–24

Original Plat of Liberal–48-49

The Methodist Church–68

Christian Church–68

Walser Residence at Catalpa Park–78

Lake at Catalpa Park–78

Spook Hall–84

Liberal Brick Yard–110

Rock Quarry–110

The Burgess Tomb–120

Old Liberal School Building–140

G. H. Walser, Founder of Liberal–144

A Freethought University Alumnus, Irving A. Barker

This is the first item I’ve found on a Freethought University Alumnus.

From the “History of Indiana from its Exploration to 1922, Volume 4”, published 1924.

Irving A. Barker, well known in Indianapolis as the head of the Barker Coal & Block Company, was born in Decorah, Iowa, January 10, 1872. His public school education was received partly in Michigan and partly in Missouri. When he had graduated from high school, he matriculated at the Free Thought University at Liberal, Missouri, after which he pursued a course of study in a commercial college. His father was a farmer in Missouri and was the secretary of the first county fair that was held in his county. For a time after leaving business college, Irving Barker worked as a farmer in Missouri, but he soon tired of the work. He then went to Tennessee where he engaged in the lumber business with considerable success. In 1905, he came to Indianapolis where for a time he followed the vocation of teaming. In 1913, having become dissatisfied with this means of earning a livelihood, he entered the retail coal business under the firm style of the I. A. Barker & Son. Such success attended his efforts in this new line of work that he has continued to engage in the business since that time. He has developed the firm, which now operates under the name of the Barker Coal & Block company and of which he is the virtual owner, to a point where it is rated as one of the most substantial concerns of its kind in the city of Indianapolis. This reputation is due directly to the efforts of the founder of the company who has won the name of one of Indianapolis’ ablest executives through his achievement. May 10, 1894, Mr. Barker married Anna Palmer, and to this union have been born four children as follows: Lee, Harold, Dell and Irving.

Gathered the info from here.

Irving Arthur Barker’s parents were Lewis Everdell (Dell) Brker and Mary Melissa Cooper, who died in 1877. The family was living in Belton, Cass, Missouri by 1880 where his father worked in a livery stable. It looks like Arthur’s father moved on to Tennessee as well.

George MacDonald on “The Truth Seeker” and George Walser

The Truth Seeker Company published, in 1929, George E. MacDonald’s “Being the Story of the Truth Seeker, with the Natural History of its Third Editor”.

The Truth Seeker was a periodical begun in 1873 by freethinker D. M. Bennett. George MacDonald had been its fourth editor, succeeding his brother who had become editor after the brief period Mrs. Bennett held the position subsequent the death of her husband in 1882.

In the book, MacDonald briefly writes on Walser having attempted to include Bennett in the founding of Liberal.

A man destined to cause the Freethinkers much embarrassment ran, at Lamar, Missouri, a paper named The Liberal. He was G.H. Walser, who founded the town of Liberal, in that state, to be the home, exclusively, of Freethinkers. Incidents in the after fate of Liberal as a town must be mentioned in this record as they occur. In the beginning of 1881, Walser and his wife deeded Bennett “all lot No. three (3), in block No. seven (7) in Liberal.” The Doctor printed the debenture and returned thanks.

Walser apparently respected Bennett’s work, and probably also thought that a possible association of Liberal with Bennett would have been beneficial. Bennett being ensconced in New York and unlikely to move to the Midwest, it’s impossible to know, however, if Walser had hopes that Bennett might take him up on his offer, or if the deed was purely for show, Walser certain that Bennett would remain in New York.

Which brings up the question of what happened to this deeded land, who came in possession of it ultimately and how.

We also learn that the free love debate of 1886 was continued in at least a couple of issues of “The Truth Seeker”, and that Walser himself wrote “The Truth Seeker” upon the unveiling of the deception of the spiritualist, Bouton.

During this year (1886) the difficulty of maintaining freedom of opinion in a small community became apparent in the experience which the town of Liberal, Missouri, was going through. The father of the town, G.H. Walser, had been converted to Spiritualism by a tricky “medium” named Bouton, and had displaced Henry Replogle, a Materialist, as editor of his paper, The Liberal. Mr. Replogle began to print a paper of his own called Equity, devoted to the principles of libertarianism. Mr. Walser objected to Equity, first, because he did not think the town needed two papers; second, because Equity was labor reform, while he was a capitalist.

Add to this the fact that Replogle advocated social freedom, and Walser had a case with which he could go before the community. He had employed a lecturer named C.W. Stewart, who, addressing a Sunday night meeting in the Opera House, proposed that the persons holding objectionable views about sex and marriage should be led to the outskirts of the town and invited to keep going. Mr. Walser endorsed the speech and called for a rising vote of approval. This brought to their feet as many as did not wish to be understood as approving of free love. Of the contrary minded, four persons arose, including Mr. Replogle. Two days later a mob attacked Replogle’s house, heaving rocks, firing guns, and sticking a dagger in his front door, The demonstration divided the town. Mr. Chaapell (note: Jay Chaapel) Spiritualist but Liberal, resigned from the editorship of Mr. Walser’s paper. The disputants brought their deplorable quarrel to The Truth Seeker, July 17 and July 31. Then came the exposure of the medium Bouton, who had converted Walser and been indorsed under oath by Stewart and others, with a diagram of the premises and test conditions. (T.S., June 27, 1986. [sic]) But the exposure, occasioned by a fire in the medium’s house which brought to light the devices of Bouton, was so complete that Walser himself wrote to The Truth Seeker about it, and Bouton acknowledged his deceit. That was another blow to the town of Liberal. A still harder one was delivered by the local railroad company which, itself being in the coal mining business, refused to transport Walser’s coal except at discriminatory rates, and Liberal, being a coal town, suffered accordingly. Its industry was crippled. Freethinkers were compelled to sell their property and look elsewhere for employment; and as no one else would buy, they sold to Christians.

Mr. Walser’s belief in spirits survived the exposure as fraudulent of the phenomena upon which it was established. Instead of returning to Rationalism he appears to have become more credulous and more fanatical. I am unable here to tell what became of Mr. Walser, except that within the past few years I have seen a pamphlet containing religious poetry of his composition that showed he was out of touch with Freethought and was as religions as a hymnbook.

The full text of MacDonald’s book can be found here at

Table of Contents–J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

1880 – 1910


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Table of Contents



The Beginning–7

Waggoner’s Addition and the Barbed Wire Fence–15

The Neutral Strip or No Man’s Land–20

Denison, or Pedro–22

Strong Prejudices–27< The Crusaders and the Columnists--30 An Early Pamphlet--32 Clark Braden's Pamphlet--38 Mr. Walser's Residence in Liberal--45 The Incorporation of Liberal--48 The Liberal City Cemetery--50 The Old Gold Well--55 The Saloons Came--61 The Churches Came--66 The Spiritualist Movement--71 Spiritualist Hoax Exposed--75 Catalpa Park--78 City Park and the Old Fire Bell--80 Early Public Buildings--82 The Spiritual Science Association and the Old Spook Hall--84 Like Shifting Sands--91 Early Benevolent Societies--93 Recollections of an Early Resident--94 Mr. Walser's Marital Life--99 A Midnight Burial--101 The Big Fire of 1887--105 Civil Liberal at Turn of Century--107 Industrially -- Early--109 The Cranks Came--113 The Town Pump and the Old Watering Trough--115 >Mrs. Burgess-Oster and the Burgess Tomb–118

Bitter Creek–122

Some Early Day Eccentrics–124

Briefs of Other Persons and Facts–133

Liberal’s Early Schools–139

Liberal’s Newspapers–141

Mr. Walser, the Man–144

Words of a Grandson–156

Freelove and the Common-Law Marriage–158

O. E. Harmon’s Story of Liberal–163

In Conclusion–166

Title Page–J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

1880 – 1910


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Title Page


As a Place Set Apart for Freethinkers

A History of the Early Years of the Town,
With an Account of the Early-Day Feuding Between
Freethinkers and Christians–And Other
Human Interest Stories

By J. P. Moore

Printed by
The Liberal News
Edward and Theda Savage, Owners
Liberal, Missouri

C. W. Stewart, Freethought Speaker and One of the Original Freethinkers at Liberal

Who was the touted debater, C. W. Stewart, of Liberal, Missouri? One account gives him as being brought in from outside, by Walser, to speak at Liberal, but J. P. Moore, in “The Strange Town – Liberal, Missouri” states he was first among “the original hard core of Freethinkers” in Liberal.

However, after J. P. Moore’s first mention of Stewart on page 14 of his book, he becomes vague on the subject of Stewart. When he next refers to him, Moore instead identifies C. C. Stewart as the “strong debater” who went ten times against the aggressive Christian debater Clark Braden, then in another chapter refers to the debater who countered Braden as a “citizen named Stewart”.

O. E. Harmon instead specifically gives C. W. Stewart as the individual who debated Braden.

So often, only initials are used in 19th and early 20th century accounts and that makes things not very easy in trying to track a person’s identity without access to early town records. Stewart is not to be found in the 1900 census, which I suspected he wouldn’t be, as Moore was in Liberal by 1896 and one is given the impression he never met the man. With only initials, he’s impossible to locate in 1880. I have searched all through the internet using even just Stewart in conjunction with terms such as Missouri and Kansas and freethinker, spiritualist etc., and have only come up with a few references not associated with already known Liberal accounts, neither of which provides a given name, and both of which lead me to believe there should be a good deal more information available on him.

The following is from “The Radical Review”, published out of Chicago on September 15, 1883. The account gives mention of C. W. Stewart’s persuasiveness as a speaker. C. W. Stewart was also a speaker in Liberal, Missouri.


Friday morning, the 31st ult., found us riding from the tranquil village of Valley Falls en route for the state gathering, but the beauty of the pastoral scene, consisting of rolling prairie, swaying corn, waving fields of flax, dotted here and there with neat residences, while from the sylvan grove we approach arose the song of birds and tinkling bells, coupled with a cloudless sky and a considerate sun, made it difficult to realize that this was really ” bleeding Kansas”— Kansas whose internecine political struggles, whose hail and hot winds, drought, cyclones and grasshoppers, border ruffians^and daring bandits still conjure up a mental condition that mars the placid landscape which meets our vision. Those evils belong to bygone tradition, and this state now lays claim to unparalleled prosperity. Not far from this neighborhood John Brown inaugurated the great political drama in the warfare for liberty, and his uncompromising spirit still animates the majority of Kansas liberals who are determined to carry on the struggle to its logical realization in all the affairs of life.

Arriving at the grounds, every detail was found faithfully attended to that could enhance the comfort of attendants—the arrangements for seating, lighting and refreshments being admirable, showing the prodigious labor performed by that indefatigable worker, E. C Walker, and his efficient staff of sterling co-laborers, Messrs. M. Harman, John Ernst, J. Reicherter, M. Schaff Bauer, and Mrs. Susan Reicherter, of whom one speaker remarked: ” Mrs. Reicherter possesses the finest executive ability of any person I have ever known in my life.”

As The Review can give but a cursory glance, it must be confined to the work accomplished,subjects treated, merit and manner of acceptance. As music occurred on the program repeatedly, it kept our friend W. F. Peck very busy, especially as his songs, parodies and satires, were continually encored.

The first day (Thursday) had been occupied by conference, appointment of committees and address by C. W. Stewart, L. L. B., on ” Philosophy of Good and Evil.” Friday morning, O. Olney, editor of The Thinker, gave a scathing lecture on the orthodox god. Mr. O., who is also a lawyer, made an ingenious legal argument against this deity, whom he tried, found guilty, and executed through due process of law.

In the afternoon Mrs. H. S. Lake delivered her lecture on “The Effect on Morality of a Decline in Religious Belief,” which has justly received many encomiums. A large attendance was drawn forth to hear the debate between Rev. J. S. T. Milligan, who had the temerity to defend Presbyterian orthodoxy against the assaults of freethought and the eloquence of C. W. Stewart, who so completely confounded him at every point, that there was more or less sympathy felt for our crestfallen foe, as his blind zeal might endanger his bread and butter. Saturday morning a report favoring the organization of a State League was adopted. Permanent officers of the meeting were then elected, as follows: Ex-Gov. Chas. Rohinson, president; O. Olney, Ezra Carpenter, Hon. R. A. Van Winkle, J. E. Sutton, W. W, Frazer, vice-presidents; E. C. Walker, secretary; Mrs. Susan Reicherter, treasurer. Hon. Alfred Taylor was introduced by Gov. Robinson as the most unswerving champion of the oppressed when in the legislature, and his address evinced that earnest devotion to justice— that exalted humanity—so seldom found in legislators of our day. A lecture on “Constructive Liberalism,” by the writer, and an excellent discourse, on “What is Truth,” by Mr. Peck, proving that divine revelation fails to give a just conception of what truth is, concluded the afternoon. In the evening, Mrs. Lake gave a brilliant lecture on “Women’s Rights,” the male persuasion receiving a bitter scoring, as it contained some of the keenest irony we ever heard. Gov. Robinson’s lecture on “The Fallacy of Prohibition,” showed that Christians were inconsistent in trying to prove prohibition from the bible, and that sumptuary laws do not now, nor ever have, prohibited. The lecture was largely statistical, and will soon appear in pamphlet form and be widely read.

Sunday, the State League was perfected, and the following officers chosen: President, J. M. Hagaman, Concordia Blade; Vice-Presidents, Hon. A. Taylor, Maj. J. L. Furguson, J. A. Remsburg, Mrs. C. R. Doster; Secretary, E. C. Walker; Treasurer, Dr. R. Raymond. Delegates to the Liberal League Congress: J. M. Hagaman, E. C. Walker, W. J. Hurd, Mrs. H. S. Lake, B. W. Cook.

After a fitting inaugural by the president, Mr. 0. A. Phelps gave a forcible speech on liberty of thought and action. The afternoon was well employed, Mr. Peck giving a clear and lucid exposition of “Evolution vs. Creation,” followed by C. W. Stewart on “The Philosophy of Life,” wherein he plead for an allsided culture — the development of the physical, mental and moral being, paying a timely tribute to E. H. Heywood for his labors in this direction and a resolution of sympathy, in the persecution now being visited on him, was adopted.

In the evening, “The Social Situation ” was my theme, and Mrs. Lake concluded the meeting with a trenchant lecture on “Individualism.” Financially, the gathering was a complete success, all expenses being fully paid, and the weather throughout was admirable. This meeting will long be a memorable epoch in the calendar of Kansas Liberalism.

Resolutions of thanks were tendered Messrs. Harman and Walker, of Lucifer, for their extraordinary efforts, “without which the meeting could not have been held.” Though not a year in Kansas, Walker seems to have imparted his electrifying energy and enthusiasm to those with whom he comes in contact. No other missionary of freethought can show such splendid results, while adhering devotedly to unpopular radical principles.

A word of explanation. In The Review of September 1st, the writer severely took Mr. Walker to task for his apparent “pusillanimous back down” on a political matter. A circumstance occurred during; the above meeting which totally dispelled any idea one might have of his lack of moral vertebrae, and conclusively proved that his utterance, however we may regret it, was based on his honest conviction; so, having impugned his integrity, I haste to make the amende honorable. It gave me great pleasure to greet Mr. Harmon whose editorial conduct of the Kansas Liberal (now Lucifer) is equaled by few men on metropolitan journals, and whose sturdy blow for liberty are only matched by his brilliant collaborator, Walker. That Lucifer (light bearer) may long live to “flash the torch of freedom on,” is the wish of

E. A. Stevens.

A C. S. Stewart is mentioned in James Claude Malin’s “A Concern About Humanity: notes on reform 1872-1912, at the National and Kansas Levels of Thought”, published 1964, but I suspect this individual may be instead C. W. Stewart. A Google snippet view gives:

Again, apparently, the project failed as no further notices appeared. The Associate Editor, C. S. Stewart, spoke, however, at Burlingame to an Osage county Liberal meeting, with A. O. Phelps and Charles Robinson as scheduled speakers. September and October 1884 was not a favorable time to hold anything…

A photo of a C. W. Stewart appears in the “Light of Truth Album, Containing the Photographs of Prominent Workers in the Cause of Spiritualism” issued by The Light of Truth Publishing Company, Columbus, Ohio, 1897. The book also contained a photo of George Walser. Bios on the individuals were included at the end of the book, excepting C. W. Stewart. There was no bio of him.

“This Strange Town–Liberal Missouri” by J. P. Moore

Checking with the copyright catalogue, I find copyright was made in 1963 by J. P. Moore but was never renewed, which means the book has entered the public domain. The author is long since deceased.

1880 – 1910



Image of the author, J. P. Moore

Title page

Copyright page

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



The Beginning

View of Main Street (image)

Waggoner’s Addition and the Barbed Wire Fence

The Neutral Strip or No Man’s Land

Denison, or Pedro

Strong Prejudices

Hotel Denison (image)

The Crusaders and the Columnists

An Early Pamphlet

Clark Braden’s Pamphlet

Mr. Walser’s Residence in Liberal

The Incorporation of Liberal

Original Plat of Liberal (image)

The Liberal City Cemetery

The Old Gold Well

The Saloons Came

The Churches Came

The Methodist Church (image)

Christian Church (image)

The Spiritualist Movement

Spiritualist Hoax Exposed

Catalpa Park

Walser Residence at Catalpa Park (image)

Lake at Catalpa Park (image)

City Park and the Old Fire Bell

Early Public Buildings

The Spiritual Science Association and the Old Spook Hall

Spook Hall (image)

Like Shifting Sands

Early Benevolent Societies

Recollections of an Early Resident

Mr. Walser’s Marital Life

A Midnight Burial

The Big Fire of 1897

Civil Liberal at Turn of Century

Industrially — Early

Liberal Brick Yard (image)

Rock Quarry (image)

The Cranks Came

The Town Pump and the Old Watering Trough

Mrs. Burgess-Oster and the Burgess Tomb

The Burgess Tomb (image)

Bitter Creek

Some Early Day Eccentrics

Briefs of Other Persons and Facts

Liberal’s Early Schools

Old Liberal School Building (image)

Liberal’s Newspapers

Mr. Walser, the Man

G. H. Walser, Founder of Liberal (image)

Words of a Grandson

Freelove and the Common-Law Marriage

O. E. Harmon’s Story of Liberal

In Conclusion