The Crusaders and The Columnists–J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

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


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Crusaders and Columnists

[pages 30-31]

In his early vision of a happy Freethought haven, tucked away on the quiet prairies, one wonders if Mr. Walser ever envisioned there would be a day when religious zealots would come as iconoclasts seeking to smash that dream, nor that feature writers would come searching out and writing of things they sought to make appear bizarre and sensational. But they did come.

Of the crusaders, the one to have the greatest impact on the community, and to fight the “infidels” the hardest, was one Clark Braden, who came in 1885. Braden was a Christian minister, had been a teacher and was a college man. He was zealous to the nth degree and was a foeman worthy of his steel.

Liberal was yet new then, and the pioneers were yet filled with the enthusiasm, each of the purpose for which he came. Among these were some men of good education, good speakers and good debaters. The fat was in the fire and these men and the Rev. Braden went at it “hammer and tongs,” to use an old cliche.

Among the foremost debaters for Liberal was a man named C. C. Stewart. There is no record that Mr. Walser ever took part in any of these word battles with the Rev. Braden, though he, no doubt, was very much interested in them.

Stewart and Braden are reported to have debated ten times. Which one came off best in the series, I have never seen any account. But they say the hurt dog always howls the loudest. Braden was so infuriated that he wrote and published a scurrilous pamphlet, denouncing Freethinkers, one and all. In this pamphlet he made effort to smear the characters of various citizens of Liberal, with particular vituperation against Mr. Walser and members of his family.

The calumny was so obvious that fair minded citizens paid little attention, regarding the purpose to be solely for slander.

The feature writers who have come, have almost invariably concentrated on the “Infidel Town,” the “Barbed Wire Fence,” the “Spiritualist Expose,” which will be treated later in this history, and on Pedro and the “no church, no God, no saloon and no hell” topics. Their dissertations have all been very similar. They seem to have felt they must follow a pattern to please their reading clientele.

There may be others come; and when and if they do, no doubt their stories will be read with interest, as have been all the others.

Mr. Braden’s pamphlet will be explored in a later chapter.

An Early Pamphlet–J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

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


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An Early Pamphlet

In 1889 the Goodspeed Publishing Company of Chicago put out a voluminous history of the State of Missouri. Included in the volume was a history of Barton county, within which was some account of the founding of Liberal.

It would be repetitious to go over the town’s early statistics here. But of interest is a brief introductory comment by the Goodspeed historian, and quotation at some length from a pamphlet in which reference is made respecting the purposes and ideals of the founder and those pioneers who came to Liberal for ideological reasons, and of their social activities, at that time.

The name of the author of the pamphlet is not given, but from the information recited, there is good reason to believe the writer was Mr. Walser, himself. He was the one most likely to be “in the know.” And therein is revealed the bitterness Mr. Walser is known to have harbored toward the church in a period a few years earlier, when the controversies between the Freethinkers and the Christians raged at their peak. The date of the publication of the history coincided with the year Mr. Walser retreated from his, at first, seemingly adamant position and sold his public forum building to the opposition–the church, the Methodist–so the pamphlet must have been written at an earlier date. He did not have to sell, as he owned the property in its entirety, and was a wealthy man. At the time of the sale he had already espoused spiritualism, which holds to a belief in a future life–a point held in common with the church. In view of his softened position, later in life, towards the teachings of Jesus, he might not at the time the Goodspeed history was published have felt as strongly as indicated in the pamphlet.

This is the Goodspeed history’s introductory comment in its reference to Liberal:

“Liberal, population 500. The considerations which lead to the founding of Liberal under its suggestive name and by a people who sought there a home in which their own peculiar ideas might prevail, have thus been set forth in a pamphlet designed to call attention to the claims of the town upon all men of like view, and mark as sui generis among the towns of the southwest; and, indeed of the whole country.”

Then followed direct quotation of several paragraphs from the pamphlet:

“The reason we started the town was that it was apparent to all that no person could live in a Christian community and express an honest opinion regarding the Christian religion adverse to the interests of priestcraft without hazarding his business and social standing…This wicked independence of character and manly deportment never fails to reap the full wrath of the church, and there are but few people firm enough to brook such opposition and contend with such odds against them. To give an asylum to those noble men and women who were willing to sacrifice the comforts of life and joys of social intercourse, rather than live in a life of deception and falsehood, was the incentive that actuated us in starting the town of Liberal, where we could all enjoy the benefits of free American citizens, without having some self appointed bigot dictate to us what we should think, believe, speak, print or send through the mails. Therefore we called together such progressive minds as were willing to work for the upbuilding of humanity, and laid out the town for the attainment of the above blessings.

“It is not necessary for us to give, in this place, the opposition and difficulties we were compelled to surmount to maintain ourselves here. Bearding, as we did, the great lion of orthodoxy in his den, not by opposition, but by a better and higher standard of life than had been offered by it, we naturally aroused…rancor, hatred, revenge and opposition…Ever believing in the Godship of humanity, we went steadily ahead to the upbuilding of manhood, and now we have gained the respect of the surrounding people…With one foot upon the neck of priestcraft, and the other upon the rock of Truth, we have thrown our banner to the breeze and challenged the world to produce a better cause for the devotion of man than a grand, noble and perfect HUMANITY.

‘Bound to no creed, to no sect confined,
The world our home, our brethren all mankind.’

“We do not prescribe a belief for anyone, nor do we measure a man by his faith. Everyone is measured by his own standard of manly worth. We do not feel under obligation to extend respect to a person who does not respect himself; nor can we hold a person up who will not stand alone. Our standard of morality consists of but four words: BE TRUE TO THYSELF. No one can do wrong without receiving the effects of wrong. With this standard in view, we invite all lovers of humanity to join with us, with the pledge on our part to do them as much good and as little harm as possible.

“To meet the social want and combine doing good with the pleasantries of life, we have in active usefulness two organizations which contribute to the social welfare and interest of the members as well as the public good; both looking towards the improvement and benefit of humanity. One is the Brotherhood, which is an organization intended to meet all the needs of the age, including absolute secularization of the government, as the finer requirement of the heart and brain, in one grand system of ethics. The Brotherhood is duly incorporated by state authorities. So far it has been approved (proved) satisfactory to all of its members. It presents an ethics and addresses itself to both mind and heart. The moral, intellectual and social qualities of man’s nature find in this organization ample food for all the demands of life. It presents opportunities for doing good which must engage the noblest impulses of the human breast. There is nothing in the constitution or the tenets set forth that can be objected to by the most extreme atheist or spiritualist. It leaves the supernatural to the speculation of those who find solace in pondering upon the unknowable, and directs the mind of man and the wants of man and his ennoblement, ‘believing the most important study of mankind is man.’…Another is the Ladies’ Progressive Lyceum, which meets once a week, devoting a two hours’ sessesion to such handiwork as the members see fit to devise, or their fancy may dictate, and to instructive reading and the discussion of all subjects calculated to benefit mankind. The various articles of ornament or apparel made by the society are quarterly arranged for sale by way of public fair and entertainment, the net proceeds of which are retained in the treasury or expended for charitable purposes, or as the society may direct…This is an interesting feature of our town, demonstrating the active labors of women for the promotion of good and the achievement of her sex. It is thought that through the direction and management of the organization, various industries will, in time, be put in operation which will give employment to females, and create a demand for women’s work…

“A Sunday instruction school and Sunday night meetings are maintained; and a Liberal Normal School building (the) Universal Mental Liberty Hall and Opera House, occupied by the school, Sunday school and library clubs, are well-finished frame buildings erected at a cost of $6,000.”

The foregoing quotations from that early day pamphlet make it easy to visualize that there were really some fierce ideological clashes–and sequences have proven that these clashes were sometimes much more than verbal. Some of this is evidenced by the laying out of Waggoner’s addition to Liberal and the founding of the town of Denison, or Pedro, alongside Mr. Walser’s original town plat. These extraordinary countermeasures were taken by dedicated men–men favorable to Christianity–to combat the unorthodox ideologies of Mr. Walser and his fellow-Freethinker associates. The building of the barbed wire fence by the “infidels” was an interim episode.

To go to such lengths for a cause, on either side, required great strength of character, hardihood and genuine loyalty, each to his own belief. There can be no doubt they were sincere.

This pamphlet was probably distributed widely through available channels to publicize the town of Liberal, with the view of attracting to it persons who might agree with the principles proclaimed, and have a desire to live in such a community of kindred minds.

The Saloons Came–J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

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

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The Saloons Came

[pages 61-65]

Proscribed, thought they were in the beginning, and although the drouth [sic] was already broken in Pedro, the saloons did come to Liberal in due course of time, and thirsty ïnfidels” no longer needed to journey to the Christian town of Pedro to find an oasis where they might quench their feverish thirsts, so to speak, or to moisten their dry and dusty throats. Not only come there one, but in time others followed.

Just when the first saloon came is no longer accurately remembered. But from the best information available it is believed to have been about 1887, when a man named Brumlet opened a saloon on Main street, and in about 1890 one M. L. Rockwell or Rockwell remained in business. If he succeeded Brumlet or opened a new place is not now known. There is presently available no information of just how long Mr. Rockwell remained in business. But it is reasonably accurate to say that Rockwell sold to Sam Horn about 1895 or 1896. Horn was already in business when this writer came to Liberal in 1899, and apparently had been for some time.

Sam’s saloon was in the old Betz opera block, which was located where the Farmers Exchange building presently stands on West Yale street.

In 1900, B. F. Argo opened a saloon in what is now the east wing of the Edwin Lipscomb building at the northeast corner of Main and Yale streets. Mr. Argo’s son Rolla was associated with him in the business. It is the recollection of this writer that Rolla did not like the business. So in 1904, after four years in the saloon, they sold to Powers Richardson, who continued in business until voted out by local option, in about 1907.

The elder Argo was operating a whisky distillery, two miles west of town, just across the creek noted for its name brand whisky, Öld Iron Bridge, a popular sour mash product. Present day imbibers will drool to learn that six-year-old Iron Bridge could be bought for $4.00 per gallon at the distillery. The price of four-year-old was $2.50 per gallon. Newer whisky sold for less at the distillery. A half pint over the bar at any saloon was twenty-five cents.

Mr. Argo sold the distillery to Oxford Brothers in 1910. The Oxfords sold to a Joplin, Mo. firm in 1914. About a year later the distillery was destroyed by fire and was not rebuilt.

Horn closed his saloon here in about 1902 and moved it to Mindenmines. It was said he was losing too much of his business in his competitor. After the closing of the saloons by local option, bootlegging, speakeasies and “blind tigers” prevailed, more or less until repeal of the Volsted act.

The near date of Mr. Rockwell’s entry in the saloon business in Liberal is established by the records, which show that in 1890 he bought from Hiram E. Irey the residence property presently owned and occupied by Mrs. Zanetta Harvey, at the north east corner of Maple and Denton streets. Irey, who had operated a general store, built this house in 1883. While Rockwell has long since been gone, he did leave a monument to his memory. He edged each side of the front walk, from the porch steps to the sidewalk, with a line of beer bottles, upended and sunk in the ground to walk level. These bottles may yet be seen in their original position–bottoms up and showing.

While Pedro had the dubious honor of being the first to have a saloon, Liberal not only followed with two, but maintained such an oasis long after Pedro’s saloon had become only a memory.

An amusing little story is remembered in connection with Sam Horn’s saloon. Fred Clark, a son of the late Dr. J. W. Clark, was tending her, and Jack Langley, an old sailor, a Pedro character and something of a sot, was sweeping out and mopping the floor of the saloon each morning for a small fee and the drinks. One winter morning Jack went to a well out back for a bucket of water to do the mopping. He was gone so long Fred became uneasy and went out to look for him. Jack had fallen into the shallow and poorly walled well. After Fred fished him out Jack said, “Well, don’t that beat hell. I sailed the seven seas for forty years, then come out here and drown in a damned mud hole.

Of course Jack didn’t drown, but he was wet and cold and felt pretty miserable. It probably took several drams of good whisky on the house to restore his composure. As a means to such an end Jack might have been willing to dunk himself in the well again, but if he ever did so, there is no account.

Liberal’s first saloons did not entirely escape the wild capers that were more or less common in saloons in new towns in that far-off day, when some liquored up smart alec gave way to his high feelings.

Charlie King, one of our older citizens, and who was a boy at the time, remembers seeing one well-soused young buck ride his horse into Brumlet’s saloon. It was with some difficulty that the rowdy and his mount were expelled. The late Tom McKay, who was born, raised and spent his entire life west of town, told this writer of an incident that involved a young man who was working on the McKay farm. This young buck rode into town one Saturday night on a spirited pony that belonged to Tom’s father, the late Judge Bent McKay. The young man got himself liquored up to “the Devil may care”stage and attempted to ride his mount into the saloon, and got the law after himself. To escape the law he rode the pony, top speed, west and ran into a barbed wire fence, near the Missouri Pacific depot, and got the pony badly cut up.

It nearly ruined his horse, but apparently the rowdy youth escaped without permanent injury. It is my regret that I failed to get the name of this young man from Tom, if he remembered. But now it is too late.

The only person yet living at the time of this writing who was in any way associated with the real saloon business in Liberal is Rolla Argo, who now resides at Sunland, California.

The old Iron Bridge still was destroyed by fire in about 1915, but for a time a considerable quantity of bonded whisky was kept in a warehouse on the premises. This attracted looters and resulted in a tragic incident there. On the night of February 13, 1920, W. E. (Earl) Gowdy and O. L. Holland, owner of the warehouse property, surprised a gang of three men in the act of breaking in. A gun battle ensued and Gowdy was felled by a shotgun blast.

According to newspaper accounts at the time, the three men were Arthur Dean, Bob Slack and August Pancher, all of Mulberry, Kan., or area. All escaped immediately. But they were identified within a few hours through a tip-off by an alert Mulberry man, and were eventually captured and given penal sentences. The last of the three to be caught was Slack, who was purported the killer. Slack had fled to South America where he was picked up about five years later.

There were 218 barrels of whisky in the warehouse at the time of the attempted robbery. The gang in making their getaway abandoned a pickup truck and four empty wine kegs they apparently had intended to fill. An additional clue was a fur cap lost by one of the men as he crawled through a barbed wire fence in his flight.

The owners soon thereafter removed all the whisky from the warehouse. So all semblance of the old distillery, once a busy place and an oasis for bulk purchasers of the sour mash product is gone forever.

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

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


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Strong Prejudices

[pages 27-29]

In the history of mankind, differences in religious beliefs have caused much trouble; over it wars have been fought, rivers of blood spilled, and human beings mercilessly tortured; and the differences have not always been only between Christians and infidels.

So with the close proximity and high rivalry between the two schools of thought, it should be no surprise that the prejudices sometimes ran riot and that there were clashes between the dominant minds of Liberal and those of Pedro. Neither should it be surprising that in the heat of passion, sometimes harsh and biting statements should be made.

It was so in this instance, particularly in the earlier years. Pedro, as has been stated, had no newspaper. So we are without documented reports from that side. But Liberal did have a newspaper, and it was owned by Mr. Walser; so he could express himself freely through its columns–and he did just that.

In the Sunday, February 14, 1960 issue of The Joplin Globe, there was published a brief story of Liberal, in which was quoted an item from a November, 1905 issue of the Lamar (Mo.) Republican, a newspaper long since extinct. On the assumption that the growth of Pedro once threatened to dwarf Liberal, this item was presented, purporting to be Mr. Walser’s side of the story:

“The First two houses erected on the townsite of Pedro were a church and a saloon. In a short time the post office was established for their use, and things went on swimmingly. But business did not follow. The people said they would rather stay with Liberal and free thought than Christianity and drunkenness, for they could send their wives and children to Liberal without being insulted by drunkards. Being unable to take business from Liberal, their town dwindled, their church became a hunt of bats and cockroaches, and now the wind whistles through the walls and caved-in windows, the requiem of spent nonsense.”

This is a rather severe pronouncement. If written by Mr. Walser, it must have been done long before the year 1905, as by that time Pedro had become a part of Liberal, rivalries had cooled off, animosities had subsided, Mr. Walser had become softened by years and there was no need for him to so vent his spleen.

Then quoting further, the article gave the following as having been written by Mr. Walser at a later date, as his version of the Christians invading his town:

“Here they came like ants on a sun-dried grubworm; and as the “Six Hundred;’ they were in front of us, and they were in the rear of us; and on neither side could we turn without meeting ‘Ave Maria’ or ‘Old Hundred,’ so we caved and let them in, virus and all. And now we have a typical Christianized town with two churches and a saloon, with all the fascinations that such conditions breed.”

This last statement is amazing, too. It could have been originally quoted from some early edition of the old newspaper, The Liberal; but it is difficult to make it fit chronologically with the date of 1905, unless the writer is reminiscing. As of that date it had been sixteen years since the first church had come to Liberal, and the newspaper, “The Liberal,” had long since discontinued publication. Whenever it was written, tension surely was high at the time. There must have been repercussion, and it would be interesting to hear the other side of the story, but there is no record.

Be that as it may, there is quite a switch in the time of the two items quoted. In the first it would seem the Freethinkers had the Christians hopelessly defeated, while in the last it would appear the Freethinkers had been overwhelmed.

The Old Gold Well–J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

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

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The Old Gold Well

[pages 55-60]

There is yet in Old Pedro, now west Liberal, a relic of the past that in its time was a focal point of much interest, both in Pedro and in Liberal–the “Old Gold Well.” This old well is on a patch of ground of about one acre, and in triangular shape, so formed by the crossing of the Frisco and the Missouri Pacific railroads.

Searching into the history of the old well for the finding of positive facts has been a difficult task. Its origin was so long ago, and its abandonment for any use has been for so many years that the reason for its having been dug, the exact date, and by whom, are details more or less dim in the memory of the oldest citizens. The most that is remembered is what it has always been known as the “Old Gold Well;” and that there once was much excitement, because it was reported and believed that gold ore had been struck in the digging.

Because of vagueness it has been difficult to separate the facts from the fiction.

The shaft is 8 x 16 feet, and the depth is said to be about 172 feet, with a drill hole of uncertain depth in the bottom.

One story is that it was put down in about 1885 by the two railroads to obtain water for their steam engines, but that for some reason the project was abandoned and the roads went elsewhere for their water supply. But the shape of the shaft–rectangular–it seems, would discount this as a reason. It is known, however, that in the summer of 1901, remembered by old-timers as the “dry year,” the Frisco railroad did install a pumping unit, and water engines there during that summer and the following winter. This fact may have been the origin of the thought that the well was dug by the railroads.

The lapse of time sometimes breeds confusion. At the date of this writing it has been sixty-two years since the terrible “dry year.” It is well remembered by this writer. From about the 5th of May until the first week in September there was not a drop of rain, and not a cloud in the sky much larger than a man’s pocket handkerchief. All crops were deadened. The summer heat was extreme.

What seems to be the more likely reason for the old well is taht the shaft was dug with the expectation of its being used in a deep coal mining operation. The shape of the shaft would indicate such a purpose–about right for a double deep mine cage. It is known there is a deep vein of coal there; and it is believed it was adjudged that either the vein was not thick enough or the roof was not good enough to mine the coal safely and profitably.

It is dimly in the memory of some that the shaft may have been put down by a Mr. George Fuller, a coal mining promoter and operator, who subsequently founded the coal mining camp of Fuller, Kansas, about nine miles southwest of Liberal. Years later Mr. Fuller returned here and did do some further prospecting for deep coal in this vicinity.

It seems certain that some mineral besides coal was encountered in the digging of the well. This writer makes no attempt at a geological treatise, but there are local persons who seem to know, who say this region through here is a part of the same geological uplift as the Joplin and Webb City lead and zinc field; and that in diggings of depth here, rich shines of the same ore are found. Also they believe that there are pockets here that if located might be mined profitably.

This same source of information says there is a plentiful rock formation here that assays about eighty cents worth of gold to the ton.

The reader will recall that in the story of Denison, or Pedro, it is noted the Goodspeed history, published in 1889, states: “A mineral has been discovered in Denison; which upon assay, proves to contain large quantities of gold and silver ore.”

In 1892, two local men, George X. Mellor and Jake Betz, prominent citizens of Liberal in the long ago, picked up from the gob pile of the diggings from the old well a piece of ore they thought to be very rich in gold. They sent it to Samuel Mellor, sr., a brother of the local man, at Central City, Colorado, a gold and silver mining town, for the latter’s judgment. Upon assay the metal proved to be zinc.

On the strength of this, Samuel Mellor shortly moved his family to Liberal, in the thought that a lead and zinc mining field might be opened here. If any special prospecting was done at the time, there is now no record of such.

A Pedro merchant, R. J. Morris, son-in-law of R. C. Goss, founder of South Denison, came into ownership of the ground with the old well, but he did nothing at the time towards any mining development. Instead, he put a fence around the well and left, moving to Denver, Colorado. He may have owned the land when the well was dug.

In about 1912, or 1913, Mr. Morris returned to Liberal accompanied by Senator Iles of Colorado and a nephew, Robert Morris, a civil engineer.

The purpose of the Morris party was supposedly to develop any mineral potentialities of the old well. But to all appearances the intention was, in part at least, promotional. A small building of the mining shack type was put up in the vicinity of the well. This to serve as an assay office and a land office. On a long board put up across the front of the shack, and in large letters were the words, “GOLDFIELD, MISSOURI.” This was in plain sight of passing trains. Maybe, some passengers might see and become interested, and maybe spread the word.

The office was well stocked with specimens of ore–gold, lead and zinc. If there was any pretense that these specimens were all taken from the old well is not known.

To obtain an accurate log, a drill hole was put down adjacent to the old well. The log of the drillings was kept secret, and the public could learn nothing of the findings. After a time the well was fenced up again and Mr. Morris and his associates departed. There was a rumor that the last core taken from the drill hole was pure lead. How accurate this rumor was is now impossible to learn without the drilling of another hole of equal depth. However, other attempts, on a lesser scale, have been undertaken by others to explore the old well, both for minerals and in attempts to mine coal. Some of the prospectors reported finding the hole drilled by Mr. Morris had been plugged with something thought to be a length of railroad steel dropped to the bottom.

Z. J. Worthington, a relative at the time, by marriage, of Robert Morris, tells this writer that Robert Morris told him, without any suggestion of secrecy, that near the 155-foot level, the drill cores showed two veins of coal, one 18-inch vein and one 30-inch vein, separated only by about a six-inch strata of slate. Nothing was said as to the quality of the coal or the roof.

In the early 1920’s, Fred Mellor, former Liberal resident, and a son of Samuel Mellor, sr., did some prospecting and exploring of the old well, and did some drilling in search of lead or zinc. With the hope of success, he took some ground leases in the vicinity. His findings were not disclosed, but it is assumed he concluded further operation was not worth while.

There was always a suspicion among the less gullible that the old well was salted for gold. There is an old story that such really was the case, and that it was done in a most unique manner, or way. The story is that Mr. Fuller loaded a shotgun with gold filings and fired a blast down the well, peppering the lower side-walls and the bottom with the gold particles.

The supposition is that Mr. Fuller hoped to profit in some way–probably by selling his lease-hold at a good price. It is not now known if he profited in any way. But the act did start a “gold-strike” rumor and succeeded in giving the old “Gold Well” its name–a name that sticks to this day.

The story sounds somewhat fantastic, but such procedure is entirely within the range of possibility. There is no one left to confirm or deny, of their own knowledge.

So, while the history of the old well has come near to being lost in the passage of time, and even word of its existence may be news to some present day residents of Liberal, through the years there have been those who never lost interest. These have clung to the thought that some day wealth may come to this region, because of the information learned from the old well–maybe not gold, but maybe lead and zinc, or possibly coal. Who knows for sure?

Following the death of Mr. Morris, some years ago, the property passed to the ownership of others. The ground roundabout is now being used for farming, and the “Old Gold Well” today remains dormant. But some day its glamour may be revived. Again, who knows?

The Neutral Strip, or No Man’s Land–from J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

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


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The Neutral Strip, or No Man’s Land

[Pages 20-21]

The Neutral Strip, referred to in the story of Waggoner’s Addition and the Barbed Wire Fence, was not necessarily so “neutral.” It was solely the property of Mr. Walser and he had the right to do with it as he pleased, so long as the use was not a public nuisance. If the fence was a nuisance is a moot question. Here is how the strip was created: In establishing the north line of his original town plot, Mr. Walser had dropped back 57 and 1/2 feet south from his property line, leaving this strip, 57 and 1/2 feet wide, and in equal length to the width of the town plat. It may be located by beginning at the Methodist church, which sits squarely upon it. Then run in both directions, east to Denton Street and west to the Missouri Pacific railroad right-of-way.

This strip remains today an unplatted island, or enclave, within the perimeter of Liberal. There is no record of this strip ever having been platted or annexed to the city as an addition.

In the earlier days of Liberal, this strip was called “No Man’s Land.”

I have the verbal opinion of a competent attorney that if there be anyone holding possession of some part of this strip, without title originating with Mr. Walser or his legal heirs, they are apparently doing so by virtue of what, in legal terminology, is called “adverse possession,” or in common vernacular “squatter’s rights,” validated by term possession. At least some of this strip has been absorbed by adjacent properties.

While the Methodist church is situated upon a segment of this strip, the church does have clear title in regular form. The story of the church will be found in more detail under the heading,”The Churches Came.”

Waggoner’s Addition and the Barbed Wire Fence–J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

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


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Waggoner’s Addition and the Barbed Wire Fence

[pages 15-19]

On May 20, 1881, a man named William H. H. Waggoner, who owned a tract of land adjoining Mr. Walser’s domain on the north, dedicated and filed for record Waggoner’s Addition to Liberal. It was laid out in both residential and business lots; and to this addition he invited Christians to come and settle.

If Mr. Waggoner did this in a sincere desire to promote Christianity, or in the hope of selling some pasture land at town-lot prices, was not revealed. But at any rate he did not hold forth for long, as will be seen.

There is no record that there was any immediate great influx of Christians, or others, to this new addition. But there is a record that the circumstances stirred up something of a hornet’s nest, so to speak, among the Freethinkers. Mr. Walser and his friends were so aroused that they built a high barbed wire fence between his balawick and the newly-founded Christian preserve.

The fence was built on a narrow strip of land, owned by Mr. Walser, that lay between the two areas. For years this fence has been seized upon by columnists and feature writers as juicy material in sensational stories about Liberal. So the story of the barbed wire fence, as told by these writers, must be known far and wide.

A most clear mental picture of the fence and the friction can be gained by reading accounts of the fence. One account published in “The Liberal,” Mr. Walser’s newspaper, now long since defunct, in the issue of April 18, 1883, follows:

“G. H. Walser has bought the Waggoner’s Addition to the town of Liberal. The readers of The Liberal, two years ago, will remember that this addition was the great bone of contention between the Liberals and the Christians. The addition was laid out by Mr. Waggoner for the purpose of inducing immigration of Christians who would be strong enough to outnumber the Liberals and defeat the enterprise. That was prevented by a high post and a barbed wire fence which was immediately put up on a strip of land adjoining the town, which had not been laid off into lots, which they mistook for a street. By this fence the could neither get ingress nor egress. They could not climb over the fence because it was too high; they could not crawl under it because it was too low and they could not crawl through because of the stickers on the wires. So they just sat down and swore that we were the meanest set on earth, and I guess we were. We saved the town by it and now we are happy.”

Analyzing the foregoing, it sounds like Mr. Walser was doing a little crowing over his strategy, and that Mr. Waggoner’s campaign was of rather short duration. Waggoner didn’t stand by his guns as a dedicated person would have been expected to do. He sold out after only one year and eleven months. If his profit was great or small, or if he sustained a loss, is not known.

If there was much concern at the time amongst the citizenry on either side of the fence, it is not a matter of record. But the repercussion came about two years later, when in 1885 there appeared in Liberal a crusading evangelist by the name of Clark Braden. Braden seized upon the circumstance of the fence and issued a spirited pamphlet in which he gave a different account of the barbed wire fence barrier as follows:

“When some persons who would not submit to infidel bulldozing began to settle on the lots that Mr. Walser did not own, outside his ton plot, the infidels of Liberal actually undertook to build a wire fence around Liberal, across a public highway so as to prevent Christians from entering the town, even o 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 ‘tolerance’ and ‘liberality.’ Walser’s wife and other female infidels were driving 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 infidel lunacy removed.”

Braden’s account, one might say, was highly temperamental; but it was not wholly factual. For one thing, there is no evidence that the fence was built “around” the town, as actually it was built in a straight line, and on private property, and not across any public highway, as already explained. The depot of hat is now the Frisco railroad was outside the south town limits at that time, and easily accessible to the residents of the country roundabout. The residents of Waggoner’s addition could have gone around either end of the fence if they had wished to do so, as it was but little more than a quarter of a mile long. The Missouri Pacific railroad did not come until 1885, two years later than the fence building episode.

There is no doubt the whole affair did present something of an inconvenience to the people living in Waggoner’s addition, and discouraged newcomers. Also it could have influenced Mr. Waggoner to sell out and abandon the project.

There have been those who mistakenly believed this fence to have been built between Liberal and Pedro, and in a north and south direction. But such a belief is erroneous, because at the time there was not yet any Pedro.

Knowing Mr. Walser as I did, it is my opinion that he alone conceived and financed the building of the fence; and that it was built in a gesture of contempt, and more as a psychological than a physical barrier. As to how well it actually worked, we now have as evidence only the conflicting stories of Mr. Walser and Mr. Braden on which to base our judgment. Anyway, the fence is long since gone and so are the principals involved.

To locate Mr. Waggoner’s Addition: Begin at the jog on North Main street; run thence west to the Missouri Pacific railroad right-of-way, thence south along the right-of-way to the north line of the Neutral Strip (Read of the Neutral Strip in the following chapter): thence east to Main street; thence north to place of beginning. This encompasses the addition.

The private property on which the fence was built was and is a strip of land 57 and 1/2 feet wide, lying between the original town of Liberal and Waggoner’s Addition, and extending east and west from the Missouri Pacific right-of-way to Denton street.

Waggoner’s Addition as a rival settlement could not have offered a very serious threat to Liberal as there were no business or other civic establishments therein; and I have been able to pinpoint only eight dwelling houses that could have been built in the addition before Mr. Waggoner sold out.

These eight houses are the two first and the last one on the block north on Main from Maple stree; then three houses on the north side of Kneeland street, sometimes called Pacific street, and the two other houses, now gone, that stood at the south end of dead-end Myrtle street. Myrtle street is just one block west of College street. Of the others, only one, the one first north of Maple on Main, is in near its original state at the time of this writing. It may be gone or altered before this is in print. All the others have been extensively remodeled.

Of the two houses at the south end of Myrtle street, one was destroyed by fire and the other was moved to a farm, northwest of town.

After consolidation, both the original town and the new section soon grew until it was necessary to add other additions. There are few persons now living who have other than legendary knowledge of that early day controversy, soon there will be none; it is all now in the dim past.

“They are not wasting time hunting Spooks”

Freethoughters were more than a little embarrassed by the Freethought town of Liberal having turned to spiritualism, as reflected in the below letter. The matters worse than “spooks” referred to likely would be a reference to Liberal finally succumbing to Christianity and its free thought university and publications having shut down. Many people passed through Liberal who are unrecorded and I can’t say whether D. Priestly, who wrote the letter, may have been a resident at one time. I’ve located him on the 1900 census and by this on a few other censuses. He was Dalhousie Priestly, born 1836 in New York, married to a woman named Rhuma. In 1880 they were living in Beaver City, Furnas, Nebraska. In 19000 they were in Newberg, Yamhill, Oregon.

* * * * *

H. L. Green
Editor and Publisher
Volume XVIII. 1900
January to December
Chicago Illinois

—D. Priestly of Newberg, Oregon, one of our most enthusiastic Free Thinkers, writes in a private letter:

I feel grateful to you for what you are doing for the Oregon Liberal University. That is an institution that is going to succeed. Those in charge of it have got the brains and sincerity and enthusiasm and perseverance to make it go. They are not wasting time hunting spooks, as they did in Liberal, Mo., school. I cannot do much, but will do what I can.

The Liberal School started at Liberal, Mo., had something, even worse than, “spooks” to contend with, and of course died. Liberal schools ought to have a much higher moral standard than orthodox schools, and we are glad that the Silverton school maintains one.

Mrs. Burgess-Oster and the Burgess Tomb – from “This Strange Town”

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.

A request has been made I transcribe this chapter.

1880 – 1910

Return to the Table of Contents

Mrs. Burgess-Oster and the Burgess Tomb

[pages 118-121]

Mrs. Mary A. Burgess-Oster was among Liberal’s pioneers who well deserves mention in any story of the town. She was a prominent citizen for many years; and more than some others have done, she left a monument to her memory–the Burgess tomb. She experienced five marriages. Of her five husbands, two she divorced, two she outlived and by one she was survived. As a young woman she was married to Samuel Boulware, a member of a prominent pioneer family of west Barton county. This marriage proved incompatible and ended in divorce. Some said Mr. Boulware was not sufficiently successful financially to satisfy her.

Her second marriage was to Alfred Burgess, another pioneer. Mr. Burgess was a man of wealth, and much her senior. From him she came into a considerable fortune. An addition to the town of Liberal bears his name. After the death of Mr. Burgess the widow married a Mr. Olmstead, a stranger here, and from him she was soon divorced.

Mrs. Burgess was a most gracious lady, but homespun through and through. She had been used to the rugged, more or less “catch as catch can” pioneer life, with farm animals all around. Mr. Olmstead was from the city and fastidious to a fault. Mrs. Burgess said he was so finical she couldn’t stand him. Among other niceties, she said he complained of soiling his shoes when he had to walk in the cow lot. This was too much!

Her fourth marriage was to Louis A. Oster, a wealthy retired and German farmer who had come from Illinois and bought considerable land in this vicinity. Mr. Oster was much the older of the two, but it was a happy marriage. Among other events, they enjoyed a visit to his native Germany. In his passing he left more wealth to the widow. With money from him she invested in land.

The fifth and last in the line of husbands was Robert Schmidt, of Kansas City, a stranger here. How she met him is not known. By him she was survived. There were no children of any of the marriages, though she and Mr. Burgess did adopt a son; and later, she took a girl and another boy to raise. It will be noted the name “Burgess” is being used throughout this sketch. The reason is because by that name she was most generally called, with the name “Oster” following a close second.

Mrs. Burgess-Oster was one to prepare for the dead as well as to provide for the living. In testimony whereof, there now stands in the northeast part of Liberal a large above-ground tomb, or vault, wherein rest the bodies of Mr. Burgess; the body of her mother, Mrs. Sarah E. Peck, the body of Mr. Oster and, finally, the body of herself.

The tomb stands on a plot of ground, 80 by 205 feet in size. To insure perpetual upkeep, she deeded the plot to Barton county, and set up a trust fund to provide money for any expense of upkeep. The trust fund, opened at $500, was reduced to $450 by the inheritance tax. The deed was made July 6, 1896. The vault, about ten by twelve feet in perimeter, and eight feet high is built of stone and glazed brick. The plot was taken out of a track of land–her home at the time.

It is interesting to note the stipulations in the deed, which read as follows:

“I, Mary A. Burgess, a single woman, being desirous of securing a private burying ground on my land, for the purpose of retaining the remains of Alfred A. Burgess, deceased, now entombed on the tract of land hereinafter describe,d and for the further purpose of making the tract of land the final resting place of myself, my mother and my adopted son, Clarence A. Burgess, when we severally shall pass away from the burdens of this life, do hereby grant, bargain and convey to the County of Barton, in the State of Missouri, the following piece, parcel or tract of land: Commencing at a point where the east line of Burgess street, which runs north and south through Walser’s First addition to the town of Liberal in Barton county, Missouri, intersects with the south line of Lot two, in township 32 and range 33, running thence west 205 feet, thence north 80 feet, thence east 205 feet, thence south 80 feet to place of beginning.” All named except Clarence A. Burgess rest there.

As often happens to celebrities, stores are told of their eccentricities–of course sometimes exaggerated. Mrs Burgess did not escape, and I mean no disrespect in relating some of them concerning her.

There is the story that upon her remarriage after the death of Mr. Burgess, a charivari crowd went to her home the first night and raised a din that fairly “made the welkin ring.” Provoked, it is related that she commented, “The way they carried on was simply disgracefully, there with the body of poor Mr. Burgess yet not much more than cold in his tomb.” The tomb was near the house–something near seventy feet distant. She always referred to Mr. Burgess as “Poor Mr. Burgess.” How long she waited to remarry, I do not know, but I imagine it was within the range of propriety. The charivari crowd, no doubt, milled some around the tomb.

Once she and Mr. Oster went to Kansas City and bought an automobile. Neither could drive. In commenting, she told friends they hired a regular “chiffonier” to drive the car home for them. They always had to have a driver when they used the car, which event was seldom. She always referred to her telephone as the “foam.” She would tell her friends to “foam me up sometimes.”

Maybe it was rude to poke fun at her, or even to speak of her eccentricities. But otherwise the story and the picture of Mrs. Burgess would be incomplete. It was her nature and it made her individuality stand boldly out. But as I have already said, Mrs. Burgess was a most gracious lady, and a good neighbor. For some years my residence property adjoined hers–so I knew her well. At her death she left a will distributing her wealth liberally and widely among friends as well as relatives. She died February 26, 1923, at near the age of seventy-four.

The Oster Block, on Main street, built in 1904, is another monument to the memory of Mrs. Burgess-Oster.

* * * * *

I wanted to add my own notes. J. P. Moore has listed the first marriage as being to Samuel Boulware and this is wrong. It was instead to his brother, Thomas. I’ve been able to research this a little.

1920 District 34, Ozark, Barton, MO
177/177 (at Denton Street) OSTER Mary Ann head 70 widowed b. OH parents b. VA operator farm
EDRIDGE Mary companion 19 single KS parents b. US (She was taken from orphan’s home and did not know status)
PECK Samuel C. brother 72 OH parents b. VA farmer
Anna J. sister-in-law 56 MO parents b. TN

The 1920 census showing Mary with her brother, I was eventually able to locate them in an 1860 census.

1910 District 0029 Liberal Ward 1, Barton, MO
173/174 OSTER Mary A. head 66 widowed b. OH father b. PA mother b. OH profession is illegible
Arthur son 10 b. MO parents b. US
May daughter 8 ” ”

1900 District 25, Ozark, Barton, Missouri
199/200 OLMSTED William E. May 1847 53 married once b. CT parents b. CT traveling salesman
Mary A. wife April 1850 50 married once no children b. IN father b. IN mother b. OH farmer
BURGESS Clarence A. “raised” April 1890 10 b. OH father b. OH mother b. unknown
MORRISON Arthur servant April 1883 17 single b. MO parents b. MO

Having found Mary in the 1900 and 1910 censuses, I reached a wall with locating her in the 1880 census and so turned to the Missouri Marriage Records. I don’t find a record for her last marriage to Schmidt, but I do find her other marriages.

Missouri Marriage Records show a Mary Peck marrying a Thomas Boulware in Cass on Oct 17 1868.

Missouri Marriage Records show a Mary A. Boulware, birthdate 1848, marrying Alfred Burgess on 19 March 1884 in Jackson Missouri.

Missouri Marriage Records show Mrs. Mary A. Burgess, on 15 Feb 1900, in Barton County, marrying William E. Olmstead

Missouri Marriage Records show Mary A. Burgess marrying, on 4 June 1902, Louis Oster.

Thus I was able to find her in 1870 with Thomas Boulware.

1870 Bogard, Henry, Missouri
62/64 BOULWARE Thomas 29 farmer 2000 500 b. IL
Mary A. 22 b. IN

Samuel Boulware, son of Daniel James Boulware and Christine Pullam (I find this on an tree that looks reliable) was married to a Mary E. He’s given as born 1841 Sept in Illinois, lived in Barton County, Missouri from about 1880 on, and died 1925. He was married to Mary E. in 1872. The same tree lists a brother, Thomas, as also born in 1841 in IL and gives him as residing in Bogard, Henry, Missouri in 1870 and then in Pittsburg, Crawford, KS in 1905. This is the Boulware who married Mary Peck and is seem with her in the 1870 census. The 1850 census shows both Thomas, age 9, and Samuel, age 7, in the household of Daniel and Christina in Township 4 S 6 W, Pike, Illinois.

And now for Mary and her family in 1860 in Iowa.

1860 Centerville, Appanoose, Iowa
O C Peck 36 Cooper 500 90 VA
Sarah E. Peck 34 VA
Samuel C. Peck 12 OH
Mary A. Peck 10 IN
Rebecca Peck 7 OH
William O. Peck 10/12 PA
Sarah E. Peck 4 IA

They moved around quite a bit!

I’m glad I looked this up because it’s good to be able to correct here the error of Mary Peck having married Samuel Boulware, and to clarify it was instead his brother, Thomas.