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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Belk and his wife who ran the postoffice, were leaders in Liberal. The mails of Christians was opened, delayed, lost, until they went to the train with mail, until the office at Pedro was established.
Profanity has ever been the commonest speech in Liberal. One of the oldest residents declared that he did not know an infidel, male or female that did not swear, and nearly all of them habitually. Mollie Replogle, one of the leading young females in Liberal, admitted to the Globe-Democrat reporter that she used to swear habitually, that her young female associates did, but said she had quit. The writer heard three young misses belonging to the ton of Liberal swear on the platform at the close of a session of his debate with Stewart. Mrs. Lyons, then President of the Sunday Evening Entertainment, the highest position in Liberal, Mrs. Belk, postmistress, and other female leaders in Liberal were heard cursing and swearing in the postoffice June 5th, 1885. They were abusing the writing behind his back. The names of dozens of females who are swearers can be given. The men and boys are as profane as pirates. Such is “the best of Liberal society” in Liberal. Lawlessness in public meetings and utter disregard of parents is, of course, the rule in such a society.
Infidelity in all ages and lands has been characterized by lewedness. Liberal has been an infamous illustration of this fact. There always have been more grasswidows and wodowers–more persons cohabiting, who have former associates in cohabitation living, than in any other town of then [sic] times its population in the United States. One often sees this sign “Misfit carpets.” A sign should be hung over Liberal: “Misfit couples, husbands and wives;” only they are not and were not husbands and wives but persons herding together in cohabitation. Only a few of the revolting details can be given. One Lyons has long been a leader in Liberal. So has the woman with whom he cohabits. They cohabited for months without the slightest pretense of marriage, with the knowledge of Walser and all Liberal. Learning that the grand jury were going to indict them, they said a few words to each other in Walser’s parlor Saturday evening, October 28, 1882. Walser, in an editorial in the Liberal of November 1stt, describes with approval, the farce, that was a mockery and violation of all law. This woman was a leader in Liberal, and with a full knowledge of these facts, was placed in the most honored position in Liberal. Replogle, who was editor of the paper, and the woman who had more to do with running it than any other pseron, cohabited for months without any ceremony. Learning that an enemy waas about to present them to the grand jury, they went through the same farce that Lyons and his woman enacted. Walser and Liberal, with full knowledge of these facts, kept these parties at the head of the paper and society in Liberal for years. There are other cases that are similar.
Replogle’s woman cohabited with Henry Yoemans in Liberal, after her association with Replogle. The fact was well known. In the spring of 1885 she went to Yeomans in Clarksville, Texas. Prof. Yoemans, father of Henry, a teacher of music, who was teaching classes in Texas–a leader in Liberal–passed her off as his wife in some places. Young Yoeman passed her off as his wife in others. Old Yoemans seduced a man’s wife in Paris, Texas, and was slain by the husband, and the Replogle woman attended the funeral as the wife of H. Yeomans. The people in Texas got an inkling of the facts and Replogle went to Texas and declared his woman was his sister, and the wife of H. Yeomans, to save them from the penitentiary. Walser states these facts in the Liberal of July 15, 1886. Replogle in Equity No. IV. states that his affinity was in Texas with the Yeomans, “with his knowledge and consent.” He taunts Walser with knowing all about the facts at the time, and finding no fault, until the articles in the Post-Dispatch and Globe Democrat led him to play the hypocrite in trying to whitewash Liberal. While Replogle’s affinity was cohabiting with H. Yeomans with Replogle’s “knowledge and consent,” Replogle was cohabiting with Yeoman’s twin sisters in Liberal. So notorious did it become that their brother in Liberal told them to stop it or leave home. They left home, and one went to where the Replogle woman was stopping, who had returned from Texas. Her brother broke into the house at night, overpowered both women, and after beating his sister compelled her to dress her [sic] and go home with him. Replogle describes the whole affair in the Equity Supplement.
In February, 1885, a station agent in Liberal was discharged by the company, because he and others had made the depot building a house of assignation with Replogle’s affinity, Georgia Replogle (so-called); Molly Replogle, Replogle’s sister–with Replogle’s knowledge and consent; and the three Replogle’s were running the paper with Walser’s full knowledge of these facts, as Replogle and his friends have proved.
It was a notorious fact that the Lyons woman, so-called, was seen in lewdness with H. Yeoman’s at Mr. Bumgarner’s millet stacks one Sunday afternoon in broad daylight. With full knowledge of this fact, that was scandalously notorious, she was elected President of the Sunday Evening Entertainment. In Equity No. VII, Morre charged Walser with repeated attempts to seduce a Mrs. Hastings into lewdnesss. When his wife left him he used to go to the office of a female physician, Mrs. Allen, and the people in the next room, separated from their office by a thin board partition, had repeated audible evidence of their adultery. The woman had four affinities living when she took up with Walser. These facts are but the legitimate results of the sentiments of Walser and his crew.
In a speech in U. M. L. Hall in April, 1884, Walser declared, before a crowded audience, that “he was a free lover, and that he established Liberal to make it a free love town.” The Lyons woman, President of the Sunday Evening Entertainment, declared in Mr. Cumming’s meat shop she was a free lover in belief and practice. Mrs. Belk, postmistress, the Replogle woman, the Yeomans girls, and others have made such statements repeatedly. Yale, the leading gas bag of Liberal, declared to Mr. Pitts, then editing the paper: “I believe in free love; I believe my daughter should be free to cohabit with any man and as many men as she pleases; and to have children by any man or as many men as she pleases, and be honored for it, and not despised as she would be now.” Mr. Guffy, once postmaster in Liberal, says the last degree in Walser’s “Sacred Brotherhood” is a free love degree. C. W. Stewart, another champion in Liberal, confirms this in the Liberal of June 1st, 1885. He says:
“But when we realize that certain reformers (?) not only advocate Free Love, but travel over the country preaching and practicing it, and even organize secret societies, with the usual grips, signs, pass-words and other paraphernalia, and pour into the ears of innocent girls their libidinous trash; and initiate them into the beauties of illicit intercourse; and when there is opposition to their infamous course they begin to talk, “shoo” it is time to speak out on the subject. I speak by the card, for I played detective long enough to get the whole plan from one of its teachers. I am not afraid of being Morganized either, for none but paltroons will engage in the work of pimps and procuresses.”
What Stewart alludes is this: when the exposures of the Post Dispatch and Globe Democrat let the light in on the rottenness of Liberal, Walser made a hypocritical
attempt to whitewash Liberal by making scape goats of a few. He sent Replogle and his woman away, though as Replogle says, he knew and approved of all he had ever done in the matters for which he said he discharged him–they they were transpiring. He had meetings in his parlor. It was full, and as Mark Walser said “they almost stomped the floor through” in their approval of the effort to purify Liberal. The intended scape goats heard of it and reminded Walser’s echoes of what could be proved in regard to themselves. This cooled their zeal, and they dropped out, through fear, until in the third meeting but three were present, the committee that had been appointed to learn the facts, and call a meeting and report. Mr. Curless, the chairman, was in earnest, and sincere in his desire to purify Liberal. The rest of the committee, through conscious guilt and fear backed out.
Curless called a meeting which met Monday afternoon, June 15. He reported such facts as these:
Lyons, a leader in Liberal, and his affinity, the president of the Sunday Evening Entertainment; Replogle so long editor of the paper, and his affinity, who was at the head of it in reality, had been in the practice of showing vile pictures to young boys and girls. They would invite them to their houses. The women would take liberties with the boys and “initiate them into the beauties of free love, illicit intercourse.” The women would invite the girls into their rooms show [sic] them obscene pictures. The men would attempt indecent liberties with them. If they submitted, the procuress would leave the room, or stand by while the men “initiated young girls into the beauties of illicit intercourse.” Curless reported the confession of a dozen girls who had been debauched, and who said that others had been. In the Liberal of July 29, 1886, Walser charges two women–Mrs. Lyon and Mrs. Replogle–with “showing obscene pictures to young boys and girls, and procuring young girls for free love purposes” and defies a denial of the charge. In Equity No. 4 Replogle admits that Lyons and wife, himself and wife had shown nude pictures to boys and girls. These damning infamies cannot now be denied. This is but a portion of what was revealed. Lyons did not attempt any denial of the charges. He coolly told the committee and others they could not make a scape goat of him and two or three more. They must treat all alike. If they did not drop it, he would expose them. He would tell what he knew of their conduct, and of their sons and daughters. They could not tell on him without exposing their daughters, that he had debauched.
Walser was told of his free love speech, a little over one year before, and that he said he established Liberal to be a free love town. His attempts on Mrs. Hastings, his conduct with Mrs. Dr. Allen, and other escapades were thrown up. He was reminded that his son was the worst libertine in Liberal. That his daughter was one of the initiated, and that he had to lock her up to keep her from free love orgies.
He was reminded that he had known all of these things, and approved of them, and took part in them, when they were occurring, and that his “Sacred Brotherhood” was in its last degree, free love. Lyons reminded him that he and Replogle had lived as free lovers, with Walser’s knowledge, and with his approval had lived with their affinities without any legal ceremony, after a farce he sanctioned. It was avowed that “all true Liberals were free lovers,” as Walser himself had declared. The language of Walser and his opponents to each other, cannot be repeated. Walser was scared out of his hypocritical attempt to whitewash Liberal, by making scape goats out of a few. Free Lovers were for [sic] the most numerous, and triumphed. All parties turned on Mr. Curless. Thayer, whose daughter was one of the “initiated,” told him “that he would have to look a long way up, to look up to where Mr. and Mrs. Lyons stood.” Lyons stood higher than ever in Liberal. Mrs. Lyons retained her position as President of the Sunday Evening Entertainment, and held her head higher than ever. Replogle and his affinity came back and went into the printing office, and Walser’s great moral reform, was accomplished.
Walser observing that Spiritists were the most numerous in Liberal began to investigate Spiritism. Dr. Bouton had wonderful manifestations in his house. Walser and Steward, those clear headed sceptics, that can not be humbugged with Christianity, went to the Doctors. Each got a communication from St. Bennett, who spent a portion of the last years of his life in a penitentiary for peddling vile literature. Walser declared he would not take $500 for his slate writing. He had it photographed and framed in a costly frame, to ornament his parlor. Stewart in a rhapsody, said his slate “was worth half his life,” and had it framed and hung up. Both Walser and Stewart showed their treasures to all visitors. Glowing accounts of the wonderful manifestations in Liberal were published in Spiritist papers, and the Spiritists flocked to Liberal in crowds. The unbelieving world was taunted and defied. Infidels were convinced and converted. Liberal was to receive a new birth through Spiritism, and astonish the world. But alas! a fire broke out in the Doctor’s house, and the whole fraud was exposed. Bouton says that Walser knew the fraud and was working with him to resuscitate Liberal by means of it. Replogle so states in Equity No. 5.
The old feud between Spiritists and materialists became more bitter than ever. It needed but a spark to cause an explosion. There was an old crank by the name of Moore, who issued semi-occasionally a little leaflet, in Liberal called, “The Principles of Life;” and who peddled books on sexual topics, and as Walser ways “vomited his filth and called it philosophy.“. To have something to show to outsiders the council of Liberal perpetrated the farce of passing an ordinance against prostitution. In a meeting in the opera house, Sunday night, June 27, 1886, Moore arose, Walser says with no shirt on except a very dirty under shirt, and denounced the council for passing such an ordinance. Stewart followed Moore in a scathing denunciation of free love, saying the seducer should be disposed of with shot gun. Walser saw, he thought, a chance to attempt another job at hypocritical whitewashing, and he followed in a similar speech. Moore attempted to reply, but was bulldozed down by Walser. When a vote on the subject was taken, Moore, Thayer, Owram, and Henry Yeomans arose and avowed themselves free lovers, and said that the term seduction only expressed the whims of certain persons in regard to acts that were perfectly natural and proper.
When Yeoman’s mother saw him rise she frantically called on him to recall such an act. She reminded him of the Christian teaching she had imparted to him before her family went into infidelity, and protested that she had always believed in Christianity, and had been a Christian woman, and implored him to recall his vile avowal, and not disgrace her. The meeting broke up in great excitement.
Yeomans and those who voted for free love were warned to leave. Walser sent McRae to Yeomans house to warn him to leave. Tuesday night the free lovers had a consultation in Moore’s house. About two o’clock a company of men called at the door for Yeomans, ordered him to leave, and when he refused they riddled the house with bullets, and pelted it with stones. Yeomans returned the fire, and free lovers say wounded young Bigelow, one of the assailants, in the shoulder, and the assailants fled, leaving a mask and dirk behind.
–to be continued–
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NOTES: A grain of salt should be taken with each of Braden’ words. He mentions here prostitution several times, and vile literature. But his froth about “St. Bennett”, or the freethoughter D. M. Bennett, serving in prison for publishing “vile literature” gives a solid opportunity to reflect on what Braden considered to be vile.
Bennett, interestingly, had attracted ire not only for his freethought values but for publishing what he called “black collar crimes”, or crinimal acts of the clergy. Eventually, he published a compilation titled, “Sinful Saints and Sensual Shepherds”. Some of those targeted were supporters of Anthony Comstock who gave 19th century America the anti-obscenity “Comstock Laws”.
D. M. Bennett was charged with violating these laws by distributing the pamphlet Ezra Heywood’s “Cupid’s Yokes” in the mail. He was found guilty. 200,000 people petitioned President Rutherford B. Hayes for a pardon. Hayes later wrote that he didn’t consider “Cupid’s Yokes” to be obscene, but he refused the petition.
The full title of “Cupid’s Yokes” was “Cupid’s Yokes: or The Binding Forces of Conjugal Life. An Essay to Consider some Moral and Physiological Phases of Love and Marriage, Wherein is Asserted the Natural Right and Necessity of Sexual Self-Government”.
Here is a portion of “Cupid’s Yokes”, which was considered so vile:
The thread of philosophy with which people connect scattered facts of their social experience, is religiously used to entangle so-called “fallen women,” in hopeless depression. But, if each “common” woman entertains an average number of five men as her customers, for every woman who “sells her virtue” there must be five “fallen” men who buy it. How came they to have money to buy it? How came she to be so dependent that she consents to sell the use of her person for food and clothing? Wine, women, and wealth are three prominent objects of men’s desire; to be able to control the first two, they monopolize the third; having, through property in land, interest on money, rent, and profits, subjected labor to capital, recipients of speculative increase keep working men poor; and, by excluding woman from industrial pursuits and poisoning her mind with superstitious notions of natural weakness, delicacy, and dependence, capitalists have kept her wages down to very much less than men get for the same work. Thus, men become buyers, and women sellers, of “virtue.” But many women, not in immediate need of money, engage in “the social evil;” for, allied with this financial fraud is the great social fraud, marriage, by which the sexes are put in unnatural antagonism, and forbidden natural intercourse; social pleasure, being an object of common desire, becomes a marketable commodity, sold by her who receives a buyer for the night, and by her who, marrying for a home, becomes a “prostitute” for life. The usury system enables capitalists to control and consume property which they never earned, laborers being defrauded to an equal extent; this injustice creates intemperate and reckless desires in both classes; but when power to accumulate property without work is abolished, the habits of industry, which both men and women must acquire, will promote sexual Temperance. In marriage, usury, and the exceptionally low wages of women, then, I find the main sources of “prostitution.” Luckily the profit-system will go down with its twin-relic of barbarism, the marriage-system; in life united, in death they will not be divided.
In telling the woman of Samaria, who had just said to him “I have no husband,” “Thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband,” Jesus quietly recognized, without reproof, her natural right to live with men as she chose; and when a woman “taken in adultery, in the very act,” was brought to him for criticism and sentence, he sent her accusers home to their own hearts and lives by the emphatic rebuke, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” By the Mosaic Law she should hnse been stoned to death, and the lascivious ignorance of religio-“cultured” Massachusetts would imprison her; but wiser Love points her to the upward path of social and industrial liberty. Impersonal and spiritual, Love has also its material and special revelations, which make it a sacredly private and personal affair. Why should the right of private judgment, which is conceded in politics and religion, be denied to domestic life? If Government cannot justly determine what ticket we shall vote, what church we shall attend, or what books we shall read, by what authority does it watch at key-holes and burst open bed-chamber doors to drag Lovers from sacred seclusion? Why should priests and magistrates supervise the Sexual Organs of citizens any more than the brain and stomach? If we are incapable of sexual self-government, is the matter helped by appointing to “protect” us, “ministers of the Gospel,” whose incontinent lives fill the world with “scandals?” If unwedded lovers, who cohabit are lewd, will paying a marriage fee to a minister make them “virtuous?“ Sexual organs are not less sacredly the property of individual citizens than other bodily organs; this being undeniable, Who but the individual owners can rightly determine When, Where, How and for What purpose they shall be used? The belief that our Sexual Relations can be better governed by statute, than by Personal Choice, is a rude species of conventional impertinence, as barbarious and shocking as it is senseless. Personal Liberty and the Rights of Conscience in Love, now savagely invaded by Church, State, and “wise” Freethinkers, should be unflinchingly asserted. Lovers cannot innocently enact the perjury of marriage; to even voluntarily become slaves to each other is deadly sin against themselves, their children, and society; hence marriage vows and laws, and statutes against adultery and fornication, are unreasonable, unconstitutional, unnatural and void.
For this, D. M. Bennett, in his sixties, was sentenced to 13 months of hard labor. Weakened, he died not long after his release from prison.
Notice what one of these paragraphs addresses. Prostitution. I have my very serious doubts that freethoughters who proposed sexual self-government and free love, viewing prostitution as described above, considering their loathing of the harsh inequities of capitalism, are going to be running around pimping and engaging in prostitution.
What we have here are freelovers, a subset of freethoughters, clashing so wildly with current values, going to Liberal with the thought that here they would be unmolested and accepted. They were for a time, but Walser was, ultimately, a capitalist, and he ended in not standing by them and forcing them out.
What is most interesting to me in the above are the few words that sneak almost inconspicuously by as to the question of whether Walser was a cohort in Bouton’s hoax. For profit.
I’ve written already, in my comments on Bouton’s pamphlet the serious profit the community stood to make from the hoax.
Did Bouton and his cohorts make any money off the deception? He doesn’t mention receiving any silver, but considering the time invested and the alterations to his home, I find it difficult to imagine there would not have been an attractive financial side to the whole affair. And when one thinks about it, Bouton’s deceptions would have increased the economy of Liberal during those years. Visitors coming in from out of town needed places to sleep and eat and would have essentials they would need to purchase. Liberal later became, indeed, a veritable center for Spiritualism with a Spiritualist camp meeting held once a year that attracted people nationwide.
I do think it’s reasonable to consider that Walser may have been a party to the hoax, or became a party to it after its initiation.