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Brann the Iconoclast
William Cooper Brann
Born in Illinois in 1855, William Cowper Brann fled a foster home at age 13, working as a bellboy, printer's devil, fireman on a freight train, professional baseball pitcher and manager of an opera company. He eventually became a newspaperman, married Carrie Belle Martin and had three children. Brann's first publication, the Austin Iconoclast folded after only a few issues. Brann sold his press for $250 to William Sydney Porter, who later became famous as O. Henry.
Brann's Iconoclast began publishing in February 1895, in Waco, Texas. At the time of his death in 1898, the paper's circulation was close to 120,000, with subscribers in Australia, England and Japan.
Brann's objective was "to smash shams and deflate egos—to recover a few square acres of Mother Earth from the domain of Falsehood and Folly." His favorite targets included lawyers, politicians and Baylor Baptist College.
Brann's colourful career came to a halt on April 1, 1898. While walking toward Austin Avenue he was shot in the back by Tom E. Davis, secretary of the Good Government Club and a Baylor supporter. Brann turned and fired six shots at Davis, hitting him with four. Both men died within hours.
Brann is not on record as having been a freemason.
‘The Masons are an honorable and high-minded body of men. Of course, there are some black sheep among them, a few virulent scabs, intellectual inanities, Baptists and other moral abnormalities; but taken “by and large” they are eminently proper people.’
Waco recently offered a bonus—or made a bluff at offering it—of $15,000 for the location of the Masonic Widows' and Orphans' Home. Waco is forever making a large piebald ass of herself. She is always ready to promise to put off a dollar and six-bits for a penny whistle but wouldn't obligate herself to give, on the installment plan, seven and a quarter for a grand piano with all modern improvements. Were the majestic universe for sale for $10 cash she'd fail to make connections—would get hopelessly sidetracked while conferring, banqueting, whereasing, resoluting, perorating, and otherwise agitating the atmosphere while getting ready to let somebody else begin. I found that out more than a year ago, when I offered to build and operate for a period of ten years a $250,000 hotel and surround it with a beautiful public park if guaranteed a bonus of $50,000. It was freely conceded that such a hotel was the one thing needed to make Waco a popular winter resort; so after much hemming and hawing the commercial heavy-weights—organized into a club whose sole motif appears to be to jam wind and determine how best to do nothing else—"kinder reckoned as how" they would try to raise half that inconsiderable amount of money in order that the town might be transformed into a veritable Mecca of health-seekers and tourists. Although the city taxes on the property would in a few years have exceeded the bonus asked, the scheme went bump, and Waco's invaluable thermal waters are still going to waste. The hotel project was too great a project for the town to grasp. Its speculative measure is the penny-in-the-lot machine. It will drabble its shirt-tail over a thousand miles of marsh fishing for minnows, but at sight of a sperm whale lies down in the bottom of the boat and bellyaches. Waco is emphatically a pin-hook fisherman. Although its natural advantages are superior to those of any other Texas city it is the sixth in size. That's because it imagines that it can work industrial wonders by drinking toasts and feeding its face. At the business men's banquet given a few nights ago, and at which enough new enterprises were outlined to appall Chicago, were enthusiastic whoopers-up who haven't paid their grocery bills in three months, and who permit their notes for trifling amounts to go to protest. Yet they got full o' champagne punch and prunes and told what We, Us & Co. are going to do to make Waco great. A stranger gazing upon that scene would have supposed that the Geyser City was about to pick herself up by her own embroidered garters and hop blithely astride a millenium—but the wonderful schemes of commercial grandeur faded next morning with the champagne fumes. Waco gets rid of entirely too much nervo-muscular energy in unprofitable gab. She does an infinite deal of cackling but lays no eggs. She's the past, grand architect of castles in Spain. Her intentions are all right, but her execution has a broken mainspring. She is constant to one thing never, but starves between divers dazzling schemes, like the traditional jackass drawn hither and yon by the appetizing odor of various fodder-shocks. It requires ten days and several Meetings of the Commercial Club to get her consent to break a five-dollar bill. The brass-band "enterprise" of this town makes me tired. Waco did not get the Masonic Widows' and Orphans' Home. Her boasted bonus was a cold bluff. I've heard of nobody offering $15,000 to secure it except my old friend, Col. Bill Cameron, and he must always be understood as speaking in a Pickwickian sense when he discourses of bonuses. Your Uncle Wilyum is all right in his way; but the only time he ever really consented to part with a dollar without a wire cable attached was when he tried to buy a gold brick. Doubtless the Home would be a very nice thing to have, but it would have been worth less than nothing to Waco, commercially considered. Benevolent institutions not provided for by the state are invariably a burthen—what they receive in charity from the town is greater than the profit on their trade. Certain learned Thebians have been exploiting the idea in the local press that Waco did not get the Home because the Iconoclast is published here—all of which demonstrates that the fool-killer should be discharged for dereliction of duty. Waco stood never a chance of getting the Home, even though Col. Cameron had made good his flamboyant bonus bluff. Masonic institutions are seldom offered at auction. The Masons are an honorable and high-minded body of men. Of course, there are some black sheep among them, a few virulent scabs, intellectual inanities, Baptists1 and other moral abnormalities; but taken "by and large" they are eminently proper people. They did not care to commit their widows and orphans to the tender mercies of a town whose chief educational institute has privately encouraged and publicly approved mob violence, the determination of questions of fact by appeal to brute force—the attempted suppression of truth by a peremptory order to "leave town." The Home did not come to Waco because the Masons declined to commit their loved ones to the care of a community that has ostentatiously eulogized a brace of would-be assassins who "double-banked" a crippled Confederate colonel—who shot him in the back then became so badly frightened that they couldn't work their guns and were killed while trying to escape the righteous punishment of their cowardly crime. Being honorable men, the Masons object to have those near and dear to them breathe the same atmosphere with men who prate of erecting monuments to the memory of those who attempted the most dastardly crime known to the history of Texas, and who failed only because their "coward lips did from their color fly," and their hands were palsied with craven fear. That is reason sufficient why the Home did not come to the Geyser City. Of course, it will be urged by maudlin sentimentalists that "we should speak only good of the dead." It is not the fault of the Harris brothers that they are dead and damned and Judge Gerald alive today. One shot him in the back then started to run; the other shot him from a doorway, then hid behind a telephone pole. And who was it they attempted to assassinate? One of the noblest and brainiest men in all Texas—the very flower of Southern chivalry. And who were they? The elder brother was the ignorant but pompous amateur editor of an unprincipled litle pewee paper, whose notes I had declined to purchase because I did not consider them worth a cent on the dollar; the younger was—well, he was the fellow who shot Judge Gerald in the back then ran like a frightened jack-rabbit. They had been told by brother Baptists that they could kill Gerald in any way they liked and get off with it; they attempted to kill him "any way"—slipped their trolley-wire, and the world is well rid of such bad rubbish. And these are the fellows who are to live in song and story—according to Kid Carroll, the intellectual tomtit who's serving God for the long green and preaching a crusade of blood against the Iconoclast. These are the heroes bold in whose honor Parian marble is to buss the clouds. I'll build that monument, and promise to make it an irridescent beaut—if permitted to carve thereon an exact representation of the act for which they are so honored! If that act was noble let the eulogists of the Harris brothers accept my offer. I'll employ the best sculptor in America, and sling $10,000 into the enterprise. No argument, no misrepresentation, no abuse can rub the edge off that proposition—the apologists for the Harris brothers must either accept my offer or stand branded before the majestic world as brutes. The Home did not come to Waco because a lot of splenetic-hearted hypocrites and pietistical dead-beats—who should have been hanged with their own umbilicular cords at birth—have given the place a bad name which it will take a dozen years to live down. The cry raised by certain mischief-making little fuzzy-wuzzies that Waco lost the Home because of the Iconoclast was simply a stupid prevarication made with malice pretense. It is barely possible that a few professional log-rollers for other locations did mouth somewhat about this magazine-shoot their smooth-bore bazoos at "Brannville"-but their goose-gabble sawed absolutely no ice. The Iconoclast has cost Waco nary a nick. Together with its auxiliary publications it draws hither more money from beyond Waco's legitimate trade territory than do all other institutions combined. It asked no bonus to come, and it will not go until it gets a real good ready. There are not Baptists enough in Texas to drive it out of this town. If they kill the editor, another and a better man will step into his shoes and continue the old fight against hypocrites and humbugs, against all that loveth and maketh a lie. I have business here. Like a greater, I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance—and I find more sinners here in proportion to population than anywhere else this side the dominions of the devil. Perhaps that is because it runs so largely to amen-corner religion. I once promised the reputable citizens of this place that I would have nothing further to say on the Baylorian subject if let alone, would leave the Augean stables to be cleaned by Hercules. But I have not been let alone. The vindictive little pismires continue to crawl up my pantelettes. I shall not attempt to deal with them in detail, for that were too much like fighting a malodor with an army musket, going after a bad smell with a gatling gun; but so long as the Baylorian gang of mental perverts persist in chewing the rag at my expense, that great incubator bigotry and bile can depend upon hearing from me semi-occasionally or twice in a while. I'm a pretty good other cheek Christian, but even St. Peter had his fighting point; and I may yet be provoked to drag forth all the grisly skeletons that have been carefully filed away in Baylor's closets during the past few years, and make them dance for the amusement of the multitude. Just a little more of this malicious persecution, this sanctified misrepresentation, and Baylor will receive an Iconoclastic revelation that will make the one engineered by the lamented John of Patmos seem like an iridescent dream. If there be yet a God in Israel or sense of decency or justice remaining in the human heart, I can come precious near making that pseudo-sacrosanct institution tuck its flea-bitten tail between its hinder legs and flee unto the mountains of Hepsidam, where the lion roareth and the whang-doodle mourneth for its first-born. Sweet Christians, if you want peace, I prithee go cork yourselves.

1.Robert E. B. Baylor (1793-1874), founder of Baylor University, Waco, was Grand Chaplain for the Grand Lodge of Texas. Amongst others, William R. White, who served as President of Baylor University, and was Secretary of the Sunday School Board, Southern Baptist Convention, was also a freemason.
Reprinted from The Complete Works of Brann the Iconoclast. Volume XI. The Brann Publishers, Inc. : New York City. Copyrighted, 1898 by Mrs. W. C. Brann. Copyrighted, 1919, by The Bran Publishers, Inc. [pp.31-37].


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