Brann the Iconoclast— Volume 12

Author: William Cowper Brann

The Late Tragedy.

The details of the awful tragedy of Friday evening are yet fresh in the minds of the people of Waco, and it is bootless to recount them. Two of the principals thereto have passed to the beyond and a third is in the hands of the outraged law. And with him let the law deal. In life Captain Davis was our friend. His assailant was our enemy. In death they take on the proportions of common humanity. Upon the bier of one we will lay the myrtle of never-dying remembrance. Over the coffin of the other let the mantle of forgetfulness rest. The Times-Herald makes no war upon the dead.

It is not with the dead we deal to-day, but the living— the citizenship, the municipality, the people of Waco who must suffer, who must endure, and who must survive the blow that has fallen upon us. Not because two brave men are dead, but because of the stain of blood guiltiness that has again besmirched our fair escutcheon. This tragedy has harmed Waco almost beyond the power of men to help; because it has again been blazoned to the world that here human life is cheapened; that men’s passions rule rather than the written law and that our Christian civilization is but the thinnest veneer atop of the savage.

Yet out of this may yet come a blessing to Waco. If it shall teach men to rule their passions and their speech; if it shall show us the way to lean upon the arm of the law rather than upon the might of our own strength; if it shall make us more tolerant of the opinions of our neighbor; if it shall incline us to encourage the public weal, rather than private animosities, the shadow of tragedy may yet pass and the sunlight of humanity prevail.

The Times has no heart for moralizing. It will add no pang to the grief of those who mourn. It asks of the people of Waco that upon the two new mounds made in Oakland to-day the seeds of forgetfulness may spring into verdure, covering feud and hiding passion, and that the dead past will bury its dead, leaving to the present hope, and to the future fruition.

Here follow the contents of the May, 1898, ICONOCLAST published by Brann’s friends after his death.



Poetic legend says that on a moonlight night, two thousand years ago, along the shores of the gulf of Patras, a mighty voice was heard, crying "Great Pan is dead!" And from the mountains and the valleys, the woods and grottoes, where stood the altars of those who worshiped at the shrine of Pan, was reechoed back the cry, "Great Pan is dead!" On the second of April, when the winged lightning bore over a continent, and to foreign lands beyond the sea, the news that W. C. Brann of the ICONOCLAST was dead, in every land where his writings are known, from men and women who worship at the shrine of genius, went up the wailing cry, "Brann of the ICONOCLAST is dead." Oh, death! thou grim and imperious master of us all, how dreadful to the living are your silent darts, that are ever striking with impartial hand the old man in his dotage, the strong man in his prime, the brave man in his courage and the craven in his fear.

W. C. Brann was 43 years of age, and had just arrived at that period when he was beginning to realize the hopes and aspirations of years, when he was stricken down amid the rejoicings of many and the sorrows of many thousands more. He was born in Coles County, Illinois, and at the age of two and a half years, by the death of his mother, was placed with a sister some two years older than himself, in the care of Mr. Hawkins and his wife, who lived on a farm in that county. He remained with them ten years, and then, longing to be something more than a farm hand, he packed his small belongings in a little box and at night, when all was still, he took the box under his arm and went out into the lonely darkness of the moonless night, without money, friends or education, to commence the struggle which ended in his untimely death at Waco.

Mr. Brann always spoke in the most kindly terms of Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins, and when he purchased his home in this city, he offered to share it with them, but having grown old and being comfortably situated they did not desire to change.

The first place he secured was that of a bell boy in a hotel, and from that passed on to other situations, realizing all the time, what every proud spirited boy would do under the circumstances, the bitterness that friendlessness, ignorance and poverty bring to the struggle of life. Among other things he learned the trade of painter and grainer, also that of printer, all the time storing his mind with what scraps of education that his life of poverty and toil permitted. After he gathered sufficient education he became a newspaper writer, and in 1877, at Rochelle, Ill., was married to Miss Carrie Martin, who, with two children, Grace and William Carlyle, "Little Billy," as we call him, survive him. After the death of Mrs. Brann’s mother, he took to his home one of her sisters, now Mrs. Marple of Fort Worth, and although often driven to the most desperate straits to make a living, he proved to her to be both a brother and a father. He continued his newspaper career in Illinois and Missouri, until some thirteen years ago, when he came to Texas, and gradually became known by his connection with various papers of the State. For a short time he had an interest in a paper called the ICONOCLAST, published in Austin, but he soon found himself back at his old trade, that of driving his pen for others. At last, worn out by long years of unremitting and generally poorly requited toil, wearied with waiting for opportunity to write as he wished but could not do as an employee of others, he determined to again strike out for himself, as he had done in his early boyhood, and in 1894 came to this city and established the ICONOCLAST, which was a success from its first issue, and continued to grow in circulation as he grew in reputation as a writer, until the copy that witnessed his death reached an issue of nearly 90,000.

The world, for several generations, has been discussing whether Shakespeare wrote the plays that bear his name, thousands believing that it was impossible for a man who had no more education than Shakespeare had in his youth, to have exhibited the varied knowledge and learning that characterize his works, therefore these attribute them to Sir Francis Bacon, one of the most brilliant and best educated men of his time. All the evidence goes to show that at the age of 18, when Shakespeare married, that he had acquired with a "little Latin and less Greek," the ordinary education accorded to the sons of the well-to-do middle-class Englishmen of his time, of which his father was one. At 18 Mr. Brann had barely secured the rudiments of an English education, and had he lived to the age of Shakespeare, there is no telling to what heights, intellectually, he would have risen. From a slight knowledge of his hopes and aspirations, I can say, that while he dearly loved the ICONOCLAST, as a vehicle by which he could convey to the world his thoughts, he had aspirations that went far beyond it, and proposed that during the next ten nor twelve years, after his mind had been fully stored for the work, to leave as a legacy to the world, in a continuous work, his conception of the wrongs done to humanity, the evils that spring from them and the remedies to be applied. And all who have read him closely and noticed how, month by month, he grew greater and brighter, will surely join in saying, that the loss of such a work from such a man, at the meridian of his intellectual life, is only second, if not equal, to the loss of the unwritten volumes of Buckle’s "History of Civilization."

Alas! that such a man, with such a great future before him should have died standing on the very threshold of his work.

In the private relations of life Mr. Brann was as extraordinary as in his public career; he presented that combination that is so rare that even novelists do not attempt to paint it, the combination of the lover and the husband, and as a father, a friend, a lover of humanity, with a broad mantle of charity for all, he had few equals.

While he wrote in prose, he was a poet, and of him can be truly said:

"The thoughts that stir the poet’s heart
Are not the thoughts that others feel,
From the world’s creed they are all apart,
And oftener work his woe than weal.

They are born of high imaginings,
Kindled to life by passion’s fire,
As o’er earth’s dross his fancy flings
The golden dreams that wrap his lyre."

As a writer, Mr. Brann had his faults, but they were the heritage of this God-given son of genius, and with them he climbed the heights and died among the greatest, both of the living and the dead. And had he lived ten years longer, in all probability, the intellectual world would have held him as the grandest writer that this earth has ever known since the days when old Homer painted the matchless beauty of the bride of Menelaus, and told of the godlike courage of the Greek and Trojan as they fought for her, from the Scamander to the sea. While the ignorant, the bigoted and intolerant are rejoicing in his death and garnishing his grave with the slime of their slander, they may be assured that his name and writings will live until the English language dies, and when W. C. Brann is dead and forgotten, so will be Sterne, Smollet, Fielding, Swift, Pope, Steele, Addison, Goldsmith, Shakespeare, Ben and Sam Johnson, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Carlyle, George Eliot and all that mighty host that have made the English language what it is. The language that the little tribe of the Angles brought from the forest of Germany to Britain swallowed the Britain, and survived the Norman conquest, and then absorbed both the conqueror and his language. And in the dead centuries of over a thousand years, in every generation has produced some mighty intellect to speed it on in building up the bulwarks of human rights and human liberty, until they have grown so high that despots turn from it with loathing, and slaves cannot speak it. The language of the Magna Charta and the Declaration of American Independence, the two instruments that have spread the bread of liberty before a hungry world. And as a writer of this language, with all its mighty past and greater future. W. C. Brann had few equals and no superiors.

I have been asked, both before and since his death, what were his religious opinions, and while every man’s religious opinions are his own, and no one has the right to question them, I will say he was a Deist something after the manner of Thomas Paine, and for the benefit of some of our professors and preachers, who do not know the difference between an Atheist and a Deist, I will say that a Deist is one who believes in one God, and rejects all forms of so-called revealed religion. Mr. Brann loved nature and when he looked upon it, he saw nature’s God, that with eternal fingers has written his message on earth and sky, so that savage and civilized, Christian and Infidel alike could read, that has by immutable and unvarying laws, regulated the bloom of the flowers, the course of the winds, and the fall of the leaf, as well as the revolutions of the countless millions of worlds that are ever speeding through the unmeasurable realms of space. He believed that this mighty power, that men call God, could perpetuate man in the hereafter as easily as he had placed him here, and while he, like many others, knew that all his hopes and faith did not furnish one atom of real proof as to what lies beyond the gates of death, still he hoped for the brighter and better life, and when that beautiful smile overspread his face when he died, those who beheld it felt that he had realized his hopes, and in the shadowy realm that bounds the Stygian river had met his little girl Inez, whose untimely death at the age of barely 12 years, had worked such havoc in his heart. Mr. Brann loved nature, not only when the gorgeous god of day threw over earth and sky the flashing strands of his golden hair, but in the night time when all else was wrapped in the arms of sleep, the twin sister of death; and the belated passer-by of his home often saw the gleam of his cigar as he sat or walked upon the lawn, in the small hours of the night: and at such time I know there came through his soul the thoughts, if not the words, of that death-devoted Greek, who to the question from the woman that he loved, "O, Ion, shall we meet again," answered, "I have asked that dreadful question of the hills that look eternal. Of the clear streams that flow on forever. Of the bright stars amid whose fields of azure my raised spirit has walked in glory. All, all are dumb."

But when I gaze upon thy face, I feel that there is something in the love that mantles through its beauty that cannot wholly perish, we shall meet again, Clemanthe. But it was not the name of Clemanthe that passed his lips, it was ever "Inez, darling Inez, we shall meet again."

I here reproduce in his own words an extract appropriate to this subject. It is from the ICONOCLAST of March, 1896, and an article headed "Beecher on the Bible":

"I know nothing of the future; I spend no time speculating upon it—I am overwhelmed by the Past and at death grips with the Present. At the grave God draws the line between the two eternities. Never has living man lifted the somber veil of Death and looked beyond.

"There is a Deity. I have felt his presence. I have heard his voice, I have been cradled in his imperial robe. All that is, or was, or can ever be, is but "the visible garment of God." I seek to know nothing of his plans and purposes. I ask no written covenant with God, for he is my Father. I will trust him without requiring priests or prophets to indorse his note. As I write, my little son awake, alarmed by some unusual noise, and come groping through the darkness to my door. He sees the light shining through the transom, returns to his trundlebed and lies down to peaceful dreams. He knows that beyond that gleam his father keeps watch and ward, and he asks no more. Through a thousand celestial transoms streams the light of God. Why should I fear the sleep of Death, the unknown terrors of that starless night, the waves of the river Styx? Why should I seek assurance from the lips of men that the wisdom, love and power of my heavenly Father will not fail?"

Like the lowly Judean carpenter who gave his life in a protest against the wrongs which wealth and power had done to his fellow man, he was hated by the Pharisees and hypocrites, but he never cast a stone at the poor and unfortunate, but was ever ready to support the weak battling in the cause of right against the cohorts of the wrong.

He was not only a poet, but was a prophet and a priest; not the prophet and priest of orthodoxy, that has handed down to us through the ages, written in the blood of slaughtered millions, that dark story of forked-tailed demons and flaming hells, that has given us a God that loves us better than an earthly father can, yet permits us in the sight of his great white throne to writhe and suffer through the endless ages of eternity in the flames of hell. But he was a priest and prophet of a greater and grander faith, that in the evolution of the unborn centuries yet to come, will strip from the Godhead all of the horrid concepts, born of the puny hate of man for his fellow man.

Mr. Brann was a man of the highest moral courage, no one doubted this, but some doubted whether he had that kind of physical courage that is necessary to contend with mobs and assassins, but when the hour came —when, without the slightest warning or anticipation or danger, the death wound tore through his back, with a coolness that few even of the bravest of men would have possessed under the circumstances, with a courage that could have led the Irish exiles, in that desperate and deathless charge on the bloody heights of Fontenoy, he turned and fired every bullet of his pistol into the body of his assassin.

I will briefly sketch here some of the main facts that led to his death, not only justice to the dead, but to his living friends who only knew him as a writer and have been compelled to read in the newspapers the loathsome and lying slanders sent out against him from this city.

The origin is to be found in the visit to this city of ex-Priest Slattery, who, for gross immorality, had been kicked out of the fold of the Catholic church. He was accompanied by a woman fully as bad as he, and these two saints set up to lecture, and the substance of their lecture was briefly this, that convents and female schools under the charge of the sisters, were but bawdy houses to satisfy the lust of the Catholic priesthood. Mr. Brann, who heard, in the opera house in this city, these vile slanders flung amid thunders of applause, mostly from a gang of blackguards from and around Baylor University, outraged by the wrong done the pure and stainless women whose vows bar them from the slightest hope of reward on earth, yet devote their lives in and out of the convent walls to soothing the sorrows and relieving the sufferings of humanity, attempted to reply in their defense, and for this he was hooted and nearly mobbed by this precious lot of curs and had to be escorted from the opera house by the police. After the Antonio Tiexeria scandal came out, and he saw the poor girl reduced to ruin, standing barely on the verge of womanhood, desolate and friendless in a foreign land, with his whole sympathetic nature aroused in her behalf, he certainly struck some hard blows at Baylor. In his repeated thrusts he made one at the professors which is believed by many to have cut far deeper than anything ever said about the Brazilian girl, and that was his proposition to open a night school for their benefit. In last October ICONOCLAST, in a paragraph, he expressed the hope that Baylor would not continue to manufacture ministers and Magdalens. For this he was twice mobbed, and it is claimed eventually murdered.

Since Mr. Brann’s assassination I have seen it charged in some papers, notably one bearing the word Christian at its head, that he was killed because he had slandered his slayer’s daughter, and then follows a lot of hypocritical rot about regretting bloodshed, but that there was an unwritten law that required the death of a man who would slander the female relatives of another. A greater falsehood was never published in even a pious Christian weekly. He never mentioned the name of any woman connected with Baylor except the Brazilian girl, and her case was in the courts, and while his friends deeply regretted his unfortunate expression it neither justified his mobbing or his murder. And in the judgment of all fair-minded men, under the circumstances could have been more readily construed to mean Antonio Tiexera than any other woman on earth, for within Baylor’s sacred precincts she had been reduced to that condition to which, when a woman arrives, men call her a Magdalene. If this was the motive that prompted his slayer, I ask why he did not appeal to the unwritten law sooner; he who appeals to it must do so at the first information has been conveyed to him that the wrong has been done and he cannot wait for months and then use it as a defense, and I do not hesitate to say that hundreds besides myself in this city do not believe that this prompted his assassin, except to be used as an excuse.

Mr. Brann loved Waco as he never loved any other place; for he knew that within its borders could be found as many brave, liberal-hearted men, pure and noble women as could be found in any other spot on earth with the same population. He loved it, for he said that here was the first place he ever found a real home, and here was the place he had for the first time been recompensed for his toil by receiving over a bare subsistence. Now, did Waco love Mr. Brann, or did it hold him the foul slanderer of her purest and best, as some claimed him to be? Let us see. Every effort was made to throw cold water on any turnout to his funeral; it was told around the city that no women would attend and that no flowers would be sent, but what was the result? From his home to the cemetery the sidewalks were crowded, save at Baylor University, the place that is responsible for his death, and hundreds of men and women who had no carriages walked from his home over two miles to the cemetery, and when the long funeral cortege passed within the gates, around his grave was a sea of human faces unequaled in numbers ever before gathered around any other grave in Waco. Yet Waco had lately laid to rest within that cemetery a man whom she dearly loved and on whom Texas had been proud to confer her high places, a man who in bygone years had so gallantly led her sons on so many bloody fields. As to the flowers, no greater profusion was ever seen on any other grave in Waco, or, perhaps, in Texas, a tribute that the pure and stainless women of Waco paid to the martyred dead. At his funeral was noticed a greater number, both from the city and county, of the sun-kissed sons of toil than had ever been gathered here around any other grave. Why were they there in such numbers? Why did they bow their manly heads o’er the coffin of the dead? I will answer for them. It was because they knew that the dead man loved the land that they, their sires and their grandsires loved; that he was seeking to uproot the evils, both socially and politically, that are so rapidly overrunning it; that all the gold of earth, or the plaudits of those who feel themselves the grand and great could not win him from his task of defending a people’s rights against those who were seeking to strike them down, and if he had made an error in a paragraph subject to a double construction, that above all else on earth in his heart he sought

"But the ruin of the bad, the righting of the wrong and ill."

He was followed to his grave by hundreds of men who but a few years ago had given of their money liberally to build up the new Baylor, many of whose wives, daughters and sisters had been educated there. Is it reasonable to suppose that these men who clung to him in life with hooks of steel, and followed him to his grave with tears, are such cravens that, alike in life and death, they would stand by the man who had foully slandered their wives, daughters and sisters’ fame? Out upon such a supposition, it can only find lodgment in a breast that holds that the Yahoo of Swift is a true picture of the human race, and that the lowest of the type is living here. If Mr. Brann was the slanderer of women, why did so many of them, from the hundreds that crowded the lawn around his home, lead their children up to his coffin, and those that were not able to look into it they would raise up in their arms that they might look into the dead face of the Prince of the Imperial Realm of Language.

Mr. Brann was no slanderer of women, no man on earth had a greater veneration for the good and pure or more sympathy for the fallen, and he would have died before he would have wronged intentionally either class. In this case he had struck in behalf of a poor and unfortunate girl who had been grievously wronged at Baylor, and it used to be held, and is yet held in some communities, that the man who strikes in the defense of a defenseless woman exhibits the highest trait of chivalry, even if he had made a mistake in striking, but here in Waco, with its Christian schools and churches, and its so-called Christian civilization it was rewarded first by mobs and then by murder.

He was a man who was incapable of malice, he bore none for injuries that most men would have rewarded the cowardly perpetrators by shooting them down like they have their prototype, the sneaking wolf; this arose from the innate tenderness of the man who shrunk from the taking of life, even of an animal, unless it was necessary.

I have used no words of sympathy for his wife, for time and not words can soothe sorrow such as hers, but for the benefit of those at a distance who were her husband’s friends I will say that she has the sympathy of all the men and women of this city, irrespective of church or creed, who are not the indorsers and abettors of mobs and assassins, and I am glad to say that this collection of hyena-hearted human vultures, though far too many, are in the minority.

Now, to the dead friend of humanity, the eternal foe to wrong and hypocrisy, I bid adieu forever here, and for aught I know, for hereafter. The greedy grave, whose hungry mouth is never filled, has claimed him, and in the arms of old earth, the last mother of us all, we have laid him to sleep, as peacefully as in infancy he slept upon his mother’s breast, indifferent alike in death as in life to the human ghouls who pursued him. Never again will his splendid intellect drive a pen. "In thoughts that breathe and words that burn" against the serried ranks of injustice and of wrong. Others will follow in his footsteps, and battle as faithfully as he for the cause of right, but, alas, none are clad like him in the Milan mail of intellectuality, against which the cloth-yard shafts of foes could rattle but could never pierce. Now, that for him the restless dream of life has closed, I know that every admirer of his genius, no matter of what faith or of no faith at all, will join me in the wish that for him death did not bring oblivion’s dreamless sleep, where Lethean waves forever wash the pallid brow of death, but Elysian fields in which he met in joy the loved ones that had gone before and will await in peace the loved ones that are left behind.

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Thou that killeth the prophets and stoneth them that are sent unto thee."


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Chicago: William Cowper Brann, "The Late Tragedy.," Brann the Iconoclast— Volume 12 in Brann the Iconoclast—Volume 12 (New York: The Century Co., 1899), Original Sources, accessed July 23, 2024,

MLA: Brann, William Cowper. "The Late Tragedy." Brann the Iconoclast— Volume 12, in Brann the Iconoclast—Volume 12, New York, The Century Co., 1899, Original Sources. 23 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Brann, WC, 'The Late Tragedy.' in Brann the Iconoclast— Volume 12. cited in 1899, Brann the Iconoclast—Volume 12, The Century Co., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 July 2024, from