Brann, Baylor, bullets gave notoriety to Waco
By: John Young, Waco Tribune-Herald
The gunman took his time. He raised his weapon carefully, pointed it squarely at William Brann's had and fired.
But the gunman didn't kill Brann. Someone had already beaten him to it.
He had shot Brann's likeness, at about temple-level on the Oakwood Cemetery marker. To Brann's one-word epitaph, "Truth," the gunman had added an editorial reply.
The famous marker, forever indented with a sign of violence, indeed is a fitting monument t turn-of-the-century Waco. Waco resented being called "Six-Shooter Junction," but took its time growing out of its nickname.
Brann was the editor of a remarkable journal of opinion, The Iconoclast, which soared to a circulation of more than 90,000 nationwide in less than three years, 1895-1898.
Many of the good folks of Waco, particularly those at Baylor University , would have preferred Brann had kept his musings in the neighborhood. In the Iconoclast Brann scorched Baylor and Baptists with merciless glee, particularly when a Brazilian exchange student turned up pregnant and accused an in-law of President Rufus Burleson of rape.
When Burleson sought to deflect the cannon fire by casting aspersions about the young girl's character, Brann doubled his barrage.
He asserted that the Brazilian girl was just one of many young ladies sent away with their virtue robbed. He wrote that Baptists "believe it better that their daughter should be exposed to (Baylor's) historic dangers and their sons condemned to grow up in ignorance than that this manufactory of ministers and Magdalenes should be permitted to perish."
Statements like that proved too much for certain Baylor students to bear. The day after these words sizzled off the press, a group of Baylor students seized Brann at his printer's office and took him to campus. Tar and feathers had been prepared for him, but they were misplaced or stolen. So, after striking him with fists, canes and sticks, the students decided to hang him.
Two professors emerged from the Old Main building in the nick of time to break up the mob. The students freed him only after he signed an agreement to leave town.
Four days later Brann encountered a judge named John Scarborough and his son on Franklin Avenue . While his son held a gun on Brann, Judge Scarborough beat the writer with a cane.
Brann did not repent, and did not leave Waco .
"I walk the streets of Waco day by day and I walk them alone," he wrote in the ensuing Iconoclast. "Let these curristians shoot me in the back if they dare . . ."
The violent end that awaited Brann was visited on another in the literary community in upcoming weeks. One of Brann's supporters, Judge G.B. Gerald, had sent a letter to the editor of the Waco Times Herald defending Brann. When the letter did not see print (actually it had been misplaced, not rejected) Gerald went to the newspaper office to lodge his complaint and ended up on the losing end of a fistfight with Editor J.W. Harris.
A few days later Gerald and Harris encountered each other at Fourth and Austin and gunfire erupted. Harris and his brother, W.A. Harris, were killed. Gerald was wounded.
That served as an ominous prelude to the April day in 1898 when a man named Tom Davis, whose daughter had attended Baylor, spotted Brann walking down Austin Avenue . For reasons no one has ever clearly identified, Davis emerged from a storefront and shot Brann from behind. Brann, who only recently had started arming himself, wheeled and fired, hitting Davis, who crumpled to the ground. Both combatants died the next day.
The irony and futility of it all — a civilized society prone to savagery —was evident when Brann was buried at Oakwood and Davis at First Street Cemetery . Mourners at both funerals sang "Nearer My God to Thee."
Return to Moments in Time home page