A Tale of Two Iconoclasts: Ink and Whiskey and Blood

Waco had its Brann and his Iconoclast; Fort Worth had its Brann and his Iconoclast.

Waco’s Brann was William Cowper Brann, and his Iconoclast was a fiery “journal of personal protest” published in the 1890s.

Fort Worth’s Brann was Herman Brann, and his Iconoclast was a fiery brand of whiskey. As this 1905 Fort Worth Telegram ad shows, Herman Brann’s liquor company on Main Street seemed to capitalize on the name recognition of the other Brann’s product. Jewish Herman Brann, born in Germany, apparently was not related to Illinois-born William Cowper Brann, son of a Presbyterian minister. Herman Brann had owned a liquor business in Fort Worth since 1888.

Both Iconoclasts were in Fort Worth in March 1892 when William Cowper Brann lectured at the courthouse. Brann delighted in attacking institutions and persons he considered to be hypocritical or sanctimonious. A favorite target was Baptists (“I have nothing against the Baptists. I just believe they were not held under long enough.”), but he didn’t spare Episcopalians, women, and anything British. Brann began publishing the Iconoclast in Austin, sold the journal to O. Henry, bought it back from O. Henry, and moved it to Waco. There Brann singled out Baylor University, a Baptist institution that he called “that great storm center of misinformation.” His Iconoclast sold well—a circulation of ninety thousand. But it also made Brann a lot of enemies. On October 2, 1897, some Baylor students kidnapped Brann, beat him, and forced him to sign an apology for his criticism of Baylor. They ordered him to leave town. When he refused, he was beaten by a Baptist judge and two other men.

In November 1897 one of Brann’s supporters, McLennan County Judge G. B. Gerald, engaged in a street gunfight with the pro-Baylor editor of the Waco Times-Herald, J. W. Harris, and his brother, W. A. Harris. Both Harris brothers were killed, and Gerald lost an arm.

Finally, on a Waco street on April 1, 1898, Tom E. Davis, a Baylor supporter, shot Brann in the back. Before Brann died he drew his own pistol and shot Davis to death.

And what would William Brann have thought about the title of his journal being used to label whiskey after his death? In this quotation about strong drink, Brann was uncharacteristically unopinionated.

Tomorrow: Once Upon a Domino: This Because of That

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