A Tale of Two Iconoclasts: When Whiskey and Ink and Blood Flowed

Once upon a time in the West, Waco had its Mr. Brann and his Iconoclast; Fort Worth had its Mr. Brann and his Iconoclast.

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

Brann’s Iconoclast had begun publication in Austin in 1891. But the journal soon failed. Brann sold the journal to O. Henry but then bought it back from O. Henry. Brann moved to Waco in 1894 and resumed publication of his Iconoclast there in 1895.

Fort Worth’s Mr. Brann was Herman Brann, and his Iconoclast was a fiery brand of whiskey. As these 1905 Fort Worth Telegram ads show, 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 in 1856, apparently was not related to William Cowper Brann, born the son of a Presbyterian minister in Illinois in 1855. Herman Brann had owned a liquor business in Fort Worth since 1881.

Herman Brann advertised his business as a “liquor house” for the family.

Both Branns were in Fort Worth in March 1892 when William Cowper Brann lectured at the courthouse. William Cowper Brann, described by his biographer as “a mean Mark Twain,” 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, African Americans, women, East Coast elites, and anything British.

In their new home in Waco, William Cowper Brann and his Iconoclast singled out Baylor University, a Baptist institution that he called “that great storm center of misinformation.”

Here is an excerpt from an Iconoclast essay about Brann’s favorite target.

I note with unfeigned pleasure that, according to claims of
Baylor University, it opens the present season with a larger
contingent of students, male and female, than ever before. This
proves that Texas Baptists are determined to support it at any
sacrifice--that they believe it better that their daughters
should be exposed to its historic dangers and their sons
condemned to grow up in ignorance than that this manufactory of
ministers and Magdalenes should be permitted to perish. It is to
be devoutly hoped that the recent expose of Baylor's criminal
carelessness will have a beneficial effort--that hence forth
orphan girls will not be ravished on the premises of its
president, and that fewer young lady students will be sent home
enciente. The ICONOCLAST would like to see Baylor University, so
called, become an honor to Texas instead of an educational
eye-sore, would like to hear it spoken of with reverence instead
of sneeringly referred to by men about town as worse than a
harem. Probably Baylor has never been so bad as many imagined,
that the joint-keepers in the Reservation have been mistaken in
regarding it as a rival, that the number of female students sent
away to conceal their shame has been exaggerated; still I imagine
that both its morale and educational advantages are susceptible
of considerable improvement. The ICONOCLAST desires to see Baylor
a veritable pantechnicon of learning--at least a place where the
careful student may acquire something really worth
remembering--instead of a Dotheboys (and girls) hall, a
Squeeritic graft to relieve simple Baptist folk of their
hard-earned boodle by beludaling the brains of their bairns with
mis-called education. Unfortunately there is more brazen
quackery in our sectarian colleges than was every dreamed of by
Cagliostro. The faculty of such institutions is usually composed
of superficially educated people who know even less than is
contained in the text-books. As a rule they are employed because
they will serve at a beggarly price, but sometimes because their
employers are themselves too ignorant to properly pass upon the
qualifications of others. You cannot estimate a man's intellect
by the length of his purse, by the amount of money he has made
and saved; but it is quite safe to judge a man's skill in his
vocation by the salary he can command. I am informed that there
has never been a time when the salary of the president of Baylor
University exceeded $2,000 per annum--about half that of a good
whisky salesman or advertising solicitor for a second-class
newspaper. If such be the salary of the president, what must be
those of the "professors"? I imagine their salaries run from $40
a month up to that of a second assistant book-keeper in a
fashionable livery-stable. Judging by the salaries which they are
compelled to accept, I doubt if there be a member of the Baylor
faculty, including the president, who could obtain the position
of principal of any public high school in the state. People
cannot impart information which they do not possess; hence it is
that the graduates of Baylor have not been really educated, but
rather what the erstwhile Mr. Shakespeare would call
"clapper-clawed." There is no reason, however, why the
institution should be in the future so intellectually and morally
unprofitable as in the past. Change is the order of the universe,
and as Baylor cannot very well become worse it must of
necessity become better. It will have the unswerving support
of the ICONOCLAST in every effort to place itself upon a higher
educational plane, to honestly earn the money it pockets as
tuition fees. I am even willing to conduct a night school free of
charge during three months in the year for the instruction of its
faculty if each member thereof will give bond not to seek a
better paying situation elsewhere as soon as he learns something.
In any event, when Baylor can send me a valedictorian fresh from
its walls who is better informed than the average graduate of our
public schools, I'll give it a thousand dollars as evidence of my
regard, and half as much annually thereafter to encourage it in
the pursuit of common sense.

Brann’s Iconoclast sold well—a circulation of ninety thousand in the United States and foreign countries. But Brann’s Iconoclast also made him a lot of enemies, especially in Baylorland.

brann brilliantBrann was often in the headlines in Waco.

brann hell brokeOn 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.

brann harrisIn 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.

brann markerA historical marker has been placed near the scene of the shooting.

brann headstoneIn Waco’s Oakwood Cemetery Brann’s headstone was vandalized soon after his burial, defaced by gunshots. Later a marble lamp bearing the single word “truth” atop the headstone was stolen.

brann iconoclast 8-4“W. C. Brann, deceased.” Soon after Brann’s death, his widow moved the Iconoclast to Chicago to resume publication.

So, it’s possible that Mrs. Brann never knew that there would be another Brann’s Iconoclast in Texas: in Cowtown. And what would William Brann of Waco have thought about Herman Brann of Fort Worth using the title of his journal to label whiskey after his death? In the above quotation about strong drink, William Cowper Brann was uncharacteristically unopinionated.

Likewise, whether William Cowper Brann himself did “any especial good or harm” with his writing is open to debate, just as it was on April Fools’ Day in 1898.

Fort Worth’s iconoclastic liquor merchant, Herman Brann, died in 1913.

Brann is buried in Emanuel Hebrew Rest Cemetery on South Main Street.

His Brann’s Iconoclast whiskey outlived him. Herman Brann’s liquor store continued to sell the brand into 1916.

Last Brann standing: Brann’s Iconoclast, edited in Chicago by Charles Augustus Windle,  ceased to be published under that title in 1926, thirty-five years after William Cowper Brann had begun his “journal of personal protest.”

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