William Cowper Brann

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William Cowper Brann (January 4, 1855 – April 1, 1898) was an American journalist known as Brann the Iconoclast.

William Cowper Brann


Born in Humboldt, Illinois, Brann was a journalist known for the articulate savagery of his writing. At the time of his death, Brann owned and edited the Iconoclast newspaper in Waco, Texas.

He was particularly noted for his writings attacking Baptists, Episcopalians, the British and Black people. "I have nothing against the Baptists. I just believe they were not held under long enough" (Conger, 1964, Baptism by Immersion). He devoted many paragraphs to his hatred of the wealthy eastern social elites, such as the Vanderbilt family, and deplored their marriages to titled Europeans. He characterized such marriages as diluting the elites' already-debased American stock with worthless foreign blood. He was equally critical of the New York social scene: "Mrs. Bradley-Martin's sartorial kings and pseudo-queens have strutted their brief hour on the stage, disappearing at daybreak like foul night-birds or an unclean dream—have come and gone like the rank eructation of some crapulous Sodom... a breath blown from the festering lips of half-forgotten harlots..." (Brann, 1897).

One of his targets was Baylor University, the prominent Baptist institution in Waco. Brann revealed that Baylor officials had been importing South American children recruited by missionaries and making house-servants out of them. He also stated that Baylor President Rufus Burleson's son-in-law's brother Steen Morris, who lived with the Burleson family, had impregnated a student from Brazil (ibid, Conger).[1] He alleged that male faculty members were having sexual relations with female students and any father sending his daughter to Baylor would be risking her rape. In Brann's view Baylor was, as he published, "A factory for the manufacture of ministers and magdalenes." (ibid, Conger). Brann was shot in the back by Tom Davis, a Baylor supporter who resented the reference to "magdalenes" (meaning 'prostitute' in this context) because his daughter was a student at the University. After being shot, Brann turned, drew his pistol, and fired multiple shots at Davis, who fell, mortally wounded, in the doorway of the Jake French Cigar Store. Brann was shot through the left lung with the bullet exiting his chest. He was forced to walk to the city jail but later escorted home by friends (Waco Daily Telephone, 1898). Brann died the morning after he was shot. Engraved on Brann's monument is the word TRUTH, and beneath it is a profile of Brann with a bullet hole in it.

Brann at a funeral parlor

In the early 1890s, Brann, who had only three years of formal education, owned and published an Austin, Texas newspaper. He eventually sold the Austin Iconoclast to William Sydney Porter, better known as O. Henry. He repurchased it from Porter to operate it out of Waco, Texas until the time of his assassination. Following the assassination, Brann's wife moved the publication to Chicago, but still covered Texas issues.

Colt Single Action Army Revolver owned by Judge Gerald and loaned to W.C. Brann who used it in his street duel with Davis. Redmen Museum, Waco Texas

See also[edit]


W.C. Brann Brann's Iconoclast Vol 7, Number 2 Waco, Texas March 1897.

Conger, Roger M. A Pictorial History of Waco, Waco, Texas, Texian Press 1964.

Waco Daily Telephone Newspaper Extra Waco Texas, April 1, 1898.

  1. ^ http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/177335.pdf Baylor University's Description of the William Cowper Brann Collection

Further reading[edit]

  • Jerry Flemmons. Oh Dammit!: A Lexicon and Lecture from William Cowper Brann, the Iconoclast (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1998) [Note: Includes complete script of Flemmons' one-man stageplay of the same name]
  • Carver, Charles (1957). BRANN and the ICONOCLAST. Introduction by Roy Bedichek. Austin, Tx.: University of Texas Press. LCCN 57008822. 
  • The Complete Works of Brann, the Iconoclast... (12 vol.). New York: The Brann Publishers, Inc. 1919. LCCN 20002343. OCLC 512883. Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  • Frank Luther Mott. A history of American magazines, 1741-1930 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press ca.1958-1968). Page 442+ [Note: This book is available online from the History E-Book Project]

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