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 religious conservatism. "I have nothing against the Baptists. I just believe they were not held under long enough" (Conger, 1964, Baptism by Immersion). Brann also devoted many paragraphs to his idiosyncratic views 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 some 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] More speculatively, 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]


Other sources consulted[edit]

  • W.C. Brann Brann's Iconoclast Vol 7, Number 2 Waco, Texas March 1897.
  • Conger, Roger M. A Pictorial History of Waco. Waco, TX: Texian Press, 1964.
  • Waco Daily Telephone Newspaper Extra, Waco Texas, April 1, 1898.


  • The Complete Works of Brann the Iconoclast. New York: Brann Publishers, 1919.
Vol. 1 | Vol. 2 | Vol. 3 | Vol. 4 | Vol. 5 | Vol. 6 | Vol. 7 | Vol. 8 | Vol. 9 | Vol. 10 | Vol. 11 | Vol. 12

Further reading[edit]

  • Charles Carver, Brann the Iconoclast. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1957.
  • Jerry Flemmons. Oh Dammit!: A Lexicon and Lecture from William Cowper Brann, the Iconoclast. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press, 1998.
  • Edward G. Fletcher and Jack L. Hart, Brann the Playwright. Austin, TX: University of Texas, 1941.
  • Susan Nelle Gregg, Waco's Apostle. M.A. thesis. University of Texas at Austin, 1986.
  • Cathy Howard, "Brann's Iconoclast and the Fight Against Baylor University," Texas Historian, September 1980.
  • Andy Kopplin, "W. C. Brann, a Texas Iconoclast," Texas Historian, May 1981.
  • Gary Cleve Wilson, "Bane of the Baptists," Texas Monthly, vol. 14, no. 1 (Jan. 1986), pg. 122.

External links[edit]