William Cowper Brann

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Waco citizens were less pleased by his efforts, but Brann and his fellow townspeople lived together in uneasy amity until it came out that a young Brazilian girl being trained as a missionary at Baylor University, a local Baptist college, had gotten pregnant. Baptists and a despoiled innocent—here was a combination which provoked Brann to near-hysteria. Baylor and the “Baylor University stud,” he wrote, would “stink forever in the nostrils of Christendom—it is ‘damned to everlasting fame.’” In issue after issue he attacked the college, throwing the town into a turmoil around him. Accused of being too harsh, he replied, “I have not yet mastered the esoteric of choking a bad dog to death with good butter.” He wouldn’t let the matter drop. A year later he was still printing his hope that the Iconoclast ’s exposé of “Baylor’s criminal carelessness will have a beneficial effect—that henceforth orphan girls will not be ravished on the premises of its president, and that fewer young lady students will be sent home enceinte .”

By this time he was starting to receive threats on his life, and he took to practicing with a revolver in the woods behind his home. On April 1,1898, he was walking through Waco when Captain T. E. Davis, a patron of the school, passed by him, then turned, shouted, “You damned son-of-a-bitch!” and shot Brann in the back. Brann drew his own pistol and emptied it into Davis. Davis lived on until the next afternoon; Brann died that night.

He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery beneath an elaborate marble monument that bore a lamp labeled “Truth” and his carved profile. It would surely have given the polemicist a measure of bleak satisfaction to know that, a few weeks after the burial, someone crept into the cemetery and—cheated of a living target—blew a chunk out of the stone forehead.