WACO, Texas — Waco, a Baptist-flavored city once known as Sixshooter Junction, is no stranger to religious violence.
It was on April Fool’s Day in 1898 that an irate Baptist gunned down journalist William Cowper Brann in one of the darkest episodes in Waco’s colorful history.
Brann himself was a curmudgeon whose favorite target was religious hypocrisy, particularly as practiced at Baylor University in the late 19th century. He dismissed the university as the “alma mater of mob violence” and a “chronic breeder of bigotry and bile.”
With vitriolic gusto, he bashed the Baptists constantly in his feisty monthly publication, The Iconoclast, which claimed a circulation of 100,000 and readers in every state in the union and 20 foreign countries.
The story that led to his undoing involved a young Brazilian promised an education in exchange for working as a maid in the home of the Baylor president. Mostly, all she got was pregnant.
She accused the brother of the president’s son-in-law of raping her. Brann called the child a “beautiful three-pound Baylor diploma.”
Students descended on his officer, dragged him to the campus and threatened to hang him from a great old oak tree, or at least to tar and feather him if he didn’t apologize.
Soon back in serious disfavor with the Baylor hierarchy, Brann got himself horsewhipped by the chairman of the board of trustees.
Brann also figured in a gunfight over an unprinted letter to the editor. Two men were killed and one was wounded.
And finally, on an April evening as he walked through downtown Waco, Brann was abused by a man named Tom Davis, whose daughter attended Baylor. Davis shot him in the back, “just where the suspenders crossed,” the story goes.
Brann whirled and fired four or five shots, striking Davis. Both men died within hours.