Brann the Iconoclast: A Guy You Didn't Want To Mess With


i-con-o-clast: n. One who attacks and seeks to overthrow traditional or popular ideas or institutions.

William Cowper Brann 1855 - 1898
Someone you didn't want to tangle with wielding words or weapons.

William Cowper Brann was the editor of the Iconoclast newspaper in the late nineteenth century. Brann's rapier wit could quickly cut you to shreds. Listen to how he described the New York social scene in 1897:

"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 ..."


"I have nothing against the Baptists. I just believe they were not held under long enough."

Brann didn't pull any punches. And he didn't care who he was swinging at. In fact, it was his criticism of the Waco-based Baptist institution Baylor University that eventually killed him.

Brann reported that Baylor officials were kidnapping, enslaving and fornicating with South American children. Brann described Baylor as:

"A factory for the manufacture of ministers and magdalenes."

Tom Davis, a Baylor supporter with a daughter at the university, took offense to Brann's comments, especially the magdalenes part with its fallen women connotation.

Showdown on the Streets of Waco
One night In 1898, Davis waited in the shadows for Brann to walk down Fourth Street in downtown Waco. As the Iconoclast walked by Davis fired one shot into Brann's back.

Brann spun around, drew his Colt revolver and fired several shots into his surprised assailant. Davis dropped to the ground and Brann continued to fire. When the smoke cleared, Tom Davis was dead.

Brann walked away from the scene but died of his gunshot wound the next morning.

Brann wasn't the nicest guy in the world but he seemed to have a mind of his own and knew how to stand his ground.

Maybe we need more iconoclasts these days.