Texas Originals: William Cowper Brann

January 4, 1855–April 1, 1898


William Cowper Brann (1855-1898) was an editor of The Iconoclast newspaper established in Waco, Texas in 1895. He was a controversial figure and was involved in a duel April 1st 1898 with Capt. M. T. Davis in which both men were fatally wounded. (Handbook of Texas Online) (New York Times Archives) Southern Methodist University Libraries

His thousands of admirers called him a saint. His adversaries—and there were many—called him the Devil’s apostle. But Waco publisher and journalist William Cowper Brann preferred to be known by the name of the weekly journal he published, the Iconoclast.

As arrogant as he was brilliant, Brann was among the most famous journalists in America in the late nineteenth century.

At its peak, The Iconoclast boasted a circulation of a hundred thousand readers. Raw, biting humor and corrosive satire were its trademarks.

The Iconoclast crusaded tirelessly against what Brann called “humbugs and humbuggery.” He was an unrepentant racist to be sure—like many Texas journalists of the day—but neighboring Baylor University drew his most scathing attacks.

For example, Brann once called Baylor “that great storm-center of misinformation.”

A group of Baylor students once kidnapped their nemesis, demanded that he retract his statements about the school, and ordered him to leave town, but Brann bucked their command and kept writing.

On April 1, 1898, a Waco businessman shot Brann in the back on a downtown street. The injured editor drew his own revolver, whirled around, and gunned down his assailant. Brann’s own wound proved fatal; he died that evening.

William Cowper Brann is buried in Waco's historic Oakwood Cemetery. His granite gravestone is pock-marked by a bullet.

Brann in funeral bed
William Cowper Brann lying on funeral parlor bier. [LOC image]

Selected Bibliography

Brann, William C. Complete Works of Brann, the Iconoclast. New York: Brann, 1919.

Carver, Charles. Brann and the Iconoclast. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1957.

Conger, Roger N. A Pictorial History of Waco. Waco: Texian Press, 1998.

Conger Roger N. “Brann, William Cowper.” Handbook of Texas Online. http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/BB/fbr23.html.

Gregg, Susan Nellie. “Waco’s Apostle.” MA thesis, The University of Texas at Austin, 1986.

McEnteer, James. Fighting Words: Independent Journalists in Texas. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992.



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