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Morning Sun
  • PATRICK'S PEOPLE: Kay Rose wrote a book about an interesting history

  • Southwest Missouri is firmly buckled in the Bible Belt today, but things were a little different in the last years of the 19th century.

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  • Southwest Missouri is firmly buckled in the Bible Belt today, but things were a little different in the last years of the 19th century.
    In fact, the town of Liberal, Mo., was established as a utopia for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers. Founder George H. Walser named and dedicated the town to “universal mental liberty” and vowed that it would allow “No God, no hell, no churches, no saloons.”
    Kay Rose, a lifelong Liberal resident, grew up hearing stories about these early days from her grandmother, the late Bertha Bouton Fast Palmer. Now she has gathered those stories into a book, titled “No God, No Hell, No Churches, No Saloons.”
    She will have a signing for her book from 1 to 3 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Pittsburg Hastings store. They are also available for purchase at Rosa Bella, 502 N. Broadway.
    She said that she wrote the book largely for her grandchildren, so they would learn the fascinating, sometimes shocking, history of Liberal and the role their ancestors played in it.
    “I started out making scrapbooks on the family, and there were things I wanted to know, but everybody was gone so I had nobody to ask questions,” Rose said. “I’ve got 12 grandchildren from 9 to 20, and when I’m gone, who are they going to talk to about it?”
    She figured that her grandchildren would not be interested in reading a dry history book, but would enjoy reading a story.
    “Everything in my book about Liberal is a fact,” she said. “I just added a story to the facts.”
    The story deals with her grandmother and her great-grandparents; Dr. J.B. Bouton, her grandmother’s stepfather who knew George Walser well; and his wife, Mary, who loved her husband but was also a Christian. There’s also a very discreet romance between Bertha Bouton and the young man who became her first husband, William Fast.
    “I worked on the book for three years, and wrote a lot of it when I was in the hospital with my husband, Max,” Rose said. “I called all the relatives I knew to ask them what stories they had heard from their grandparents. My imagination filled in the cracks when I didn’t know what was going on.  I call it historical fiction.”
    In Liberal’s case, the facts are often stranger than the fiction.  A sign at the depot advised Christians to get back onto the train and ride on, but a few hardy souls insisted on staying and eventually the town developed a small Christian minority, most of them living in an area called Waggoner’s Addition.
    Walser dealt with that by building a fence there to keep the Christians from entering Liberal.
    In the April 18, 1883 issue of “The Liberal,” Walser’s newspaper, he wrote triumphantly that the Christians could not climb the fence because it was too high,  could not crawl under the fence because it was too low and could not crawl through because of the stickers on the wires.
    Page 2 of 2 - “So they just sat down and swore that we were the meanest set on earth, and I guess we were,” Walser wrote. “We saved the town by it and now we are happy.”
    Oddly enough, Walser eventually became fascinated with Spiritualism, and that’s where Dr. Bouton became involved. He sent his wife and children off to visit her family in Pleasant Hill, Mo., and began having seances at his home, complete with mysterious messages written on slate boards and messengers from the spirit world wearing gauzy robes who would float out of the closet, singing and talking with seance visitors.
    This was still going on when Mary Bouton, Bertha and her brothers returned from their trip.
    “I remember my grandmother saying that she and her mother were quite frightened by all this,” Rose said.
    The seances ended when the building caught fire. In the process of fighting the fire, one of the volunteer firemen found a trap door in the house attic that led to the closet. He also found the white sheets, masks and costumes used by the men who had been posing as spirit messengers.
    The fireman stood up on the roof, held the sheets in his hands and announced to the crowd below, “Here’s your spooks’ nest.”
    “It’s written in several places that Jim Bouton left Liberal after that, but he didn’t,” Rose said. “He and Mary are buried together in the Liberal City Cemetery.”
    So is her grandmother, Bertha, who married William Fast on March 29, 1891. The following year, their son, Roy, was born, and on May 20, 1892, William died, making Bertha a 17-year-old widow. She later married Charles Palmer, and they had one son and three daughters. Their youngest daughter, Gertrude Palmer Hedges, was Rose’s mother.
    Rose is a lifetime Liberal area resident.
    “When I married my husband, we moved seven miles out on Highway 43, and it’s been 53 years now,” she said. “I call Liberal home. Our five children graduated from Liberal and now we’ve got three grandchildren who have graduated from Liberal and there are eight more coming up in the Liberal school system. Max served on the Liberal School Board for 22 years.”
    And there are plenty of churches around now.
    “We go to the Oakton United Methodist Church and they have an outdoor Nativity,” Rose said. “They rented a camel one year, but it was kind of expensive and acted up, so we raised camels for several years and took them to the church. Then Max got so he couldn’t wrestle a camel in the cold night air anymore, so we sold them. Then he went to town and bought goats, pigs and cows.”

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