HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN COUNTY KENTUCKY
charles m. meacham
The Night Riders and Causes Leading up to the Tobacco Troubles; The Raid On Hopkinsville; The Soldiers Called Out; The Court Proceedings; Peace At Last.
THE NIGHT RIDERS
The chapter I am now called upon to write is one that I would gladly leave out of this history, for more reasons than one. For a period of five years, from 1904 to 1909, Christian County was in an unsettled condition that began with unrest and ended with organized lawlessness, growing out of the marketing of tobacco, the county’s principal crop. The people were divided in sentiment and in their material interests. Buyer and seller, and in a sense, city and county, were arrayed against each other. I was publishing a newspaper thai depended upon the country people for its circulation and upon the city people for its advertising support. I was born in the rural districts, and my sympathies have always been with the agricultural interests. I was mayor of the city of Hopkinsville, with a solemn duty to perform, and as chief of its police or military forces, had taken an oath to uphold the law. It was not a pleasant position tobe in. Both in my business and in my official relations, I had but one rule—to try to do my duty as an official and as a citizen. I was often misunderstood and criticized. At times I was threatened, reviled and slandered, but in the end I was convinced that the right policy is always the best policy. My position was endorsed by re-election to the office I held, and my business weathered the storm. I had friends on both sides, and like most citizens of Hopkinsville, had blood relatives in both camps. In dealing with these issues, after two decades have passed, I shall discuss them with the truth of a historian, the impartiality of a journalist and the fairness of a man who has no malice in his heart toward any one. Facts and not opinions and prejudices will be recorded. The term night rider is not used as an epithet, but it is the name the nocturnal horsemen gave themselves.
What came to be known as the tobacco troubles that led up to violence by night riders, in 1906 to 1908, became acute as early as 1903. The prices of tobacco had become lower and lower, until the farmers were forced to sell at figures below the cost of production. The method of selling, at that time, was upon the breaks, after tobacco had been prized. The principal buyers were the great manufacturing corporations and these finally established local factories, or handling plants, and withdrew from the old method of buying and began to send their buyers to the barns of the producers, thus putting the warehouses on a losing basis in two ways. They lost a great part of the sales, and the number of buyers was greatly reduced. The market became so unsettled that a decrease in the value of the crop was inevitable. In 1903, the farmers began to try to organize a co-operative association to control the situation, and a struggle began between the farmers and what they termed the Trust. It was claimed that the wholesale buyers formed an agreement, dividing the farming territory, and only one buyer called upon a planter. If he had two barns, on opposite sides of the dividing road, he would have to deal with two different buyers, who were in no sense competitors. The organization was slow in its formation. Many tenants and poor people were unable to hold the tobacco and were compelled to sell at any price offered. The trouble was carried into 1904, and prices were no better. The counties of Christian, Montgomery and Robertson, the last two in Tennessee, took the lead and a more determined effort was made to organize. E. D. Jones had been the first chairman in Christian County, but he resigned and W. W. Radford succeeded him. After a vigorous canvass to secure signers, to the extent of seventy per cent, it was announced that eighty-five per cent had been secured in the Tennessee counties, and more than seventy in Christian. The work of organization was pushed and in the end, the entire Dark District was under some sort of organization, but not of a binding nature. Key men, in different neighborhoods, were found, who were paid better prices, it was asserted, and preferred not to enter the association. This was denied, and gradually the movement led to a policy of coercion. As a part of the association’s method of handling the crops, prizing houses were opened at different places, and they would prepare the tobacco for market, for those who had to sell. The crop for 1904 was not large, and while the organization was not strong in some counties, it was strong enough, in a measure, to control the needed supplies of the buyers. The association was encouraged to continue the efforts to control the entire crop, and from visiting committees, who were not always successful, the leaders in some counties began to use threats to force growers to join. Some quit raising tobacco, some signed unwillingly and others refused to be coerced.
Col. Felix G. Ewing, of Springfield, Tenn., was made chairman of the Executive Committee, and in March, 1905, said in a letter published in the press:
“We are sanguine of a successful issue—We have tenders of assistance from a sale aspect, and of money from some of the ablest men of the world, so soon as we have it prized (the crop), and can have accurate accounting of what we have to offer. We only ask our members and allies to pursue the same calm conservative course, which has brought our organization to its present high state of perfection.”
Chas. F. Jarrett, a leading tobacco buyer of Hopkinsville, was made salesman for Christian County.
In May, 1905, a vigorous canvass of the county, to complete the organization of the Christian County Association of Tobacco Growers, was made. On May 26, a big meeting at Perry’s School House was addressed by President W. W. Radford, D. R. Perry, Col. E. D. Jones, Chas. M. Meacham and W. R. Howell. Similar meetings were held everywhere, and the organization grew so strong and self-confident, that in November, as the new selling season was about to open, the following resolutions were adopted in the several counties:
“We, the Farmers in mass meeting assembled to protest against our grievances as under the Constitution of the United States we have a right to do, proclaim and enunciate the following truths:
“The history of the trusts that have multiplied and grown rich and arrogant in our land, is one of cruelty and oppression.
They are now, and have been for years, open and notorious violators of the law, and a menace to the peace and prosperity of the country. They have destroyed the law of “supply and demand” and have arbitrarily set a price on what we buy and sell. They have openly continued their nefarious business despite every effort of the United States Government to check and punish them.
“Of all the infamous trusts doing business in violation of law, the Tobacco Trust is the most greedy and oppressive, in that it robs the laborer and share-cropper of a just price for his only money crop.
“In its greed it has put the price of tobacco far below the cost of production, impoverished and enslaved the tobacco grower, and as a result the patriotic citizens of the Dark Tobacco District became angered and enraged, and justly so, and organized a Protective Association.
“This association called for all good citizens to fall in line to fight and destroy the law-breaking and robbing Tobacco Trust.
“In less than one year our association forced the Tobacco Trust to pay double the price for tobacco it had previously paid. •
“We proclaim to the world that the Tobacco Trust is a law-breaker, and as such has no rights that we, as good citizens, ought to respect.
“That as such it has no right to do any business in our county. That it has no legal or moral right to hire or employ inhabitants of our country to do their illegal and criminal acts, nor has any man a moral or legal right to accept employment at the hands of such a law breaker and robber. We further proclaim to the world that any farmer or other persons who aid the Trust in any way by selling to it their tobacco at a high price or by refusal to aid in the fight against it is an accomplice to the Trust and is in good morals as guilty as the Trust.
“That such a man is reaping a profit from the labors of the Dark Tobacco Protective Association, to which in equity and good morals he is not entitled, and in so doing he forces himself beyond the pales of honor, integrity and good citizenship.
“That a man who hires out to a Trust is an accomplice of the Trust, is a law breaker and a criminal in the eye of the law, and is not entitled to the respect of good citizens. These maxims above set out being by us, as well as by all fair-minded and just people, accepted as truths. Therefore: Be it resolved; as good citizens and having the good of the whole country at heart, we denounce in severest terms men who increase their crops over the protests of the majority of the people of this Tobacco District and then sell the same to the Trust at a high price, and aid the enemy of the farmer for personal gain. 2nd. Be it further resolved; that we condemn any man who hires out to the Trust, the enemy of the farmer, as a man who places money above man, and dollars above the common good of his country, as an accomplice with the law-breaker and the robber Trust.
“Be it further resolved; that we as an organization solicit the sympathy and hearty co-operation of every man, or set of men claiming citizenship among us, and that we tender every farmer, or farm laborer, white or black, having citizenship among us a membership in our Organization, and pledge our support to those who are in sympathy with us, and do not oppose us in the great fight we are making.
“And further, that we as an organization will withdraw our support from any man, or set of men who, by word or deed, lend assistance to our trust enemies.”
From this time on, the conflict was waged with increasing intensity and bitterness.
In the spring of 1906, the farmers were urged to sign three-year contracts to sell their tobacco through the Association, the one-year contracts having expired. A large majority signed. As the season advanced some members of the Association began selling in violation of their agreements, and an injunction suit was brought, to prevent a buyer buying from Association members. It was withdrawn, but bad feeling was engendered.
During the latter part of May, a new phase was given to the tobacco war, when L. L. Leavell and J. T. Garnett, leading farmers not in the Association, had their beds scraped, and the young plants on nine hundred and fifty square yards destroyed. Association officials promptly expressed disapproval of such methods. This was the beginning of violence and lawlessness. Mr. Leavell secured blood-hounds, but the trail was lost, where five men had gotten into buggies. A few nights later, other beds in the county were scraped.
On September 24, 1906, the Association held a great rally, at Guthrie, re-elected their old officers, and prepared for the season to open in the next few weeks. There was a great parade, followed by speeches, the tenor of the addresses being “Down with the, Trust.”
On November 5, a street parade of farmers was held in Hopkinsville, participated in by a thousand or more. Cheers went up from the people along the line of march. The parade headed by J. S. Ragsdale reached from the court house to the city limits on South Main Street.
On December 1, the first actual incendiarism reported occurred at Princeton, when a mob, estimated at two hundred, rode into the town and burned the stemmery houses of J. T. Steger and John C. Orr, with 150,000 pounds of non-Association tobacco. Two or three residences adjoining the tobacco houses were also burned from the spread of the flames. The night riders, who were masked, took possession of the telephone office and the fire department and water works.
Public sentiment strongly condemned the act, the press was outspoken in condemnation, and the Association officials disclaimed any responsibility for or sympathy with lawlessness. Insurance companies began to cancel policies on tobacco, and the people were soon divided into two opposing classes, those condemning such lawnessness and those not condemning it, and in some instances justifying it. The city of Hopkinsville was itself divided in sentiment, some of the people not thinking it wise to antagonize the Association in any way. The city officials took a firm stand for law enforcement, and the military company was kept in readiness to be called out in case of riot. The police force was increased to sixteen men.
During the winter of 1906 an agreement looking to peace was entered into by which tobacco crops already sold might be delivered, provided future crops were put in the Association. In spite of this, threatening letters were written, in some places, and tied to gate posts, ordering crops already sold to be put in the Association warehouses. One such read:
“Agreement is no go, we are running this now. Night Riders.”
Reports of hostile meetings, at which people assembled at night and organized into companies, and were inflamed by incendiary speeches, came thick and fast. Night processions were frequent, with masked riders passing through the small towns, and creating a state of terror among all not in sympathy. A demonstration against Hopkinsville was reported from Prinecton by a telephone communication on the night of January 4, 1907, and the local military company assembled in its armory and spent the night. The invasion did not come, but it was reported that a body of men had come to about twelve miles of the city and had turned back. If the raiders had intended to come, they changed their plans.
Two weeks later, a planter had a note left in his yard with a bundle of switches, the note saying, “If you want to save your back and that little tobacco of yours, you must have it in the Association by Monday night, or you will get hell on your back and your barn burnt.” The man who received the warning had accepted the agreement referred to.
Late in January, the Cadiz Railroad was warned not to haul tobacco to the Hopkinsville market. Six or eight farmers in Trigg County were warned the same week not to try to ship their tobacco to Hopkinsville.
In February another harmony meeting was held in Lyon County, and it was reported that an agreement to stop violence had been made, after independent growers had threatened to burn barns of association members, if theirs were burned. This stopped in some measure a tendency to burn barns by the wholesale, and but few barns were actually burned. With renewed promises to discourage lawlessness, and a perceptible increase in prices of tobacco, the Association grew stronger for the season of 1907, and although there were frequent acts of lawlessness, the feeling became less tense. The trust buyers, as they were called, pursued a policy calculated to remove the prejudice, buying Association tobacco through its salesman, but claiming the right to buy any tobacco that suited their needs.
Early in March came a report that a band of night-riders rolled twenty-one hogsheads of tobacco into the Cumberland river at Rockcastle.
The Eddyville paper reported that the harmony agreement was working well in Lyon County.
As the plant bed season opened up, in April, many tobacco beds were found to have been sowed with grass seed. This was not done in an organized way, but it caused a return of bad feeling. This was followed by a proclamation from the Governor offering a reward for the apprehension and conviction of anyone destroying property in any way.
In April quite a number of plant beds near Gracey were scraped and entirely destroyed. In other neighborhoods there were similar acts, and in an adjoining county two or more barns were burned.
In the early part of May still another new method of warning appeared. An independent grower, near Lafayette, found one morning that a grave had been opened during the night, in the middle of a plant bed, on his farm. Other beds were scraped.
As the spring season advanced, farmers in many parts of the county received notes, warning them not to try to raise a crop outside of the Association. Some of these were within two miles of Hopkinsville. Prices continued to advance, and during May new members, pledging 2,302 acres, were signed in Christian County.
After a period of quietude, half a dozen independent farmers near Pembroke had their plant beds destroyed on the eve of planting time. Near LaFayette several Association members had their plants drawn and carried away. The plant bed of a poor widow with a small farm near Gracey was destroyed. Bloodhounds were sent to the scene and carried the trail to where the parties had mounted horses. These matters, however, were not general, although they served to keep the public mind in an unsettled state.
In June, in an adjoining county, a citizen was taken out by a mob of fifteen or twenty men at night and severely whipped, for “talking too much.” Several prominent farmers announced that their property was for sale. In one neighborhood owners of wheat threshers were ordered not to thresh the wheat crops of non-Association farmers.
Near Edgoten, on July 9, night riders went to the farm of a citizen and set fire to the straw, where he had threshed wheat, and attempted to burn a hundred sacks of wheat, which was badly damaged.
Near Gracey, about forty masked men waited upon a farmer, who refused to come out. They announced that the house would be burned unless he came out. He then came out and went with them, but refused under orders to tell what was done to him. He was told that he had “talked too much.” In adjoining counties several whippings were reported, and in a Tennessee county a wheat thresher was blown up with dynamite.
On July 18, near Edgoten, a stick of dynamite, concealed in a bundle of wheat, was fed into a thresher owned by Royster & Fields, of Oak Grove, by John Garrott, colored, who escaped miraculously, but with a broken leg, when the fore part of the machine was wrecked. The wheat being threshed belonged to a non-Association farmer. This was the first case of actual bloodshed in Christian County growing out of the tobacco troubles. The following week the house of a citizen in an adjacent county was fired into by a mob estimated at sixty, and the farmer and his wife were both wounded by small shot as they lay in bed. The farmer went out and, after a parley, the crowd rode away. Association officials issued an address urging their members not to commit acts of personal violence, adding: “Good citizenship may be of a flexible and forgiving quality, but it cannot endure this.”
In August of 1907, several large tobacco growers, including Leavell Brothers, who had been victims of night rider depredations the previous year, joined the Association. Dr. John P. Bell, in the Longview neighborhood, also put his crop of a hundred acres in the Association. There had been two or three loose leaf sales houses opened in Hopkinsville, and the fact that they were selling the crops of small tenants and others, some hauled from a distance, was now the chief source of friction. Some wagons loaded with tobacco were met on the highways and turned back by threats. The buyers of this tobacco were protected by the fact that they were also chief buyers of Association tobacco. Enmity was expressed against the loose floors, and they employed each a few guards, fearing arson more than an organized attack in the city of Hopkinsville.
On August 15, the Executive Committee of the Tobacco Association issued an address, saying in reference to acts of violence: “We deeply regret that such acts do occur, and we again express our earnest disapproval of same. As the official representatives of this Association, having its interests at heart, we call upon every good citizen to join us in an effort to discountenance the outrages. We are opposed to all violations of law.” Other farmers joined the Association, prices continued to improve, and by fall the worst seemed to be over.
On the night of September 8, a delegation of riders, seventy-five strong, called upon eight farmers in the Bainbridge neighborhood, called them out, and made them promise to join the Association Monday, and have the notice published. They promised, and all promptly signed their small crops, about thirty-five acres.
Early in October, three tobacco men of Hopkinsville received threatening letters ordering them not to buy any more tobacco from parties outside of the Association. These were the first moves made following the visits at Bainbridge.
Over in the edge of Hopkins County, on the night of October 9, a farmer’s barn was burned, after warning had been sent to him to join the Association. As October 10 approached, the date for closing the Association books, there was a rush to get in. When finally closed, it was announced that 229 new names had been enrolled and that the Association controlled 13,000 acres in the county. Only two communities in the county had any considerable amount of unorganized territory, and they were in the Society of Equity, a somewhat similar body. There was a feeling that the worst was over, but the loose floors continued to sell tobacco brought to them from any source, or let it be known that they would when the selling season opened.
The first sale of the new crop of tobacco took place on the loose floor of M. H. Tandy & Company, November 8, and twenty-four sales were made, at prices ranging from $5.50 to $11.00. About one hundred persons were present and the principal buyers were American Snuff Company, Imperial Tobacco Company, American Tobacco Company, and P. E. West & Company.
On November 13, a tobacco buyer was taken from the house of a friend, near Pilot Rock, by six masked men and brutally beaten with a stick, and made to ride to Hopkinsville at one o’clock in the night, bruised and suffering as he was. He was ordered not to buy any more tobacco.
On November 14, about a hundred and fifty farmers from the northeastern part of the county approached the city of Hopkinsville in a body about eleven o’clock A.M. Excitement was created, but it was announced that the visit was to be a peaceful one. A parade on horseback was formed, and marched through the city to South Main Street and down that street to the court house. It was announced that after horses were disposed of, there would be a meeting at one o’clock in the court house. The parade was led by County Assessor H. C. Heisley, county chairman of the American Society of Equity. He was made chairman of the meeting in the afternoon, which was addressed by several parties, all in a conciliatory spirit, and resolutions were adopted to be presented to the tobacco buyers, requesting them not to buy any pooled tobacco. A committee was named to present the resolutions. It was composed of H. C. Heisley, J. T. Lile, M. H. Dukes, G. W. Barnes, G. B. Powell, T. T. Powell and F. B. McCown. The committee was courteously received by all the local dealers waited upon, and was assured that they would not buy any tobacco known to be pooled tobacco. One of the buyers asked the committee if he did not think it fair that he be allowed to buy tobacco out of the Association, and could not at the time be put in it. He was given an affirmative answer. Both sides seemed pleased with the understanding arrived at. The policy of the buyers all along had been to buy no Associatioll tobacco, except through its authorized salesmen.
Augustus E. Wilson, the new Governor-elect, in an interview announced that he was going to have law and order in Kentucky after December 10, when he assumed the office.
A largely attended meeting of masked, men was held at a point west of Gracey, on the night of November 19. Telephone wires were cut, but no other damage was reported.
On November 26, a review of tobacco conditions, sent to the press from Hopkinsville, spoke of the apparent peace in the dark district.
Tobacco was coming from the country in large quantities, largely for the Association prizing houses, and a few crops were to be sold on the loose floor. On the sale held the day before, only 10,000 pounds was sold. The report concluded: “The situation between the buyers and the farmers’ organization in Christian County is regarded as being on the best and most satisfactory basis of any time since the organizations were formed. The ‘Peace Army,’ as it was called, on November 14, did not ask the buyers not to buy tobacco out of the Association, and since the buyers refuse to buy Association tobacco, the two classes seem to have arrived at a mutually satisfactory understanding, and that neither will violate the terms of the contract. And yet the same week five farmers east of the city received notices reading: ‘Be wise and take the voice of warning. You have the advantage of the Association.’” They were among the few farmers not in the organization.
On December 2, the Executive Committee of the Christian County Association held its monthly meeting and reported things in fine shape, with about 90 per cent of the 1907 crop pledged. Hon. Joseph E. Washington, of Tennessee, was present and delivered an address. It was the lull before the storm.
THE RAID ON HOPKINSVILLE
The City Council held a special meeting Thursday night, December 7, to elect city officers, and public attention was centered on that event around police headquarters in the city hail. Nothing unusual appeared to disturb the public mind. The council adjourned early, and before midnight Hopkinsville was sleeping, oblivious of danger. What occurred two hours later is history.
An armed and masked body of men captured Hopkinsville Friday morning about two o’clock, and, after severing connection with the outside world and holding the police and firemen captives, set fire to three tobacco warehouses, one belonging to the Italian Regie, one independent, and a third containing Association tobacco. All three were destroyed. The invaders brutally beat a buyer for the Imperial and shot and wounded a brakeman on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, who was trying to save a burning car. There were six squads of the raiders with from half dozen to thirty men in each squad. The final round-up was at Ninth and Main Streets, where a line of perhaps fifty men was extended across Main Street, which, when joined by another crowd who marched down Virginia to Fourteenth, out Fourteenth to Main and down Main to Ninth, took only a few minutes to call the roll by numbers, then went to the I. C. depot and walked out the railroad. Part of them, it is believed, had their horses hitched in the southwestern part of town. The others left their horses at the crossing of the I. C. Railroad two miles from town and walked out to them in a long line stretched down the railroad. There were evidently a good many in the crowd who did not leave on horses. Many of them probably removed their masks and returned to the city from the depot, and mingled with the crowds that quickly gathered on the streets. The invaders evidently had sympathizers in the city, who guided them wherever they went and remained behind to report developments.
It was just before two o’clock, when the attack was made from the I. C. depot. The men appeared marching in solid phalanx, and on the shoulder of each was pinned a piece of white cloth. A part of them turned left and went three squares up Main Street, while the others procéeded up Ninth, one detail stopping at the Cumberland Telephone office, another at the Fire Department and two of the bodies going on to the L. & N. depot. The sixth detail turned out South Main and went to the Mitchell boarding house and the Home Telephone office on the opposite corner.
A detail of three men was sent to the West Seventh Street bridge and small parties guarded other down-town streets. A corral was formed at Ninth and Liberty, into which all citizens who ventured out were hurried and guarded by a small squad, some of them boys.
Every move was made with military precision and each company performed its part without a hitch. In a very few minutes the city was in complete control of the riders.
Officers E. N. Miller, W. T. Broderick and Joe Claxton were at the police office. Booth Morris, night chief, had gone home and Miller was in charge. Broderick and Claxton had just come in when the Cumberland Telephone Company’s operator asked the office to send help, as the night riders were there. Miller crossed the room to the Home phone and was turning in an alarm when Claxton, who appeared at the door, encountered a crowd of masked men estimated at thirty, who ordered him back and began shooting at the door. One load of buckshot almost hit Miller and all three of the men sought refuge in a rear room and the mob hastened down Sixth Street to the L. & N. depot. The crowd at the Cumberland Telephone office broke open the doors and eight of them brought the two girl operators, Miss Curtis and Miss Boyd, down on the street and they were taken to the curbing. At this place the leader ordered a profane swearer to “cut out that cursing and remember you are in the presence of ladies:” At the Fire Department there were six firemen—Ernest Hay-don, John Lawson, Lee Morris, Bob Tunks, Ennis Morris and John Hines. Haydon looked out of the window and a shot warned him back, and the men were told that their orders were to shoot every living thing, men or horses, that attempted to leave the building. No attempt was made for half an hour.
The larger crowd had hurried on to the big Latham warehouse just east of the L. & N. depot and after breaking in poured oil in many places and fired it from the inside. Then part of them hurried around Campbell Street to Fifteenth to fire the frame warehouse of Tandy & Fairleigh, the buyers for the Italian Regie. W. E. Shanklin was on guard here, and ran into the basement and prepared to defend the house, but they approached it with many shots and, breaking in, quickly had it in flames while Shanklin escaped from a rear window. It burned rapidly and it was soon evident that unless the department was allowed to come out that many residences would be destroyed and perhaps the big Acme Mills, the biggest mill in the city, almost adjoining.
By this time the riders had about completed their work. They were putting in their time creating a state of terror by shooting into all the windows where lights were seen and ordering everybody to stay indoors. Many persons reported miraculous escapes from these shots, but it is not probable that any attempt was made to hit anyone.
In the meantime the squad sent to the Home Telephone Company’s office had offered no violence. Miss Maude Brown turned in the fire alarm, but was told by a man who answered that they were captives. She then turned out the lights and went into a rear room upstairs and was not molested. The riders next went to the Mitchell residence, near by and called for W. L. Mitchell, a buyer for the Imperial Company. His wife went to the door and told them they had a very ill child and asked them to let her husband stay inside. They ordered him to come out and shot into the upper windows. Mr. Mitchell came out and one man told him he would not be hurt, but another said, “Yes, he will,” and struck him on the head with a gun barrel several times until he was stopped by others. Mr. Mitchell had several bad cuts on his scalp, but was not seriously hurt. A newspaper office was also visited, and the plate glass windows and the glass door broken out, the lock broken off and the telephone on a desk in an inner office thrown down and broken. A few bullet holes were made in the furniture and through the circular windows in front. The second story windows also received some shots. Other windows in the vicinity were also broken by shots, probably fired at random. This squad then returned to Ninth and Main, where one after another the five squads came back and dispersed at about 2:30 o’clock. Fire Chief E. H. Hester was arrested about 2 :30 trying to get to the department. His pistol was taken from him and not returned. He begged them to let him save the residences on fire and other property they had not tried to burn. As the Association house of R. M. Wooldridge & Company was burning and the Latham warehouse was already in ruins, permission was given just before dispersing, and water was soon playing on property at both fires, and the Wooldridge warehouse was partially saved. Residences already catching around the Regie fire were put out and by the hardest kind of work the Acme Mills plant was saved. At the Louisville & Nashville depot blood had been shed. A Louisville & Nashville brakeman ran his switch engine on the track and tried to save some box cars against orders and was shot in the back with a load of large shot and badly wounded. He was taken to Nashville a few hours later. His name was J. C. Felts and his home was in Nashville.
The Mayor lived out South Main Street several squares and he had much difficulty in reaching police headquarters, in fact, found his way completely blocked. He started shortly after two o’clock, but was unable to reach the office for half an hour, when the riders had left Main Street.
He reached headquarters to find it wrecked and deserted. Officer Hord, a day man, shortly appeared and a squad of citizens was soon at hand, but the masked men had all then disappeared. Deputy Sheriff L. C. Cravens and Major E. B. Bassett organized a posse and after some delay attempted to intercept those going out the Cadiz road, but did not come up with them until after they had mounted their horses. A pursuit, with occasional shots, was kept up to a point near Gracey.
The posse brought back a hat and a handkerchief saturated with blood picked up in the road.
The financial losses in damages to property, not including tobacco destroyed, were estimated at $40,000 or $50,000. The loose floor destroyed had but little tobacco on hand at the time. The Regië house was a heavier loser, but the loss was not very heavy, and there was some insurance. The large factories, purchas&s of the tobacco, not only on the loose floor but from the Association as well, were not molested. The object of the raid was evidently not the wholesale destruction of property, but a bold act of defiance of any efforts to protect the dealers, who were handling tobacco, not in the Association.
On Saturday morning, the Mayor called Governor Beckham over the telephone and told him that the situation here was too large a matter for municipal control. He also told County Judge Breathitt that the problem was too big for him and the State would have to handle it. Judge Breathitt thereupon sent a telegram asking the Governor to order out Company D, which he did.
In the running pursuit after the raid, of the sheriff’s posse and some members of Company D, a total of eleven men, it was developed that a young man named George Gray was killed, and a week later Fire Marshal Mott Ayers, sent to investigate, reported that another young man named Cook died of wounds.
Within a week after Governor Wilson assumed office, another company of Louisville troops came to reinforce the local company, and Hopkinsville became the military headquarters, from which the organized suppression of night riding was conducted.
A Law and Order League was organized in Hopkinsville to assist and did effective work for a year or more.
The city of Hopkinsville never went through such a holiday season as in December, 1907. A company of Louisville soldiers, sent to the city, camped around the court house, and finding nobody to fight, soon became a source of friction. They guarded no roads, but stayed in the city, with a Gatling gun in front of the court house, and while patrolling around the depot one night, a reckless shot was fired, that struck a freight car, and the rifle ball glanced off, and killed a negro woman who was in a cabin near by. Governor Willson was soon requested to withdraw these soldiers and let the local troops be put in charge of the situation. A little later, Maj. Geo. W. Albrecht and a detail of twelve cavalrymen from Middlesboro, arrived and were used in scouting, while the Law and Order League of two hundred picked men furnished a detail of twenty every night to guard all approaches to the city. Governor Willson’s plan was to give local courts a chance to enforce the laws and accordingly Judge T. P. Cook called a special term of court early in January to investigate the raid. Nothing was done; first, because the policy of the night riders was to use non-residents for such raids, and second, because people who had information would not give it up. One indictment, for some local trouble out in the country, was returned, but when the accused came to trial, a case could not be made out. The grand jury was a good one, with some Law and Order men on it, but they could do nothing. The Legislature met in January, and some special bills were soon passed. Governor Willson was a Republican, but he appointed as his Adjutant-General temporarily Maj. P. P. Johnson, who had been a Democrat, looked upon as a highly capable man. With Hopkinsville as the military headquarters for western Kentucky, there was no further attempt to attack the city, but there were still occasional acts of lawlessness in other localities.
On January 3, 1908, a mob entered Russellville, and burned the LucketWake Company’s and the American Snuff Company’s warehouses. There was no show of resistance. Governor Willson offered rewards, and again declared that night riding would be broken up if it took the entire State army to do it. A whole company of mountain soldiers came to reinforce Major Albrecht’s detail, and these troops were sent out as scouting parties, but there were no raids where the troops were. At the suggestion of the mayor, all of the independent buyers in the city signed and published an agreement reiterating their pledge not to buy tobacco that was in the association except from the authorized salesmen. Early in January, 1909, James P. Thompson opened a loose floor and began to sell tobacco at auction. The business ran without interruption, and is still running.
Before the end of January, Mott Ayers was succeeded by W. F. Neikirk, a Springfield, Ky., lawyer, as fire marshal, who made a visit or two to the city. On January 15th, the Louisville soldiers were sent home, and Maj. E. B. Bassett, of Company D, took charge.
About this time the Italian government put in a claim for $10,000 for the burning of the Regie warehouse.
On January 20, a barn containing the crops of negro share hands, was burned near Pee Dee. On January 25, a band went to Dawson Springs and took a tobacco buyer out of his room in a hotel and whipped him. In Montgomery County, Tennessee, four barns’ were burned, and in Logan County, Kentucky, two were destroyed the last week in January. A factory at Dycusburg, Crittenden County, was burned February 7, and a barn, near Adams, Tenn. The same night a farmer on the Princeton Road was taken from his house and beaten. February 16, Eddyville, Ky., was raided, and four white men and eight negroes taken out and whipped.
The county judge, a brave old man seventy-four years old, Judge W. L. Crumbaugh, was waited upon and called out and told that only his gray hairs saved him. He denounced and defied them, and pointing to the penitentiary, in sight of his house, told them he would do all he could to put them there.
In Ilopkinsville the Law and Order League increased its membership and took a bold stand. Hundreds took the following oath:
“As God is my witness, I solemnly and sincerely promise and swear, without reserve or equivocation that I accept the purposes of the League, that I pledge my best endeavors to secure these purposes, that I shall hold secret all proceedings of the League and that I shall not divulge the name of any member of the League, so help me God.”
Every member of the league was authorized to bear arms, and all did active duty as guards when called upon. Several ministers of the gospel were members.
In Calloway County one or two barns were next burned, and near Casky, in Christian County, a farmer found a bundle of switches and some matches on his porch, and at the door of his negro croppers. Following these outrages, Rev. George H. Means, the Methodist pastor, created a sensation by denouncing these acts from his pulpit.
On March 10, in Marshall County, a mob shot six negroes, one of them fatally. Five other negroes were taken out and whipped. So far as known, this had no relation to the tobacco troubles.
Near Port Royal, Tenn., a thresher was taken out of a barn and burned. A clash between night riders and tobacco growers in the same neighborhood, was reported, and the dead body of one man and two dead horses were found in the road. Another wounded man refused to talk.
The troubles spread to other parts of the state. In Owen County night riders, finding lights burning in a house, fired into the windows where a woman lay dying. In Bath County, notes signed “Tenants” were sent to association members, threatening reprisals if their tobacco beds were disturbed. The lawlessness before the end of March had spread to Wood-ford, Mason, Henry, Owen, Shelby, Fulton, Ballard, Calloway, and Fayette counties, widely separated, and the Cureton bill, holding counties liable for night rider depredations was defeated in the senate.
In the midst of all this excitement, tobacco continued to advance, and the association sold its tobacco at good prices. The farmers themselves began to resent night riding by a minority of growers, and often by men not growers of tobacco. Meetings were held in several counties, denouncing night riding.
The last week in March, a man named Hiram Hedges was murdered in Nicholas County, and a negro named Tom Weaver was murdered at Golden Pond. More soldiers were called out, and sent to Eddyville.
The Christian County grand jury returned four indictments, one a negro. No convictions followed.
New outrages in Calloway County, in April, caused a rousing public meeting, and under the leadership of the county judge, nine men were arrested and sent to jail until bonds could be arranged. Witness after witness appeared in court and identified the prisoners as the men who had beaten them. Protected by soldiers, the men talked freely, and many men left the state. The grand jury responded to an aroused public sentiment, and twenty-five or more men were indicted in Calloway County and eight in Livingston. These indictments were pressed and a doctor, in Lyon County, was given a prison sentence. There was a general upheaval in Trigg County, and many warrants were issued, and soldiers sent to make the arrests. In Crittenden County more than thirty warrants were issued. During the summer, headquarters of the soldiers were moved to Trigg County.
In Christian County several persons were brought to trial at the June term of court, but no convictions resulted.
The recurring acts of lawlessness from many points in Kentucky and adjoining states have been mentioned to show the wide extent of what came to be known as the Night Rider War. The character of outrages outlined continued occasionally, with a growing public sentiment against them, in as well as out of the association. The Governor was firm in his determination, but could not prevent some acts of violence. The last bold defiance of law occurred in July, 1908, when the L. & N. depots at Otter Pond, in Caldwell County, Cerulean Springs, in Trigg County, and Gracey, in Christian County, were all burned the same night. More soldiers were sent to all three counties. The railroad used a boxcar for a depot at each place, and made no effort to rebuild the depots. There were no waiting rooms and the public made loud complaints. The real turning point came when the people, who had been driven away or whipped, had established a legal residence in other states and began to pile up heavy damage suits against individual members of the association, singling out wealthy men, sometimes clearly above suspicion of any actual night riding. The suits were brought in the federal courts, and were tried with a speed and vigor that created a reign of terror. Members began to turn state’s evidence to save themselves, and to make matters worse, those who had signed for the three crops of 1906, 1907 and 1908, in many instances, declined to renew their pledges. While there were but few convictions, the local courts returned many indictments on the testimony of men who expected immunity. Some of those supposed to be leaders were indicted and tried, and while they invariably were acquitted by juries, the trials were expensive and troublesome to them in the extreme. By the fall of 1908, night riding had become very unpopular on all sides, for various reasons. The number of troops the was multiplied in the field, and there were no further attempts to interfere trooj with the sales in the city. The railroad, whose depots had been burned incei because they shipped independent tobacco, steadfastly refused to rebuild happ until given assurance that their property would not be destroyed again, their After many months, the buildings were restored to the joy of all concerned, than On November 28, 1908, Maj. E. B. Bassett, who at that time had charge brou of all of the soldiers in the Western counties of the State, received orders the c to withdraw the troops from all points except two or three. The Pineville Company, at Hickman and Cadiz, and the various detachments at Princeton, Dawson, Gracey, Cobb, Star Lime Works, Golden Pond and elsewhere, were ordered to their homes. The first soldiers were ordered out December 7, 1907, and from fifty to three hundred had been on duty for a year. The soldiers were taken from all three of the State guard regiments from time to time. The hostility of the people soon gave way to a friendly spirit, and their unfailing good conduct made them welcome in the homes of the people.
On December 19 the United States Circuit Court in New York decided that the five large tobacco manufacturing companies in the United States were creating a monopoly, and were ordered to restore competition between them. This decision was hailed as a victory over the trust.
In closing this record, it is proper to add that I have attempted to present the facts fairly and impartially. The whole deplorable business had its causes and its lessons, and in the end its benefits. The attempt to remove legitimate competition, by methods not so well understood then as “mergers” are now, was exasperating in the extreme to people who were forced to grow tobacco at less than the cost of production. The system brought out all that was resentful and vindictive in human nature. The farmers’ organization was necessary for self-preservation. The trouble was that it fell under the control of those who had little respect for law L and order, and unwise leadership brought about its ruin. •The leaders, self-appointed perhaps, were not always tobacco growers with personal interests at stake. The tobacco buyers were quick to see that they had overstepped the bounds in fixing low prices, and tobacco soon returned to G its normal valuations, this having much to do with bringing about a peaceful adjustment. The lessons learned were that the American people will not tamely and permanently submit to injustice, nor will they permit a reign of lawlessness to go unchecked, no matter what may be the provocation. Law and order must prevail in civilized governments, and only a small minority of the people fail or refuse to recognize and accept this fundamental principle. The conduct of the state guards, sent into the disturbed sections, was commendable without exception. It was a disagreeable duty they had to perform, but they performed it with courage, firmness and consideration for all concerned. History records that romance followed in the wake of military occupancy to the extent that during the year there were a dozen or more weddings, in which the gallant young troopers claimed as brides the daughters of farmers, who were at first incensed at their coming. More than twenty years have passed, and a happy and united people are once more pulling and pushing together for their mutual progress and prosperity. What more could typify this feeling than the fact that the ranking leaders of the two sides were in the end brought together by the marriage of the son of one with the daughter of the other.
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