As a caveat to his book On Bended Knees, Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham wrote: “The story of the Night Riders of Kentucky and Tennessee is a difficult one to tell. Secrecy shrouded the inner workings of their organization. Identities were highly protected. While the newspaper and magazines gave fairly good coverage of the events as they occurred, much about that era has come down by word of mouth. Consequently, more than one version of certain significant events has developed. In handling this, any writer must pick and choose as to which account is the most plausible.” Just as Justice Cunningham did in his book, so did Lisa Fuller, Kim Birdsong, Greg Finley, and Jeff Hancock in their essay for the first volume of Echoes from Trigg County in 1979. This writing, Night Riders, Part II, is the continuation of an adaptation of their essay and begins with the first meeting of the Night Riders and examples of the terrorizing events that took place as the Tobacco War was waged in the “Black Patch”, Caldwell, Christian, Lyon, Todd, and Trigg Counties.
The first meeting of the Night Riders was held at Nabb Schoolhouse in the spring of 1906. A number of “lodges” were organized within the Night Rider movement, but the strongest in western Kentucky were Wallonia Lodge, Nabb Schoolhouse Lodge, and Cedar Grove Schoolhouse Lodge, led by Guy Dunning, Dr. Alfred Amoss, and Sam G. Cash, Sheriff of Lyon County, respectively. All meeting were held at night, and under strict secrecy. At each meeting a secretary was in charge of conducting correspondence, and during raids the men left their valuables and identifying items such as wallets, rings, and watches with the secretary. During these clandestine meetings, plans were made to persuade non-members, “Hillbillies” to join the Association. The methods of persuasion were generally not physical, but instead a non-member’s seed bed might be plowed under and sprinkled with salt, if his plants were already set, the Night Riders would pull them up, or if his crop was already in the barn, the barn would be burned. Unfortunate however was the farmer who refused to join and his crop had already made it to market, for he might have been dragged from his house with his wife and children yelling hysterically while he was given a ride on a rail, half drowned, tarred and feathered, or even burned a little until he pledged to join. Other, larger acts were plotted as well, including the raids on Princeton and Hopkinsville. The Hopkinsville raid took place on December 12, 1907:
Approximately two hundred fifty men marched upon Hopkinsville before two o’clock in the morning. The men were organized into squads of about twenty-five, each carrying out its assigned task. The city’s on-duty policemen and firemen were captured and held captive and communications with the outside world where cutoff by securing the Cumberland Telephone switchboard and the depots of both the Louisville & Nashville and the Illinois Central Railroads. In the course of their raid, the Night Riders severely beat an Imperial Tobacco Company buyer, shot an L & N switchman who attempted to move boxcars out of harm’s way, and successfully burned two American Tobacco Trust affiliated tobacco warehouses, the Latham Warehouse and the Tandy & Fairleigh Tobacco Factory, and accidentally caused the burning of the Association’s own storage warehouse of R.M. Woodridge, and generally shot up and terrorized the town.
The Tobacco War was largely brought to its end with the 1907 election of August E. Willson, a republican, as governor of Kentucky. Willson campaigned on the slogan that he would acquit persons accused of Night Rider activity if they would “talk”, and said he would protect others who would come forward with information about the Night Riders. Furthermore, Willson campaigned on the promise that if elected, that every person caught and found guilty of Night Rider activity would be hanged. Following his election, the new governor sent Kentucky Militia troops to the Black Patch. During this same period, the Assistant U.S. Attorney General, James Clark McReynolds, under the direction of the Justice Department filed federal suit against James B. Duke and his American Tobacco Trust. The Federal Court in Washington declared that the Trust existed in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, ending the strangle hold Duke had on the price of dark leaf tobacco. In the weeks prior to the decision in Washington, the trial of Dr. Alfred Amoss, Guy Dunning, and other accused of destroying public and private property in the Hopkinsville raid came to an end. They were found not guilty, probably because many members of the jury were farmers, and some of them may have been Night Riders.
Following an absence of many moons, this column is the second recently submitted for publication; such are the constraints of family and life. I hope to more faithfully share with the readers of the Cadiz Record in the coming months, and welcome your input at firstname.lastname@example.org In upcoming columns it is my intent to share adaptations of articles from the Echoes series of books written by Honors English Students at Trigg County High School under the instruction of Nancy Perkins between 1979 and 1984. I think you will find that those students, many of whom have made Trigg County their home and now have children of their own, did excellent research, and their work remains a valuable contribution to the historical record of our beloved Cadiz and Trigg County. In the words of English writer Rudyard Kipling, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Share your story, make history memorable!