Master's Theses

Date of Award

Summer 1994

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Raymond Wilson

Abstract

This thesis examines the rise and spread of the Ku Klux Klan in Hays, Larned and Wallace County, Kansas during the years 1921-1926 as viewed by local newspapers. These newspapers were the principal resources used. Other primary materials included newspapers from other communities, governors’ papers, court records, Klan documents and publications, pamphlets, and books and articles published during that time. Secondary sources were used to examine modern though and historiographical changes concerning the 1920’s Ku Klux Klan. The experience of western Kansans with the Ku Klux Klan was essentially different from that of eastern Kansans and deserved its own study. The Klan arrived later and had different issues in Hays, Larned and Wallace County than in Emporia or Pittsburg. Each area reviewed had a different experience with the Klan. Hays, with its strongly Catholic population, was affected by the Klan but saw little Klan activity. While evidence suggests that there were Klan operations in nearby Ellis and Plainville, they seemed to have had minimal impact on Hays. The Hays Free Press, published by A. L. Clark, and the Ellis County News, published by John S. Bird, differed in many respects but succeeded in virtually ignoring the Klan. When necessary, both newspapers battled the Klan by pointing out its failures and by making fun of its more ridiculous aspects. Larned accepted the Klan, and it played a major role in that community’s affairs. Local newspapers, Harry H. Wolcott and Lynn M. Christy’s Chonoscope and Leslie E. Wallace’s Tiller and Toiler divided on political lines like their Hays counterparts. The town papers were only mildly divergent on the Klan issue in the beginning but by 1926 the difference was more pronounced, with the Tiller and Toiler taking on the anti-Klan role. In Larned the Klan played the part of a social club. It was supported by members of the clergy, business people and many citizens. Although there was some anti-Klan feeling, there seems to have been little hostility between the Klan and the average citizen. Wallace County provided the western half of the state with a strong Klan leader and Klan paper. The Wallace County News was an average weekly edited by F. B. Gergen. Under Gergen it began to exhibit pro-Klan sympathies but soon became a Klan mouthpiece when it was purchased by D. P. Abbey. Abbey also printed a Klan newspaper. As balance, the Wallace County Western Times continued as a regular weekly paper under W.E. Ward. Ward tried to ignore the Klan upheaval in his community and when Abbey and his newspapers collapsed, the Western Times was jubilant. The Klan peaked in Kansas during 1924 with its considerable influence affecting the election. Although the state government had been attempting to remove the Klan from Kansas since its arrival in the state, the Klan was an active force throughout the years covered by this thesis. The time period chosen for study allows the documentation of the rise and fall of the Klan in each locale. A common thread that ran through all these communities in their struggle with the Klan members were not monsters and were not members of some fire breathing cult. Although the name of the Ku Klux Klan stands for bigotry and violence to many today, in the 1920s bigotry was more acceptable, and the Klan stood for positive moral values. The Klan, its members, and supporters cannot be understood when judged by 1990s values. The Klan’s excesses and failures cannot by excused, but its popularity can be understood. The fears and concerns of the average citizen of the post-World War I era played a major role in the success of the Klan.

Rights

Copyright 1994 Betsy Crawford-Gore

Comments

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