Title:
The Klan Comes to Tipton

Author:
Allen Safianow

Date:
1999

Source:
Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 95, Issue 3, pp 203-231

Article Type:
Article

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The Klan Comes to Tipton

Allen Safianow

"Klan Speaker Is Coming" proclaimed the headline of a brief article on the back page of the September 22, 1922, TiptonDaily Tribune. Dr. Lester Brown, "a speaker of force… not radical in his views," would deliver a free lecture from the public square bandstand, and all residents were invited. "Much has been heard of this order by our people," the article noted, "but locally they have not come in contact with it." The next evening Brown, who described himself as an ordained minister from Atlanta, Georgia, addressed an assemblage of townspeople the Tribune called "not large, but attentive" and distributed cards for interested persons to sign, with about one hundred reportedly responding. He portrayed the Klan as an American Christian organization, consisting of "native born, white Gentile, Protestant" citizens, that stood for charity, the Constitution, pure womanhood, the Bible, public schools, and racial purity. In conjunction with Brown's address, copies of the Klan weekly, The Fiery Cross, were distributed throughout the town that weekend, containing articles that denied that the Klan was anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, or "anti-negro," yet raised fears about miscegenation, Catholic intrusion in American politics, and Jewish business practices.1

Within a relatively short period of time, the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan would attain a very visible presence in Tipton, a small town located some thirty miles north of Indianapolis. In 1925 the Tipton County Klan would claim 1,622 members among the county's 16,000 residents, making the Tipton Klan one of the strongest in Indiana, where the organization came to enjoy its greatest influence, claiming over 165,000 Hoosier members in 1925.2

Although considerable attention has been given to the Klan movement of the 1920s, the circumstances and meaning of the rise of the Invisible Empire continue to be disputed. "Nearly seventy years


  • Allen Safianow is professor of history at Indiana University, Kokomo. The author would like to express his gratitude to the residents of Tipton County who assisted his research or agreed to be interviewed and to the staff of the Tipton Public Library, particularly Donna Ekstrom. He also wishes to thank IUK colleagues Rick Aniskiewicz and Jon Kofas for their help.
  • 1TiptonDaily Tribune, September 22, 25, 1922.
  • 2 "Local Officers of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1925," typescript, 34 (Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis).
after it spread across the nation like a prairie wildfire," one writer has observed, "the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s largely remains a historical enigma."3 Over the past eight decades analysts of the movement have offered widely varying assessments and explanations. Early studies tended to portray the Klan as a reactionary movement based on ignorance and fear, centered in rural or small-town America, and pursuing a nativist or racist agenda aimed against blacks, Catholics, Jews, and foreigners. Similar views continued to prevail in the 1950s; such historians as John Higham, Richard Hofstadter, and William Leuchtenburg stressed the Klan's violence and vigilantism, aimed at white Protestant moral slackers as well as minorities, and depicted its members as economically marginal.4

By the 1960s, however, one could discern a shift from this orthodox position. Kenneth Jackson's 1967 study, The Ku Klux Klan in the City, pointed to the Klan's substantial urban following. Although his account acknowledged some Klan vigilantism, he contended that the "most distinguishing characteristic of urban Klansmen was a preoccupation with politics." During the 1970s and 1980s there appeared a substantial number of works that so challenged previous portrayals of the Klan that one could begin to speak of a revisionist school of thought. Although their conclusions were not uniform, revisionists generally stressed that there were significant variations in the Klan movement depending on locality and that the focus of study should be on regional or local Klans. They questioned traditional assertions that Klan members came primarily from marginal economic groups and that they were especially prone to violence or irrational behavior. Instead, they argued, klansmen fell mostly within the economic and social mainstream. Revisionists concluded that genuine local problems such as political corruption, vice, and the violation of Prohibition played more of a role in generating local Klan movements than did ethnic, racial, or religious prejudice, although often such prejudice was interwoven with these other concerns.5


  • 3 Shawn Lay, "Conclusion: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s," in The Invisible Empire in the West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, ed. Shawn Lay (Urbana, Ill., 1992), 217.
  • 4 John Moffatt Mecklin, The Ku Klux man: A Study of the American Mind (New York, 1924), 99, 104, 108, 122-25; John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925 (New York, 1963), 285-99; Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R. (New York, 1955), 293-96; William E. Leuchtenburg, The Perils of Prosperity, 1914-1932 (Chicago, 1958), 205, 209-13, 223. For a more detailed discussion of Klan historiography see Leonard J. Moore, "Historical Interpretations of the 1920's Klan: The Traditional View and the Populist Revision," Journal of Social History, XXIV (Winter 1990), 341-57.
  • 5 Kenneth T. Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930 (New York, 1967), 241, 247; Moore, "Historical Interpretations," 349-54. Examples of such revisionist work include Larry R. Gerlach, Blazing Crosses in Zion: The Ku Klux Klan in Utah (Logan, Utah, 1982); Robert Alan Goldberg, Hooded Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Colorado (Urbana, Ill., 1981); William D. Jenkins, Steel Valley Klan: The Ku Klux Klan in Ohio's Mahoning Valley (Kent, Ohio, 1990); Shawn Lay, War, Revolution and

Perhaps the most avowedly revisionist work is Leonard Moore's Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928. Moore demonstrated that members represented a wide occupational cross section of white Protestants but with few supporters from either the economic elite or the poor. He maintained that in Indiana the Klan movement was "essentially decentralized and community-oriented." Moore's thesis was that the Indiana Klan of the 1920s, although nativist in tone, could best be understood as a populist organization that "concerned itself primarily not with persecuting ethnic minorities but with promoting the ability of average citizens to influence the workings of society and government." Disturbed by crime, political corruption, and lax Prohibition enforcement, Klan members "sought to revitalize a sense of social and civic unity in community life and uphold traditional religious and moral values." He suggested that the extreme rhetoric directed against Catholics and aliens was largely hyperbole; that the Klan's anti-Catholicism and xenophobia were commonly accepted parts of white Protestant culture in Indiana; that boycotts against Catholic and Jewish merchants were generally ineffective; and that there were few if any documented instances of Indiana Klan members using direct physical violence against individuals from minority groups. Instead, the Klan's primary targets were the political and economic elites who had become locally dominant by the 1920s and whom the Klan saw as hostile or apathetic toward moral and political reform. Moore contended that the Klan movement could be described as a "white Protestant nationalism" with a "capacity to arouse a sense of solidarity… to unite disparate groups… to assert a powerful populist influence in community life."6


  • the Ku Klux Klan: A Study of Intolerance in a Border City (El Paso, Tex., 1985); Lay, The Invisible Empire in the West; Christopher Cocoltchos, "The Invisible Government and the Viable Community: The Ku Klux Klan in Orange County, California during the 1920s" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, 1979); Neil Bet-ten, "Nativism and the Klan in Town and City: Valparaiso and Gary, Indiana," Studies in History and Society, IV (Spring 1973), 3-16; Kenneth D. Wald, "The Visible Empire: The Ku Klux Klan as an Electoral Movement," Journal of Interdisciplinary History, XI (Autumn 1980), 217-34; William Toll, "Progress and Piety: The Ku Klux Klan and Social Change in Tillamook, Oregon," Pacific Northwest Quarterly, LXIX (April 1978), 75-85. It should be pointed out that not all recent scholars have fully accepted this revisionist point of view. Kathleen Blee emphasizes the violent, racist, nativist, anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic dimensions of the movement, and Nancy MacLean regards the Nan as a petit-bourgeois, quasi-fascist movement that sought to maintain hierarchies of race, class, and gender. Kathleen M. Blee, Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s (Berkeley, Cal., 1991); Nancy MacLean, Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan (New York, 1994).
  • 6 Leonard J. Moore, Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Hun in Indiana, 1921-1928 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1991), 9,11-12, 23-31, 52-60, 78-94,191; Moore, "Historical Interpretations," 353. Moore's thesis was foreshadowed by Norman Weaver, "The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1954). Weaver argued that the Klan movement in these mid-western states was based on a defense of traditional Protestant values.

The availability of some of the records of the John Tipton Klan Number 50 at the Indiana Historical Society and the recent release of 1920 census records offer an opportunity to test some of the revisionist arguments brought forward by Moore and others.7 In addition the TiptonDaily Tribune provides abundant accounts of Klan activities, and a number of Tipton residents have been willing to share their recollections of the Man movement.8 This essay will examine how the Klan functioned in a small, rural community, a subject relatively little explored.9

Tipton County was and remains a largely agricultural region whose population has remained stable over the past century. The county


  • 7 The records include internal memoranda to and from Klan officials, some nineteen "Kleagle's Weekly Petition Reports" listing the names of new recruits during the latter half of 1922, lists of members reinstated and members suspended for December 1922, September 1924, the last quarter of 1924, and for a third quarter, year unspecified. In addition, there is a membership list for those in good standing for the fourth quarter, 1924. Ku Klux Klan, Tipton County Papers (Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis). The Indiana Historical Society also has a list containing the names of Klan officers for eighty-nine of Indiana's ninety-two counties, including Tipton County, as well as membership figures for each county. "Local Officers of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1925," ibid. The "Local Officers" document stems from a request made by Grand Dragon Walter Bossert to local klaverns to report current membership levels in the aftermath of the D. C. Stephenson scandals that had tarnished the organization, including his conviction for second-degree homicide in the death of Madge Oberholtzer and revelations of political corruption. It has generally been regarded as a fairly accurate count at a time when Klan membership in Indiana had already passed its peak of some two to three hundred thousand. See Moore, Citizen Klansmen, 47; Richard K. Tucker, The Dragon and the Cross: The Rise and Fall of the Ku Klux Klan in Middle America (Hamden, Conn., 1991), 2, 207n; Jackson, Ku Klux Klan in the City, 237.
  • 8 Forty individuals were interviewed for this study; of these forty, twenty-five were old enough to have had personal recollections concerning the Klan in Tipton. Three persons who were interviewed acknowledged Klan membership during the 1920s. Of these individuals, one's name appears on the available lists of Tipton Klan members at the Indiana Historical Society, and one indicated that he had been a member of the Kokomo klavern. The name of a fourth interviewee, who claimed not to have been a member, does appear on the Klan membership list. Due to the delicate nature of the Tipton Klan membership lists, no systematic effort was made to contact those whose names appeared on the lists who might still be alive and residing in Tipton. Instead, through contacts made in Tipton an effort was made to interview individuals, including Catholics, who might have had general recollections concerning the 1920s and the Klan. Interviewees were never directly asked if they had joined the Klan, although they were asked what they remembered about the Klan and what they knew about those who did join. The information conveyed in the interviews must be regarded with caution. They were conducted in 1988 and 1989, some fifty years after the Klan had reached its peak in Tipton. Most of the twenty-five persons who had direct pesonal recollections of the Klan would have been rather young in the 1920s, although thirteen of them would have been at least in their twenties or thirties during the middle 1920s when the Tipton Klan was most active.
  • 9 Lay, "Conclusion," 217. This collection of essays contains one study of a small community; see David A. Horowitz, "Order, Solidarity, and Vigilance: The Ku Klux Klan in La Grande, Oregon," ibid., 185-215. Also see Toll, "Progress and Piety"; Carl V. Hallberg, "‘For God, Country, and Home’: The Ku Klux Klan in Pekin, 1923-1925," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, LXXVII (Summer 1984), 82-93; Calvin Enders, "White Sheets in Mecosta: The Anatomy of a Michigan Klan," Michigan Historical Review, XIV (Fall 1988), 59-84.
contained only a few industries in the 1920s, although a substantial number of men worked in the yards of the Nickel Plate Railroad.10 Its population ranked among the most homogeneous in the state. Of its 16,152 residents in 1920, only 125 were foreign born, the largest number (49) coming from Germany, the next largest (34) coming from Ireland. The census listed only five nonwhites in the county—four Negroes and one Indian. The town of Tipton also reflected this homogeneity. Of its population of 4,507 in 1920, native-born whites constituted 99.1 percent, the highest percentage in Indiana for communities with at least 2,500 residents.11

The only significant diversity within the county was in religion. While Protestants comprised the overwhelming majority of church members, Catholics had been present since the county was first organized in the 1840s. In the 1870s St. John's Catholic Church was built, and during the early 1890s the Sisters of St. Joseph erected a convent and in 1903 established an academy. With the influx of German and Irish immigrants in the late nineteenth century, the Catholic population grew. By 1926 the census showed 830 Catholics in the county; they represented the third largest religious group after the Methodists (2,503) and the Disciples of Christ (2,195). The Jewish population consisted of just three families.12

Thus Tipton was not very different demographically from other rural Indiana counties in which the Man flourished. Situated in the north central region of the state, where the Hoosier Klan drew its strongest support, Tipton County's 1,622 reported members in 1925 placed it fourth highest among Indiana counties in percentage of Klan members among native-born white males—some 34.3 percent.13


  • 10 Gretchen A. Kemp, ed., Tipton County: Her Land and People (Tipton, Ind., 1962), 225-27; Ira M. O'Bannion, comp., 1927 & 1928 Pictorial History Atlas and Plat Book of Tipton County, Indiana (Tipton, Ind., 1979). The Nickel Plate Railroad before 1923 was operated by the Lake Erie and Western Railroad. Kemp, Tipton County, 61; TiptonDaily Tribune, May 31, 1944.
  • 11 U.S., Fourteenth Census, 1920: Vol. III, Population, 285, 295, 302; Blee, Women of the Klan, 130-31.
  • 12 M. F. Cox, "Town of Tipton," in Counties of Howard and Tipton, ed. Charles Blanchard (Chicago, 1883), 105-106; M. W. Pershing, History of Tipton County, Indiana: Her People, Industries and Institutions (Indianapolis, 1914), 203-206; Kemp, Tipton County, 249-50,256; Sister M. Gerard Maher and Sister M. Caroline Daele, "A Modest Violet Grew," 1950, typescript (Sisters of St. Joseph Archives, Tipton); U.S., Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies, 1926. Vol. I, Summary and Detailed Tables (Washington, D.C., 1930), 602-606; Tipton County Directory (Tipton, Ind., 1900); Pocket Business Directory (n.p., 1907); TiptonDaily Tribune, July 8,1918, August 4,1923, December 11, 1934, April 20, 1937.
  • 13 Moore, Citizen Klansmen, 46-55; "Local Officers of the Ku Klux Klan." Moore points out that in 1925 although half of the state's reported 165,641 klansmen lived in the fifteen largest urban counties, the Hoosier Klan was not primarily an urban phenomenon and that many rural counties could be counted among those with the highest percentages of klansmen. He reports that regression analysis "confirms that the size of the Indiana Klan in 1925 was not influenced by either the urban or rural status of potential members" and concludes that the Klan found enthusiastic support in both urban and rural regions. Ibid., 59-60. The counties that surpassed Tipton in percentage of the population who were Klan members were, in descending order, White, Hamilton, and Hendricks, all rural.
The county was also only fifteen miles south of Kokomo, where on July 4,1923, D. C. Stephenson was installed as grand dragon amidst thousands of Klan supporters in one of the largest Klan gatherings in the nation's history.14

Although Tipton County proved to be fertile ground for the Klan, the evidence suggests that organizers experienced some initial setbacks. Two weeks after Brown had made his appearance, copies of Fiery Cross were again distributed throughout the town amid rumors that Tipton would soon be the scene of active Klan organizing. The Tribune reported that several members of the community had already been initiated into the Klan the previous April, although there was not yet any formal klavern, or local unit. Throughout early October there were serious efforts at recruitment, but one organizer suggested disappointment at the initial meager results, commenting, "I am working night and day to do the best I can." There had even been difficulty keeping the cross burning at one Klan rally, leading to the organizers' decision to use an electric cross on future occasions.15

On October 16 the Klan sponsored a by-invitation-only meeting at the Old Woodman's Hall. Some two hundred and fifty invitations were sent out, and the Klan hoped to attract one hundred new members. While the organizers obtained assistance from the nearby Kokomo klavern and attempted to create an air of mystery and intrigue about the event, according to the Tribune only about one hundred persons attended, and most of them did not immediately join. But a week later a local Methodist minister, Asher S. Preston, presented a pro-Klan address at his church to a crowd estimated at more than a thousand. In his address Preston represented the Klan as a "one-hundred-percent American" organization dedicated to moral reform; he spoke in favor of racial segregation and warned of the dangers posed by an "antidemocratic" Catholic Church and by Jewish bankers and revolutionaries.16

By the end of the year the Tipton klavern had 399 new recruits, of whom 203 or slightly over half lived in the town of Tipton and in Cicero Township. The other new members were reported as residing in or near the smaller communities of Windfall, Kempton, Sharpsville, Elwood, Atlanta, and Goldsmith.17 In late November the Klan was


  • 14 See Robert Coughlan, "Konklave in Kokomo," in The Aspirin Age, 1919-1941, ed. Isabel Leighton (New York, 1949), 105-11; Allen Safianow, "‘Konklave in Kokomo’ Revisited," Historian, L (May 1988), 333-35.
  • 15 Number 3 to Number 1, October 4,10,1922, Tipton Klan Papers; Tipton Daily Tribune, October 5, 14, November 20, 1922.
  • 16 Number 3 to Number 1, October 10, 1922, Tipton Klan Papers; unsigned letter from Tipton to Rev. D. Jay Thornton, October 13, 1922, ibid.; Number 3 to Number 1, "Suggestions for handling Tipton County," October 13,1922, ibid.; Tipton Daily Tribune, October 17, 23, 1922.
  • 17 Sixty-six of the 399 recruited members came from the Windfall region, 56 from the Kempton region, 42 from the Sharpsville region, 22 from the Elwood region, 8 from the Atlanta region, and 2 from the Goldsmith region. Kleagle's Weekly Petition
able to stage a large public demonstration in downtown Tipton, including two bands, two electric crosses, and a parade in which 350 robed men and 150 men in civilian clothing marched. The Klan announced that several hundred candidates were initiated as members that evening.18

Throughout the next year the Tipton Klan strove to enhance its visibility in the county by means commonly used by klaverns throughout the nation. Members distributed baskets of food to needy families, and robed klansmen descended upon church services throughout the county, leaving donations with the pastors. They staged well-publicized "Klan funerals," featuring huge floral tributes in the shape of a cross. The first of these was held in April 1923 for charter member John D. Smith and was supervised by a company of forty-two robed klansmen. But probably the most successful methods of promotion were the public demonstrations, picnics, and parades that the Klan held in the town of Tipton and in the smaller communities of the county, such as Sharpsville, Kempton, Windfall, and Goldsmith. The appearance of hundreds of robed marchers and fiery crosses undoubtedly made a dramatic impression on these small villages. In 1923 alone there were at least seventeen public Klan demonstrations throughout the county. On April 24, at an event described by the Tribune as "immense in every phase," a reported crowd of two thousand robed klansmen gathered in Tipton to attend a rally and parade that featured three visiting bands, two drum corps, horsemen, American flags, and the fiery cross, as well as the initiation of four hundred Klan candidates and an address by evangelist E. J. Bulgin. The following month the Tipton Klan announced they had organized a twenty-piece band, and in November the Klan hosted a reportedly well-attended state meeting. Soon after, the KKK band leased the Martz theater to show D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, which celebrated the original post-Civil War Klan. On Christmas eve a large crowd gathered to see a fiery cross that illuminated the entire courthouse square; the event was followed by Christmas caroling by klansmen and klanswomen.19


  • Reports, October 20, 28, November 2, 9,18, 23, December 8,15, 22, 30,1922, Tip-ton Klan Papers. One undated report may be for the unaccounted week of December 1. Elwood is in Madison county to the east of Tipton County, and Atlanta is in Hamilton county, to the south. Klan records for 1925 indicate that Elwood had its own klavern and that there was a klavern in Noblesville for Hamilton county. Most of those listed in the petition reports appear to have been residents of Tipton County who lived near the communities of Elwood or Atlanta. The reports for December 15 and December 22 indicate that 70 percent of the initiation fees went to the kleagle.
  • 18TiptonDaily Tribune, November 20, 1922.
  • 19 David H. Bennett, The Party of Fear: From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1988), 226, 231; Jackson, Ku Klux Klan in the City, 37,46, 60, 98-99,119,149-50,199, 247; Moore, Citizen Klansmen, 104-106; Blee, Women of the Klan, 142-44; Fiery Cross, December 29,1922, April 13,1923; Tip-ton Daily Tribune, December 23, 1922, January 16, 17, 30, March 7, 8, 9, 27, April 2, 5, 25, May 16, 25, June 7, 15, September 3, October 8, November 2, 5, December 25,

Despite such extraordinary visibility, the Tipton Klan experienced some difficulties in establishing women's organizations in the county. The first effort in January 1923 floundered when the main speaker failed to appear before an audience of sixty to seventy women assembled in the public library. Press reports also show that the Kamelia, a women's group established by former Imperial Wizard William J. Simmons, who had been ousted by Hiram W. Evans as national Klan leader in 1922, competed for members with the Evans-approved Women of the Ku Klux Klan. According to Kathleen Blee's study, Women of the Klan, such organizational differences and strife were typical. Yet, in the end, if Tribune accounts are to be believed, several hundred women affiliated themselves with the Klan within a year's time.20

Quite clearly then, while Klan organizing took effort and some ingenuity, the Invisible Empire established itself in Tipton as a thriving enterprise within a few months. The operations of the Tipton Klan offer considerable evidence in support of the revisionist position in a number of areas. This is the case, for example, with regard to the demographic makeup of the Tipton Klan.

The available Klan records for Tipton County provide the names of 1,067 men who at one time or another were members of the John Tipton Klan Number 50 from 1922 to 1924.21 An analysis of the 399


  • 1923, March 22, 1924. The showing of The Birth of a Nation, which was originally released in 1915 as William J. Simmons was fashioning the second Klan movement that would flourish in the following decade, was a common Klan recruiting tool. See David M. Chalmers, Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan (2nd ed., New York, 1981), 25-29; Jackson, Ku Klux Klan in the City, 3-4; MacLean, Behind the Mask of Chivalry, 12-13; Goldberg, Hooded Empire, 52; Wyn Craig Wade, The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux man in America (New York, 1987), 119-47.
  • 20Tipton Daily Tribune, January 10,12, February 24, May 1,3, June 12,13, 26, 30, November 6, 1923, March 5, 1924; Fiery Cross, March 14, 1924; Blee, Women of the man, 26-28,119; John Augustus Davis, "The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1920-1930: An Historical Study" (Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1966), 137-42. In 1923 a Junior Klan, designed for boys, was also created. Although it reportedly reached a membership of over one hundred, after 1924 little was heard about this group. At the same time the old Horse Thief Detective Association was revived in the county as well as elsewhere in Indiana. The group was widely believed to have been allied with the Klan in efforts against bootlegging and gambling, although in Tipton County its publicized goal was to prevent automobile thefts. Tipton Daily Tribune, August 30, September 8, November 2,1923, February 18, March 11, August 30, September 9,16, November 6,1924, September 3, November 11,1925, March 9, 23, September 14, October 12, November 25, 1926. Of the fourteen individuals who were publicly identified as officers of the association, the names of six could be found in the Klan membership lists. Membership lists, Tipton Klan Papers. In addition to the group centered in the town of Tipton, there also appears to have been a chapter in the small community of Kemp-ton. TiptonDaily Tribune, February 13, 1923, February 18, 1924.
  • 21 Membership lists, Tipton Klan Papers. Often names were misspelled, or in some cases initials rather than first names were used, so it is sometimes difficult to ascertain whether, for example, a ‘J. Smiths’ on one list is the same person as a ‘Joseph Smith’ who appears on another list. Efforts were made to compare names with those in phone directories and in the 1920 census (where again names were often misspelled) to try to eliminate duplications. Weaver warned that Klan membership rolls might underestimate membership since kleagles did not necessarily report everyone who had
males who petitioned for membership in the Tipton Klan in the fall of 1922 confirms the revisionist contention that the Klan enjoyed support across occupational categories. It was possible to obtain occupational information concerning 309 of these persons.22 For this group one finds the following occupational distribution:

  Number Percent
No occupation 20 6.5
Farmers 116 37.5
High white collar 39 12.6
Low white collar 54 17.5
Skilled workers 32 10.4
Semiskilled workers 30 9.7
Unskilled workers 18 5.8
Total 309 100

The largest single list of active members is contained in a report from the fourth quarter of 1924 that includes the names of 306 individuals who were in good standing for the third and fourth quarters, 1 new member, and 64 reinstated members, for a total of 371 names. Seventy-seven of these men were on the 1922 rolls of those petitioning for membership. Occupations for 253 of these persons can be found either in the 1920 census (223) or in phone directories (30), with the following distribution:

  Number Percent
No occupation 13 5.1
Farmers 66 26.1
High white collar 14 5.5
Low white collar 64 25.3
Skilled workers 16 6.3
Semiskilled workers 55 21.7
Unskilled workers 25 9.9
Total 253 100

  • given them ten dollars to join the Klan. Weaver, "The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan," 151. The number of names on the lists available in the Indiana State Historical Society collection (1,067) falls substantially short of the 1,622 members claimed by the Klan in 1925. This opens up the possibilities that lists were incomplete or that the 1925 claim was inflated. However, by 1924 separate klaverns or "suborganizations" had been established in the Tipton county communities of Windfall and Sharpsville, and this might account in part for the discrepancy. Arthur Phars et al., Memo, January 24, 1924, Tipton Klan Papers. None of the names of individuals from Windfall or Sharpsville who signed this memo appears on the 1924 membership lists, although the names of four of these six people appear on earlier lists. Of the 399 people who petitioned for membership in 1922, 42 were from Sharpsville and 66 from Windfall. In the 1924 list of members in good standing, of those for whom residences could be established only 7 came from the Sharpsville vicinity and 6 from the Windfall vicinity. Moreover, by 1925 TiptonDaily Tribune accounts suggest that the Klan was becoming more active in Windfall and Sharpsville and less so in the town of Tipton itself.
  • 22 Percentages are rounded to the nearest tenth. Of the 309 persons for whom occupations were found, 304 were listed in the 1920 census and the occupations of 5

The percentage of farmers declined considerably between 1922 and 1924, as did the number of high-white-collar and skilled workers. The loss of farm members is probably explained by the formation of separate Klan suborganizations in the smaller, even more rural communities of Sharpsville and Windfall. The lower number of high-white-collar and skilled workers fits a general pattern detected in a number of studies, including Moore's, in which the earlier members of the klaverns tended to be more affluent or better educated than those who joined later.23

The 1924 membership figures also reveal that among nonagricultural workers there were more in blue-collar (55.2 percent) than in white-collar jobs (44.8 percent). Fifty (19.8 percent) of the 253 klansmen on the 1924 lists for whom occupations are known were listed in the 1920 census as having some blue-collar affiliation with the railroad.24 The occupational breakdown for Tipton klansmen in 1924 also is in accord with the revisionists' finding that the Klan drew few of its members from either the very top or very bottom of the economic pyramid.

The differing demographic characteristics of the various midwestern localities for which there has been some occupational analysis of Klan membership make it difficult to draw meaningful comparisons. Although Moore provides occupational breakdowns for klansmen in several Indiana communities, the only one comparable to Tipton County, in that it includes both sizable rural and town components, is Crown Point in Lake County in the northwest corner of the state. In Crown Point 28.5 percent of Klan members were farmers, 6.8 percent were high white collar, 30.9 percent were low white collar, 14.6 percent were skilled, 18.7 percent were lower manual (semiskilled and unskilled combined) and 0.8 percent were listed as retired. Thus, compared to Tipton the Crown Point Man had a slightly higher percentage of low-level white-collar workers and a somewhat smaller percentage of blue-collar workers (33.3 percent compared to Tipton's 37.9 percent). Moore speculates that the particularly high percentage of low-level white-collar workers among Crown Point klansmen can be traced to the high level of Klan participation by county employees


  • others were provided in the city phone directories. U.S., Fourteenth Census, 1920: Population Schedules for Tipton County, Indiana, 93: 113-286; Tipton County telephone directories, 1921-1925 (Tipton County Public Library, Tipton, Indiana). The occupational rankings used here are similar to those utilized by Moore, who modeled his categories on those found in Stephan Thernstrom, The Other Bostonians: Poverty and Progress in the American Metropolis, 1880-1970 (Cambridge, Mass., 1973), 289-302; Moore, Citizen Klansmen, 193-96.
  • 23 Arthur Phars et al., January 24,1924, Tipton Klan Papers; Moore, Citizen Klansmen, 65, 70, 116-18, 142; Goldberg, Hooded Empire, 45-48; Enders, "White Sheets in Mecosta," 81; Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd, Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture (New York, 1956), 481-82.
  • 24 U.S., Fourteenth Census, 1920, Population Schedules for Tipton County, 93: 113-286.
in this Lake County seat.25 The town of Tipton was also a county seat, but it served a much smaller population, and one factor that may have weighed the scales of Tipton Klan membership on the side of blue-collar workers was the high number of railroad workers who lived in the community and joined the Klan.26

An even more significant factor weighting the Tipton Klan membership with blue-collar workers was the general distribution of population in the county. A sample of 590 white, native-born adult male residents of Tipton County whose names do not appear on the available Klan membership lists reveals that those in blue-collar jobs outnumbered white-collar workers by a significant margin—151 to 70, or 68.3 percent to 31.7 percent—among the adult men who were not engaged in agriculture. Thus it would appear that white-collar workers were actually overrepresented in the 1924 Klan, compared with the non-man sample. Yet this analysis suggests that railroad workers were also significantly overrepresented in the 1924 man, since they formed nearly one fifth of the members and only 8 percent of the 590 whose names were not on the Klan list.27

The occupational analysis of these 590 nonmembers revealed the following distribution:

  Number Percent
No occupation 51 8.6
Farmers 318 53.9
High white collar 28 4.7
Low white collar 42 7.1
Skilled workers 49 8.3
Semiskilled workers 52 8.8
Unskilled 50 8.5
Total 590 100

  • 25 Moore, Citizen Klansmen, 67-68. Moore also provides occupational breakdowns for Indianapolis, Richmond, and Wayne County, where his analysis is limited to different categories of farmers. Having done his analysis before the 1920 census was available to researchers, he was unable to find occupations for significant numbers of Wayne County townsmen since newspapers, township directories, and other directories had not been preserved. Ibid., 130-37.
  • 26 Of the communities analyzed in Jackson's The Ku Klux Klan in the City, Winchester, Illinois, comes closest to Tipton demographically since it was a small mid-western town with both farmers and townsmen who joined the Klan. Here, 41.1 percent of the klansmen were farmers, 26.1 percent were white collar, and 32.7 percent were blue collar. Cal Enders's study of the Klan in Mecosta, Michigan, found that 42.7 percent were farmers, 28.6 percent were white collar, 24.3 percent were blue collar, and 4.3 percent were not employed. Jackson, Ku Klux Klan in the City, 120; Enders, "White Sheets in Mecosta," 79-80.
  • 27 The sample of 590 was formed by examining each page in the 1920 Tipton census and selecting the first and last white, native-born adult (age eighteen and over) male listed on that page. Using this method, 665 names were selected; from this group the names of seventy-five men whose names appeared in the Klan membership lists were subtracted, for a total of 590 individuals. However, one should regard this sample with some caution since it is quite possible that some of these 590 men might have belonged to the Klan at one time, even though their names do not appear on the available Nan rosters. Also, because individuals are occasionally identified in both Klan

This distribution reveals that farmers, although a majority in the above sample, were noticeably underrepresented in Klan membership, even when the comparison is made with the 1922 Klan lists where farmers represented 37.5 percent of the members. One explanation for this discrepancy may be the heavy concentration of Catholics in the farming areas of the county.28 In contrast, white-collar occupations were substantially overrepresented in both the 1922 and 1924 Klan lists, and semiskilled workers were very much overrepresented in the 1924 list. It is also interesting that although the high-white-collar category constituted only 12.6 percent of the 1922 Klan membership lists and 5.5 percent of the 1924 Klan membership lists, this category formed just 4.7 percent of the general non-Klan sample. Thus, while it is true that the Tipton Klan drew most of its members from middle-range economic categories, the high-white-collar category was statistically overrepresented, especially in the 1922 group.

The availability of 1920 census figures also permits a comparison of age distribution between those in the non-Klan sample, those who petitioned for membership in late 1922, and those who were listed as members in good standing in the third and fourth quarters of 1924.

Age Group Non-Klan Sample 1922 Petitioners 1924 Good Standing List
  percent (n=590) percent (n=304) percent (n=223)
18–29 29.5 17.1 18.8
30–39 21.2 26.6 20.2
40–49 19.0 28.9 27.0
50–59 12.7 19.1 20.6
60–69 12.5 6.3 9.7
Over 70 5.1 2.0 3.6
Median age 39 42 43
These figures show the tendency of Klan membership to be weighted heavily in the middle-age category, with nearly half of the Klan members having been between the ages of 40 and 59, while less than a third of the non-Klan sample fall within this range.29


  • and census records by initials rather than full first or middle names, and because there are apparent misspellings in both sets of records, it is conceivable that a few of the 590 persons' names appeared on the Klan rosters in an altered form.
  • 28 Fred Geschwind, interview with author, St. John's Catholic Church, Tipton, January 17, 1997; Sister Ruth Whalen, archivist, interview with author, St. Joseph Center, Tipton, January 17, 1997.
  • 29 In the case of the 304 men from the 1922 Klan list whose ages were listed in the census (which was taken at the very beginning of 1920), three years were added to their ages in this distribution chart to reflect their actual ages when they enrolled

Yet, although its members might not have mirrored the occupational and age distribution found in the county as a whole, the available information indicates that the Tipton Man enjoyed a broad base of support and that its members, as Moore and other revisionists argue, do not easily fit into any particular stereotype.

The leaders of John Tipton Klan Number 50 also displayed a broad representation of occupations.30 In 1925 the exalted cyclops or head of the local klavern was Thomas Gregg, fifty-six, who had worked some thirty-five years for the Nickel Plate Railroad, most recently as a conductor, until he was seriously injured in a 1922 accident. He left Tipton in late 1924 to pursue farming in the southeastern corner of the county and remained there until 1927, when he and his family moved near Noblesville in neighboring Hamilton county. Gregg, described as "secretary," was one of a few men to be publicly identified in the Tribune as Tipton Klan officers. The Tribune also identified E. C. Vore as the kleagle or recruiter for the Klan in 1923 and as the kilgrapp (secretary) in the 1925 Klan roll of leaders. Unfortunately, no biographical or census information has been found on Vore.31

The klaliff (vice cyclops) was a fifty-year-old jewelry store owner; the klokard (lecturer) was a thirty-two-year-old laborer; the kludd (chaplain) was a forty-seven-year-old junior high school principal; the kladd (conductor) was a thirty-eight-year-old canning factory worker. The night hawk, in charge of initiating candidates, was a forty-two-year-old garage laborer. Albert Bragg, fifty-one and a farmer, served as the klarago (inner guard) and several years later was named by the Tribune as the exalted cyclops of the Windfall klavern, in the northeast section of the county. The only biographical information found concerning the klabee (treasurer) of the Tipton klavern was that he resided in Tipton and served as trustee and treasurer of the West Street Christian Church. The only thing known about the klexter


  • in the Klan. In the case of the 223 men listed in the third and fourth quarters of 1924 whose ages could be found in the 1920 census, five years were added to the ages on the 1920 census schedules. The 1920 census also indicated whether heads of households owned or rented the property on which they lived, but as Moore points out, such designations "provide only a crude measure of economic status…." Moore, Citizen Klansmen, 70. From the census one can determine the place of birth of those listed, as well as the place of birth of their parents. As one might expect, a higher percentage (5.8 percent) in the non-Klan sample had at least one parent of foreign birth than in the Klan sample. Of the 223 in the 1924 third and fourth quarters Klan lists whose names were found in the census, only 8 (3.6 percent) had at least one parent of foreign birth. US., Fourteenth Census, 1920, Population Schedules for Tipton County, 9s 113 286.
  • 30 Thirteen men were identified by name in the 1925 list of Nan officers; occupations were found for ten of them. This list of officers was reprinted in H. R. Greenapple, ed., D. C. Stephenson: Irvington 0492 (Plainfield, Ind., 1989), 151.
  • 31 "Local Officers of the Ku Klux Klan," 34; Greenapple, D. C. Stephenson, 151; TiptonDaily Tribune, August 7, December 12, 1923, August 25, November 4, 1924, April 28,1927, November 16,1950; U.S., Fourteenth Census, 1920, Population Schedules for Tipton County, 93: 113-286.
(guard) is that the 1925 list of leaders identifies him as a resident of Windfall. The three most socially and politically prominent officers were the three men who served on the klokann, the klavern's board of investigators, auditors, and advisers. The forty-two-year-old head of the board owned a creamery and also served as president of the Kiwanis club and as director of the Chamber of Commerce. The other klokann members were a forty-five-year-old realtor who also served as city chairman of the Republican party and the forty-three-year-old manager of the phone company.32

The local Klan leadership was thus fairly representative of the rank and file. The leaders were predominantly middle-aged and almost evenly divided between white-collar (five) and blue-collar (four) workers, while the rank and file tended more to be blue collar. There was only one farmer among the officers, although over one quarter of the members of the klavern were engaged in agriculture.

The 1925 list of Klan leaders also identifies a Tipton resident, a forty-one-year-old carpenter, as one of the three great klaliffs for Province Number 9, which included Tipton along with Fountain, Montgomery, Carroll, Clinton, Boone, Howard, and Hamilton counties. In late 1924 the great klaliff from Tipton was appointed by Mayor Sterling R. Standerford to serve as chief of police, and he immediately launched a campaign against petty gambling. Within a few months he resigned, remarking that the wear and tear connected with the work were too much for the salary he received.33

Although the great klaliffs official exertions in behalf of moral reform were surprisingly short-lived, the case of Tipton nonetheless does lend support to another central revisionist thesis: the Klan sharply focused on local concerns, with particular attention to combating corruption and vice, redressing the alleged laxity of local officials, and enforcing the Eighteenth Amendment.

In March 1923 Fiery Cross began publishing a series of articles decrying the failure of corrupt or complacent local officials in Indiana to deal effectively with bootlegging, gambling, and prostitution, and the paper announced the Man's determination to eliminate vice. It also published an allegation that Mayor Standerford, a Democrat, had formed a corrupt business alliance with Daisy Parish, a local brothel owner.34 In May, with much fanfare and the assistance of the


  • 32 "Local Officers of the Ku Klux Klan," 34; Greenapple, D. C. Stephenson, 151; U.S., Fourteenth Census, 1920, Population Schedules for Tipton County, 93: 113-286; Tipton County telephone directories, 1921-1925; "Journal," January 9,1922-Decem-ber 4, 1932, entries for January 9, 1922, and September 9, 1924 (Tipton West Street Christian Church); TiptonDaily Tribune, November 22,1924, February 2, May 29, July 21, December 5, 1925, May 25, 1928, December 3, 1934, September 28, 1948.
  • 33 "Local Officers of the Ku Klux Klan," 29; Greenapple, D. C. Stephenson, 142; TiptonDaily Tribune, December 23, 1924, January 1, March 21, 1925, December 22, 1928.
  • 34Fiery Cross, March 16, 23, 30, 1923. Also see Mayor Sterling R. Standerford to the editor, TiptonDaily Tribune, December 23, 1922.
police force, the Tipton Klan initiated a campaign against selling cigarettes to minors and against permitting minors in poolrooms. As the campaign began, the Tribune approvingly noted similar campaigns in other Hoosier communities and predicted "permanent results" because the Klan had a reputation of "meaning business." The police chief, another Democrat whose name appears on the Klan membership list, quickly announced his willingness to cooperate with any organization aiming to improve the town's morals.35

Prosecutor Alfred Fletcher, a Republican who later openly acknowledged Klan ties and became its most visible spokesman, also publicly endorsed this Klan program. The Tribune reported that Klan members had been "appointed" to watch places where violations might occur. Within a matter of days two poolroom owners pleaded guilty to gambling violations and were fined. The mayor responded defensively that under his administration the town had been freer from crime than ever before in its history and that serious violations such as bootlegging had been effectively stopped. The forces of morality seemed to enjoy another victory at the end of the year, when Daisy Parish's conviction for operating a public nuisance was affirmed by the Indiana Supreme Court.36

Although there is no clear evidence that its editor or publisher ever joined the organization, the Tribune appears to have played an important role in legitimizing the Klan and its moral crusade. In March 1925 the paper, which lacked an editorial page but freely interjected its views in its news stories, remarked that the "drastic" manner in which the county had handled liquor violations "has brought it down to the point where a bootlegger in this territory is about as scarce as Ku Klux at a Knights of Columbus picnic." As Mayor Standerford's term ended in early 1926, the Tribune praised the high rate of liquor convictions under his administration and boasted that the county now stood "at the top of the dry column in the country."37

The Tipton Klan involved itself in other moral crusades as well. The Martz theater canceled Charlie Chaplin's film The Pilgrim in August 1923 after receiving a communication from Kleagle Vore protesting that the film was "an insult to every protestant minister in this fair land…., The Klan also pushed for blue laws. In April 1925 the Women of the Ku Klux Klan adopted a resolution asking for a ban on "hobo" auto races in the county, declaring that every child should be taught "to respect Sunday, the day of rest and beautiful


  • 35TiptonDaily Tribune, May 2, 3, 1923. The Tribune also printed comments that had appeared in a recent edition of the Fiery Cross alluding to the alleged ties between the mayor and Daisy Parish. Ibid., May 3, 1923.
  • 36TiptonDaily Tribune, May 4, 5, 6, December 21,1923. Parish was fined fifty dollars and given a ninety-day prison sentence.
  • 37Ibid., March 7, 1925, January 1, 2, 1926.
ideals, and to enjoy clean pleasures…." Soon after, races were stopped altogether at the Tipton fairground, and the management of a dirt track in Windfall announced that races would be rescheduled from Sunday to Saturday afternoons. In August the Tribune reported, "Strange, secretive meetings have occurred here periodically for the past several days. Whether or not action is contemplated against Sunday amusements here is not known, but there are suspicious rumors abroad."38

The actions of the Tipton Klan must be understood as part of a general nationwide apprehensiveness among traditionalists about a decline of morals during the jazz age, particularly among youth. The flouting of Prohibition, the raucous music and dancing, the sexual explicitness of Hollywood films, and the new personal freedoms permitted by the automobile all contributed to this concern, and Tipton was hardly immune. Modern dancing, an impassioned evangelist at the West Street Christian Church proclaimed, "is immodest, it is immoral, and wicked. It breaks down all modesty, it cultivates familiarity that leads to brazenness, it destroys that innate modesty and innocence that is the charm of young womenhood [sic], and the glory of manhood…." A particularly sore point was the decision of the proprietors of the Sand Island Amusement Park on the west edge of town to remain open on Sundays and to permit dancing. Despite protests organized by local pastors and elders, some of whom had Klan affiliations, the park's first Sunday opening took place shortly before Christmas 1924 and was well attended, although the Tribune claimed most of the crowd came from neighboring towns. The presence of bootleg alcohol at the park was another cause of concern; after much agitation, a raid, and an unsuccessful effort to prosecute, the Sand Island dance hall was finally padlocked in 1928 for a year under court order.39

Juvenile delinquency became an increasing concern in the community, not only because young men were arrested for the illegal consumption of alcohol but also because girls were accused of sexual misconduct. Investigations launched by a newly appointed probation officer revealed "a shocking and almost unbelievable delinquency among certain young people of the city," and the Tribune published titillating accounts of teenage girls who spoke "with the knowledge and hardness of confirmed prostitutes…." Circuit court judge Cleon Mount called for a curfew ordinance and suggested the alarming number of cases of venereal disease among the young was largely due to late-night automobile parties. There was discussion of opening


  • 38Ibid., August 7,1923, April 23, July 18, 28, August 1,11,1925. For comments on the controversy concerning Chaplin's film see Arthur Knight, The Liveliest Art: A Panoramic History of the Movies (New York, 1957), 45.
  • 39TiptonDaily Tribune, December 3,12,18,22,1924, March 26,29, April 6, June 5, 6, 1928.
a clinic in the county to treat venereal disease; a "mother's meeting" was organized to meet monthly to discuss the problem; and in December 1925 a "health week," conducted with the assistance of the state health department, featured motion pictures and lectures on the subject. Although the Klan's particular role in this local campaign is unclear, klaverns and Klan publications throughout the nation were addressing this issue.40

The Tipton Klan thus acted predictably to lend its support to civic action, with a strong emphasis on moral reform. Yet its involvement in local politics was somewhat less typical. The Klan has been viewed as operating primarily in Indiana through the Republican party, although there were Democrats in its ranks. And in a number of communities the Klan's moral campaigns were linked with party politics; this could be seen, for example, in neighboring Kokomo.41 But in the case of Tipton, where the numbers of Democrats and Republicans were almost equal, such a large proportion of political candidates from both political parties had Klan connections that its impact was canceled out in elections. In 1924 both the Democratic and Republican county chairmen were Klan members. There was a split in the county races, with five Democrats and four Republicans winning— and of these victors, three Democrats and one Republican were identified in Klan records as members. The Klan's showing was even stronger in the 1925 city elections. Of the six men elected to city office (four Democrats and two Republicans), four (three Democrats and one Republican) can be identified as Klan members or former members, including both the new Democratic mayor and his defeated Republican opponent. The Klan's own 1925 report stated, "All [Tip-ton] county officials are sympathetic and most of them members."42

Newspaper accounts show that while the Tipton Klan sought to organize voters in behalf of its slates, their efforts were focused on state-level races rather than on local politics. In 1924 Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Jackson, with open Klan backing, carried the county against the Democratic, rather cautiously anti-Klan candidate Carleton B. McCulloch, but Jackson won by a slim margin of 293 votes.43


  • 40Ibid., August 11, 25, October 3, 5, 6, November 1, 16, 21, December 12, 17, 1925. MacLean maintains that there tended to be more concern about the transgressions by girls and women than about male misconduct, and she argues that the Klan was attempting to defend the patriarchal hierarchy against unwanted social changes. MacLean, Behind the Mask of Chivalry, 111-15.
  • 41 Chalmers, Hooded Americanism, 163; Tucker, Dragon and the Cross, 101-29; Moore, Citizen Klansmen, 151-83; Safianow, "‘Konklave in Kokomo’ Revisited," 339-40. Moore, however, correctly points out that there has been a tendency to exaggerate the actual influence or control the Klan exerted over the Indiana Republican party during the 1920s.
  • 42TiptonDaily Tribune, May 10, November 6, 7,1924, November 4,1925; membership lists, Tipton Klan Papers; "Local Officers of the Ku Klux Klan," 34.
  • 43TiptonDaily Tribune, November 6,1922, November 1,3,7, 1924; former Klan member, interview with author, June 1989.

In Tipton there is little indication of the kind of organized anti-Klan sentiment that Moore detected among the business elites (like members of the Chamber of Commerce) in larger Hoosier communities such as Richmond or Kokomo. Unlike Kokomo where a community elite ran sizable automotive and plate glass industries and felt concerned about nativist-generated economic friction that would be bad for business, in Tipton a large proportion of chamber members had joined the Klan, and the town lacked any sizable group of industrialists or executives.44

Open anti-Klan sentiment among Protestants did not take any concerted political or economic form; it was small and found in very isolated expressions. In the fall of 1922, just as the Klan was beginning to organize in the county, the Reverend J. J. Ashenhurst of the Bethesda Presbyterian Church, six miles southwest of the town of Tipton, vigorously attacked the Klan before a reportedly large audience, asserting that the order was un-American, unpatriotic, and unchristian. He soon after sent a letter to the Tribune, noting the opposition of the Federal Council of the Protestant Churches of America to secret, masked organizations that generated religious prejudices and racial antipathies. In April of the following year Judge Earl Stroup of the Clinton County circuit court, a Republican, created controversy in a speech before the Tipton Kiwanis club by taking the Klan to task for hampering equal opportunity and creating disharmony. At a meeting of the Indiana State Bar Association in West Baden a few months later Tipton attorney George Gifford spoke in behalf of a resolution that condemned secret organizations whose members concealed themselves behind robes and masks.45

After the summer of 1923, as the Klan made more inroads in the community, public criticism ceased, except by the Catholics. Not until the spring of 1926, well after the conviction of former Grand Dragon Stephenson for second-degree homicide in the death of Madge Oberholtzer, did the local paper report another instance of a Protestant objecting to bigotry, and this was from an outsider. At the Tip-ton High School commencement Methodist Bishop Edwin Holt Hughes denounced the "low vulgar persons" who belittled foreigners and Jews.46

One of the most difficult issues confronting students of the Klan of the 1920s is how to interpret the Klan's racism, religious prejudice, and xenophobia. Was bigotry the Indiana Klan's raison d'etre,


  • 44 Moore, Citizen Klansmen, 12, 64-65, 103-104, 139; Safianow, "‘Konklave in Kokomo’ Revisited," 339-40, 343. Of the twenty-eight gentile males listed by name as members of the Chamber of Commerce, fifteen are included in the Klan membership lists. Membership lists, Tipton Klan Papers; TiptonDaily Tribune, February 16, 1924.
  • 45TiptonDaily Tribune, October 25, 30, November 16, 1922, April 28, July 6, 1923. It might be pointed out, however, that in attacking the Klan Judge Stroup called for immigration restriction.
  • 46Ibid., May 22,1926.
and did it lead to actions that posed a threat to minority groups in Tipton and other Indiana communities? Moore argued that in the case of Indiana "ethnic conflict… played only a minor role in the success of the Klan movement." He maintained that in most instances klaverns "paid little attention to local neighborhoods of Catholics, Jews or blacks…. Given the insignificant threat these groups represented to white Protestant dominance and the fact that numerous means already existed to control them if it appeared necessary," Moore wrote, "Klan chapters generally had little reason to concern themselves with harassing ethnic minorities."47

Anti-Catholicism was hardly a new phenomenon in Indiana, and Catholics appeared to be the prime target of Klan nativism in Tipton as elsewhere in Indiana. As in other communities the Tipton Klan organized a TWK (Trade with Klansmen) campaign that not only encouraged patronage of businesses owned by klansmen but boycotted Catholic-and Jewish-owned enterprises. There is conflicting testimony among local residents about the campaign's effectiveness.48

Alfred Fletcher was a key figure in the drive against Catholics. A minister as well as prosecutor, he was publicly identified with the Klan as early as November 1923. Not listed as an officer in the 1925 Klan rolls, by the next year he emerged as the local organization's leading public spokesman. As prosecutor he had made little effort to conceal his anti-Catholicism; he even traveled outside the county to Hope, Indiana, to deliver a lecture on "The Beast and His Image vs. The Invisible Empire," in which he condemned "Roman political machinations." Fletcher created a stir in early 1927 when as a private attorney he filed a writ of habeas corpus against the mother superior of the local St. Joseph's Academy and its chaplain in behalf of Nellie Fortune. Fortune, a twenty-year-old recent arrival from Ireland, allegedly had "escaped from the convent and found refuge with a "good Protestant family." The case was quickly resolved, however, when authorities learned the girl suffered from extreme homesickness rather than torture and abuse, and she was given passage home to Ireland.49


  • 47 Moore, Citizen Klansmen, 189.
  • 48 Ibid., 19; Coughlan, "Konklave in Kokomo," 112; Tucker, Dragon and the Cross, 51-66; Bennett, Party of Fear, 136-38; Dan Mattingly, interview with author, June 27,1989; Kenneth Dickover, interview with author, July 10,1989; A. A. Tragesser, interview with author, July 11, 1989; Alice Ryan, interview with author, July 27, 1989; Marietta Henry, interview with author, July 28, 1989; J. Carl Graf, interview with author, July 28, 1989; Gus Tibbe, interview with author, July 31, 1989. Historians themselves have differed on the effectiveness of these boycotts. Moore argues they had little impact, but Blee suggests they did considerable harm. Moore, Citizen Klansmen, 92; Blee, Women of the Klan, 147-51.
  • 49 Tucker, Dragon and the Cross, 71; TiptonDaily Tribune, November 19,1923, February 19, 22,28,1927. Fletcher claimed that he had received death threats because of his role in the case. The alleged escape found its way into anti-Catholic literature.

It is difficult to say with precision just how vulnerable Tipton's Catholics felt during the Klan era. One Catholic resident who was in her early teens when the Klan was at its zenith testified decades later to the fear and anger her family experienced; a slightly older Catholic resident remembered that he had sensed little apprehension among his coreligionists. The Tribune reported that John Langan, who was active in the Knights of Columbus and superintendent of the electric utility department, lost his job in early 1926 when the newly elected mayor, a Klan member, combined that department with the water plant. But despite rumors that the Klan might burn crosses at the convent or march on St. John's Church, apparently nothing like this occurred. The Knights of Columbus were prompted to sponsor two public lectures that denounced movements that generated hate, and at least one Catholic wrote to the Tribune challenging Klan accusations against the church. Probably the most dramatic action taken by Catholics was a boycott of the Tipton County Free Fair during the summer of 1923, when the fair's board of directors agreed to have one day designated as "Klan Day," at which the main speaker would be Secretary of State Ed Jackson, widely assumed to be the Klan's candidate in the next gubernatorial election. The Tribune characterized the controversy as a "regrettable situation" that had resulted from "a comparatively minor affair." Fiery Cross presented the outcome as a victory against un-American forces and charged that the boycott was really the work of Pat O'Donnell, leader of the Chicago-based anti-Klan American Unity League. The Klan paper also reported that the three Catholic members of the fair board had resigned over the incident.50

There is no evidence of resistance to the Klan by Tipton's Jews, the Rosenthal, Haas, and Levi families. Since all three families were engaged in small retail businesses, they probably were not in a position to be very outspoken. People interviewed for this study expressed differing opinions about the extent to which Tipton's Jews were accepted by the rest of the community. The effectiveness of Klan boycotts is also unclear, although Simon Rosenthal, the most prominent figure in this group, gave up his clothing business in 1925. Rosenthal was a pivotal figure in raising funds to develop a city park in 1913, and during the 1920s he served as fire chief under Mayor Standerford,


  • See "Young Nun Escapes From St. Joe's Convent," reprinted from Menace, February 1927, in House of Death and Gate of Hell, camp. L. J. King (Decatur, Ga., 1948), 58-59. This piece correctly points out that the sheriff who had supervised the woman's return had been "elected on a 100 per cent ticket," that is, with Klan backing.
  • 50 Interview with Ryan; interview with Tragesser; Sister M. Gerard Maher, interview with author, October 30,1981; Sister Lillian Roberts, "Oral Accounts of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Tipton, Indiana," typescript, n.d., 22 (St. Joseph Hospital archives, Kokomo, Indiana); TiptonDaily Tribune, September 27,1922, August 14,15, 16,17, November 7,1923, January 4, February 5,1926; Fiery Cross, August 17,1923. For more information on Pat O'Donnell and the American Unity League see Chalmers, Hooded Americanism, 183-84.
before the Klan won all city offices in 1925. He was reappoint-ed in 1929 under the administration of a new mayor, who had succeeded the Klan affiliated mayor when he died in office the previous year.51

Although in the nineteenth century Tipton County had had a small black population that reached seventy-eight persons by 1870, the 1920 census reported only four blacks, and the 1930 census listed none.52 The histories of the county scarcely mention blacks, and the precise reasons for the decline in black population in Tipton County are unexplained, but racial prejudice was common there as it was for all small Indiana towns. Blacks ordinarily left because of greater economic opportunities in the cities or because of overt hostility and intimidation. Present-day Tipton residents acknowledge that the county has long had the reputation of being inhospitable to blacks, and during the 1920s Tipton, like a number of other Hoosier communities, still observed unwritten "sundown laws," rooted in the custom that blacks would not be permitted to remain Overnight.53 "Colored" baseball teams, minstrel shows, bands, and singing groups occasionally appeared in Tipton and smaller county villages, but articles in the Tribune indicate that the "sundown law" was being strictly enforced. Furthermore, the Tribune consistently referred to blacks in


  • 51 Sue McMath, interview with author, May 30, 1989; Crystal Stewart, interview with author, July 7,1989; interview with Dickover; interview with Graf; TiptonDaily Tribune, August 16, 1925, July 27, 1926, January 8, 1929, March 19, 1931, December 11, 1934, March 3, 1976; Cox, "Town of Tipton," 108; Blanchard, Counties of Howard and Tipton, 255.
  • 52 U.S., Seventh Census, 1850, 755, 777; US., Eighth Census, 1860, 113, 126; U.S., Ninth Census, 1870, Vol. I, 130; US., Tenth Census, 1880, Vol. I, 389; U.S., Eleventh Census, 1890, Vol. I, 410; US., Twelfth Census, 1900, Vol. I, 537; US., Thirteenth Census, 1910, Vol. II, 562; U.S., Fourteenth Census, 1920, Vol. 111, 295; US., Fifteenth Census, 1930, Vol. 111, 698. Indeed, it was not until the census of 1990 that the number of blacks in Tipton County reached ten. See U.S., Bureau of the Census, County and City Data Book, 1994 (Washington, D.C., 1994), 172.
  • 53 Robert Phares, interview with author, July 18,1988; Sue Nevin, interview with author, May 26,1989; interview with McMath; Benjamin Rose, interview with author, June 16, 1989; Charles and Vicki Rose, interview with author, June 22, 1989; interview with Stewart; interview with Dickover; interview with Henry; interview with Graf; Emma Lou Thornbrough, Since Emancipation: A Short History of Indiana Negroes, 1863-1963 ([Indianapolis], 1963), 20-21. Also see Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana before 1900 (Indianapolis, 1957), 224-27, Thornbrough noted the case of Washington County in southern Indiana, where the black population during the period 1860 to 1880 declined from 187 to 3. She also noted that virulent prejudice could be found in the northern part of the state. Of the twenty-nine counties that had fewer than 50 blacks in 1900, twenty-two were in the northern half of the state. Also see Blee, Women of the man, 78. Sundown laws also could be found in other states. See Jenkins, Steel Valley man, 65.

    For Tipton's everyday racism see, e.g., George Cline, An Educational History of Tipton County (Tipton, Ind., 1962), 243. Cline, who was born in 1893, reported that one activity he especially enjoyed as a youth at the county fair "was to throw at the ‘nigger babies.’ These were made of boards shaped more or less like a small colored person standing up. You threw cheap baseballs in an effort to bash them over. Some such places would pay you a quarter if you would knock down three of the five or six in the bottom row…." Ibid.

a demeaning fashion, even making joking references to racial lynchings.54 While the Klan's racist rhetoric and commitment to white supremacy had considerable appeal in such an environment, it would appear that this racism was something that the Tipton Klan exploited rather than generated.

The situation in Tipton thus provides some evidence to support Moore's position. Prejudice against minorities predated the rise of the Klan; it appears that such prejudice was not the only reason people gravitated towards the organization; and there is no clear evidence of the use of physical violence against minorities. Yet, whether or not the Klan had "reason" to harass minorities, the harassment certainly occurred. The TWK campaigns in some instances may have been less than completely effective; some Catholics may not have felt personally endangered; and there is even evidence that at least some Klan leaders regarded Fletcher as too extreme.55 Yet possibly religion was a factor in John Langan's removal from office, and Catholics were sufficiently disturbed that they sponsored lectures on tolerance and boycotted the county fair.

Perhaps Moore's most controversial assertion is that, despite the corruption among the top leadership and despite the resistance they often evoked from community elites, klaverns represented a genuinely unifying force among white, native-born Protestants. Moore contends that the Klan stood for preserving an older definition of community against a newer one based on business success. Klan chapters, he wrote, "forcefully asserted the notion that the essence of community was its shared ethnic culture, not simply its ability to generate profit."56

It is true that the Klan was able to gather under its banners a remarkably high percentage of Tipton's white, native-born Protestants and to mobilize them in a crusade to protect some traditional values. Yet in the end the Tipton Klan movement appeared to generate more disharmony in this community than unity.

First, the Klan's significant attrition of membership suggested its inability to unite the community. In his detailed master's thesis on the Indiana Klan, Norman Weaver pointed out that few individuals other than leaders maintained membership for long. The available records reveal that the Tipton Klan, despite the many who passed through its ranks, had difficulty sustaining a consistent membership. Members not only had to pay an initiation fee but were assessed dues and taxes. These assessments contributed to dissension and divisions within the ranks of the Hoosier Invisible Empire as well


  • 54TiptonDaily Tribune, May 19, June 28, August 31, September 13,1923, July 7,1924, November 14,1925, January 6, February 4, May 28,1926, February 1, August 23, 1927.
  • 55 "Tipton Report No. 1," October 20, 1922, Tipton Klan Papers.
  • 56 Moore, Citizen Klansmen, 78-79, 93-95, 115, 191.
as to attrition. The tendency of members to fall in arrears and thus be suspended alarmed state Klan officials enough to prompt them to send memos to local leaders urging them to conduct special campaigns to reinstate these lapsed klansmen. Of the 1,067 names that appear in the Tipton Klan records, 656 (or 61.5 percent) had been suspended at least one time, presumably for nonpayment of dues. Of those suspended, 230 were eventually reinstated, but the figures suggest the difficulty of sustaining membership; in fact 38 members were suspended more than once.57

Secondly, although the Tipton Klan pursued a reform agenda, its crusades often generated friction and suspicion even within its own ranks. A case in point is the career of Fletcher, who as prosecutor became involved in a public dispute in November 1923. His adversary was the junior high school principal, another klansman who later served as the klavern's chaplain. Fletcher had charged two vendors with illegally selling cigarettes to minors. After it was revealed that the principal had instructed the students to make the purchase Fletcher dismissed the charges, but at the same time he accused the principal of contributing to delinquency. Fletcher was officially "naturalized" as a Klan member in the third quarter of 1924, shortly before his bid for reelection, but he was soundly defeated, even though fellow klansmen swept the positions of circuit judge, sheriff, surveyor, and treasurer by considerable margins. In 1926 and 1928 he also met defeat in the Republican primaries when he ran for prosecutor. During the 1927 controversy over the "kidnapped" nun at St. Joseph's convent, Fletcher's charges were publicly refuted by the sheriff, a Democrat who had also been associated with the Klan.58

Although the Klan had pledged itself to an anticorruption campaign, and although a large number of city and county posts were held by klansmen from both major parties, they did not appear to work in unison as a political machine, as the 1927 dispute between Fletcher and the Democratic sheriff illustrated. By 1928 rumors circulated concerning the activities of current and former county officials, and in July the deposed superintendent of the Cicero Creek


  • 57Norman Weaver, "The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana (1921-1947)" (M.A. thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1947), 6-7, 44-45; Davis, "Ku Klux Klan in Indiana," 104-108; membership lists, Tipton Klan Papers; Deposition of Hugh F. Emmons, February 20, 1928, Plaintiff Exhibit Number 22, and Official Document from Walter F. Bossert, Grand Dragon, and W. Lee Smith, Chief of Staff, to All Grand Officers, Titans, Exalted Cyclops, Kligrapps, and Unit Officials, October 25, 1924, Indiana— Attorney General, Ku Klux Klan, Reel 199, File Number 29, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis. In Indiana, members were assessed $2.50 in quarterly dues ($10 annually), as well as a 15 monthly imperial tax ($1.80 annually). Deposition of Orion Norcross, March 6, 1928, Plaintiff Exhibit Number 20, Official Bulletin No. 1—Series A, August 29, 1923 from Klaliff to All Klansmen, KKK Reel, State of Indiana, Plaintiffv. The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Indiana State Library.
  • 58TiptonDaily Tribune, November 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 1923, November 6, 7, 1924, May 5, 1926, February 22, 28, 1927, May 9, 1928.
dredging project, a former Klan member, was convicted of perjury and the embezzlement of nearly twenty thousand dollars and sent to prison.59

To make matters worse, in 1926 the Reverend John L. Noland of the First Baptist Church and an open supporter of the Klan was accused of crimes "so sensational that persons who heard the sordid details were loath to believe they were true," as the Tribune delicately put it. The minister was formally charged with the rape of two girls under the age of sixteen, and the state alleged that this abuse was part of a long pattern. Some who had been associated with the Klan rallied to Noland's support by contributing to his bond, and Noland denied the charges. A few days later, however, he shot himself, leaving the issue of his guilt unresolved.60

In addition, there was some fallout in Tipton from Stephenson's conviction and the subsequent revelation of statewide corruption among individuals associated with the Klan.61 The indictment of Governor Ed Jackson on bribery charges in 1927 struck close to home, for not only had Jackson frequently visited the county, but he had spent his boyhood in Normanda in western Tipton County and had studied law with a local judge. Seven county residents, including a judge and former state representative who had been Klan members, were subpoenaed to testify for the defense. Another former county resident, R. A. Leavitt, was among the bank officers indicted for embezzlement and grand larceny in the aftermath of the financial collapse of the American Trust Company of Kokomo, a so-called "Klan bank" that had served as a depository for funds collected for the Invisible Empire.62

After the Stephenson scandals not only was the state Klan organization in disarray, but there were also tensions evident within the local klavern. In Tipton the Grand Dragon W. Lee Smith was prompted to issue warnings and threats and to call special meetings in January and again in August 1926 to address the rebellious klansmen.63

It seems safe to assume that by this point the Tipton Klan, like other Klans throughout Indiana, was suffering from declining membership,


  • 59Ibid., June 15, 16, 22, July 6, 7, 9, 1928.
  • 60Ibid., March 22, 1924, June 29, 30, July 3, 5, 1926.
  • 61 For Stephenson's fall see M. William Lutholtz, Grand Dragon: D. C. Stephen-son and the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana (West Lafayette, Ind., 1991), 302-14; Tucker, Dragon and the Cross, 159 70.
  • 62TiptonDaily Tribune, March 5, 1925, September 10, 1927, January 3, 4, February 16,1928; KokomoTribune, September 14, December 24,1927, November 20, 1929, October 30, 1950, sec. 8. Jackson, who refused to resign, was acquitted due to the two-year statute of limitations. Leavitt also escaped conviction on technicalities. TiptonDaily Tribune, February 17, 28, 1928; Tucker, Dragon and the Cross, 169-70; Lutholtz, Grand Dragon, 309; Safianow, "‘Konklave in Kokomo’ Revisited," 344-45.
  • 63 W. Lee Smith to Faithful and Esteemed Klansmen, n.d., Tipton Klan Papers; W. Lee Smith to Ferd Walz, February 22, 1926, ibid.; Tipton Daily Tribune, August 2, 1926. The Tribune, however, published no information about what transpired at the January and August meetings.
even though Klan-linked candidates had been successful in sweeping local offices in the elections of 1925. Klan activities continued to be reported in the Tribune but with less frequency. Although attendance at these gatherings was often described as "large," there were fewer attempts to estimate their size. Klan "suborganizations" had been created in Sharpsville and Windfall, and by the end of 1926 most of the publicized Klan activity seemed to center in Windfall rather than in the town of Tipton. The 1928 presidential candidacy of Alfred E. Smith, the Catholic Democratic governor of New York, provoked a cross burning at the Rock Prairie Separate Baptist Church near Sharpsville and another meeting in Windfall. But by 1929 the only Tipton Klan activity reported in the Tribune was the attendance of several local members at a February province meeting to be held in Gas City. The paper reported a "large attendance" of 300 at this gathering, in which eleven counties were represented, a far cry from the crowds of previous years.64

After the winter of 1928-1929 the Tribune ceased its regular coverage of the activities of the Ku Klux Klan and began to give coverage to the seemingly innocuous social activities of the Phi Delta Kappa fraternity, which according to a 1922 Klan document had served as a front for the Invisible Empire. The nature of any continued connection between the two organizations remains unclear, but it is interesting to note that the first Tribune article on the fraternity indicated that inactive members might reinstate their membership without paying a reinstatement fee and that the names of all four men listed as its temporary officers appear in the Klan membership lists.65

In sum, the available evidence suggests that the Tipton Klan from its origins to its decline was something less than a cohesive force in the community. It was also less than a significant counterforce to commercialism and a profit-oriented ethos. If the Klan seemed to espouse traditional values above pecuniary gain—its motto in its own unique jargon was "Non Silba Sed Anthar," meaning "not self but others"—the whole movement was so beset by huckstering and the pursuit of self-gain that one has to wonder not just about the leaders' motives, but also those of the rank and file.


  • 64 Arthur Phars et al., January 24,1924, Tipton Klan Papers; TiptonDaily Tribune, February 13,1924, June 12, August 12, November 25, 27,1926, March 26,1927, January 14, May 25, September 29, October 16,1928, February 20, March 2,1929. In the 1928 election Herbert Hoover carried the county by a large margin over Smith, 4,774 to 3,186. Kemp, Tipton County, 121.
  • 65 Number 3 to Number 1, Tipton, October 16, 1922, Tipton Klan Papers; Tip-ton Daily Tribune, September 28, 1928, May 29, July 3, 30, August 7, October 10, 1929. There was also reference to a Phi Delta Theta sorority. In an interview in July 1989 with one of the temporary 1929 officers, this individual, whose name appears on the Klan list, stated he had never joined the Klan and was opposed to it because of its anti-Catholicism.

At the top, of course, there were the kleagles and other national, state, and local officers, as well as Klan-run enterprises such as the Gates City Manufacturing Company of Atlanta, Georgia, which produced robes and other paraphernalia, all profiting handsomely. As the Tipton Klan records affirm, a good deal of calculation and creativity went into the organization of klaverns. The burning of fiery crosses, the attempt to create an air of mystery, the effort to attract ministers and other influential people, the organization of drum corps-all reflected the manner in which the Klan of the 1920s "adapted to contemporary fashions in salesmanship and public relations."66 And if the rank-and-file members were genuinely concerned about threats to traditional values, they were also vulnerable to and manipulated by the rather sophisticated techniques utilized by the leaders. Self-interest could play a role on every level. For example, the TWK program was designed not only to discriminate against Catholic and Jewish enterprises but also to enhance the fortunes of klansmen.67 The Klan, despite its objections to the degrading effect on youth of the "Jew-produced motion picture industry," exploited films such as the pro-Klan Birth of a Nation and even produced its own feature films.68

The term "populist" that Moore uses to describe the Klan movement in Indiana implies a grass roots endeavor. There is certainly validity to the claim that local Klans had agendas that reflected community concerns, but one must ask if there really could have been much of a Klan movement without the top leadership, state and local, who obviously had independent interests. Perhaps it is to be expected that the one local history of Tipton County that mentions the Klan— and then only briefly—reports that "after people realized its leaders used it to further selfish purposes, they withdrew. Upon deposit of a fee of $10, members were proclaimed 100-percent Americans. This is about all the benefit its members realized from their money."69 This is somewhat self-serving, to be sure, but it nonetheless contains an element of truth.


  • 66 Quotation in Philip Jenkins, "The Ku Klux Klan in Pennsylvania, 1920-1940," Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, LXIX (April 1986), 123; Charles C. Alexander, "Kleagles and Cash: The Ku Klux Klan as a Business Organization, 1915-1930," Business History Review, XXXM (Autumn 1965), 348-67; Samuel Taylor Moore, "How the Kleagles Collected the Cash: The Story of the Hoosier Sales Campaign—and Its Director," Independent, CXIII (December 13, 1924), 517-19.
  • 67 Neil Betten discusses how local businessmen in Valparaiso, Indiana, jumped at the opportunity when there seemed to be a possibility that the Ku Klux Klan might purchase and rescue the financially strapped Valparaiso University. He also illustrates how U.S. Steel officials in Gary attempted to utilize the Klan as an antilabor tool. Betten, "Nativism and the Klan in Town and City," 3-16.
  • 68 MacLean, Behind the Mask of Chivalry, 25, 93, 98, 113, 114, 186; Lutholtz, Grand Dragon, 287,289. A brief excerpt from a Klan-produced film, The Traitor Within, can be seen in the documentary Visible Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928, dir. J. Robert Cook (Indiana Humanities Council, 1992).
  • 69 Kemp, Tipton County, 125-26.

How much moral reform the Tipton Klan accomplished is debatable. Its support of Prohibition, antivice measures, and blue laws may have had some temporary impact, but in the long run it would prove impossible to stem the modernist tide. Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the mass media extended their influence over youth, and the automobile continued to afford the young of Tipton release from parental authority, even if the onslaught of the Great Depression seemed to dampen the more sensational excesses of the jazz age. In a letter to the Tribune in 1925, Fletcher had proposed Bible study in public schools as a remedy for juvenile delinquency and "depravity," in the hope that this somehow might reverse the trend. At the end of 1928 the Martz theater announced it would begin to show films on Sundays on a trial basis and would await public reaction. Perhaps some could see divine retribution when the theater burned down the following April, although the same building had also housed the headquarters of the Tipton Klan.70

The enigma of the Klan stems in part from the Invisible Empire's attempt to conduct its operations in secret, the scarcity of Klan records, the reluctance of former members to discuss their involvement and of many communities to acknowledge, let alone investigate, the role the Klan may have played in their past. Of the two Tipton histories published since the 1920s, one made no mention of the local Klan, and the other, in obvious understatement, observed that the Klan "is believed to have claimed several members in Tipton County in the 1920s."71Tipton's older residents generally recall the Klan as a minor or short-lived phenomenon that now is rarely discussed.72 In the last two decades researchers have been able to find at least some individuals willing to discuss their Klan involvement, although memory lapses and a possible lack of candor make such testimony dubious. The few individuals in Tipton willing to discuss their past Klan connections offer different perspectives. One, an opponent of Prohibition who professed to have had many Catholic friends at the time, continued more than half a century later to view the Klan as a benevolent group that helped all in need. Another, a retired railroad worker and union member, remembered joining when his fellow workers did and remaining three and a half years; he also recalled the order's


  • 70TiptonDaily Tribune, December 8, 1925, December 31, 1928, April 8, 1929; Grecnapple, D. C. Stephenson, 151.
  • 71 Kemp, Tipton County, 125. In an interview on May 30, 1989, a resident of Tipton reports having been present in the 1960s when some Klan records from the late 1920s and early 1930s were discovered in an old hotel and then destroyed, because it was believed they could serve no useful purpose.
  • 72 Ethel Goar, interview with author, June 15, 1989; Clona Applegate, interview with author, June 30,1989; Pearl Jackson, interview with author, June 30,1989; interview with Tragesser; David Holtsclaw, interview with author, July 13,1989; Earl Sottang, interview with author, July 13, 1989; Verl Grimme, interview with author, July 20,1989; Mary Michel, interview with author, July 21,1989; Juanita and Richard DeVault, interview with author, July 27, 1989.
denunciation of Catholics because of their "different belief." A third related how he had joined the Klan with his high school friends out of curiosity but claimed to have left quickly after attending one meeting in which disturbingly "arrogant" klansmen vilified Catholics and Jews.73 The candor and accuracy of such individual reflections may be open to question, but in aggregate such statements reflect the complexities of possible motives. We must also keep in mind that the Klan in the 1920s operated in a context in which joining fraternities, each with its own set of elaborate rituals and extensive social activities, was much more commonplace than today and that Klan membership was often encouraged by local clergymen, if not by national church leaders and publications.74

It seems safe then to suggest that for a variety of reasons historians will continue to find the truth about the Klan movement of the 1920s elusive. If the revisionists provide no final answers, they at least raise important issues that need to be considered. An examination of the Tipton Klan to some degree bears out the revisionist hypothesis. It gathered into its ranks a broad spectrum of residents and to a certain extent operated as a social action group aimed at addressing genuine social issues in a time of rapid cultural change. It tapped and reflected, rather than initiated, the community's prejudices against Catholics, Jews, African Americans, and foreigners, but there is no evidence of direct violence being employed against any of these groups. It is perhaps significant that the old vigilante Horse Thief Detective Association was revived in 1923 in the county in the wake of the Klan's success. Possibly some klansmen took action along with the association against "moral slackers," although there is little surviving evidence of what occurred in Tipton. The one documented case of possible Klan violence in Tipton took place in July 1922 before the Klan was much of a force in the community; twelve masked men attacked six strikebreakers employed by the Lake Erie & Western Railroad yards, injuring four of them.75 Although certainly elsewhere through the nation violence and lynching are part of the legacy of the Klan movement of the 1920s, the Klan in Tipton seems not to have participated in it.76

In the end, populist movement or not, the Klan left a sordid legacy in Tipton. American populist movements inevitably have had


  • 73 Interviews with former Nan members, June and July 1989.
  • 74 Chalmers, Hooded Americanism, 292-94; Robert Moats Miller, "A Note on the Relationship between the Protestant Churches and the Revived Ku Klux Klan," Journal of Southern History, XXII (August 1956), 355-68.
  • 75 Weaver, "The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan," 56; IndianapolisNews, July 26, 1922; TiptonDaily Tribune, July 26, 1922. The Tribune's account, appearing on the back page, made no mention of the attackers' masks. Five of the six men attacked are not listed in the available Nan records as members, and the sixth has a name similar to one on the Klan list, but it could not be established whether he is the same individual.
  • 76 Chalmers, Hooded Americanism, 39-55, 59-65,70-77,185-89, 227-29, 297-99.
their seamier aspects—the racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism exhibited by some figures in the People's Party of the 1890s, the corruption and opportunism found in Huey Long's machine—but in one sense or another it can be said that these movements "delivered." If it is misleading to vilify the entire movement of the 1920s as "one of history's most vicious campaigns of intolerance,"77 to represent all its members as demons, or to equate it with the post-Civil War or present-day Klans, it is difficult to find much lasting good in the Invisible Empire of the 1920s. As revisionist David A. Horowitz pointed out in the case of the Nan in one Oregon community, "Instead of solidarity and harmony, it promoted antagonism, social disharmony and mindless prejudice."78


  • 77 Kathleen M. Blee, "Evidence, Empathy, and Ethics: Lessons from Oral Histories of the Klan," Journal of American History, LXXX (September 1993), 599.
  • 78 Horowitz, "Order, Solidarity, and Vigilance," 209.


Published by the Indiana University Department of History.