Friday, January 20, 2012

The Bald Knobbers

Notice: Check out my new series: Bald Knobbers: Chronicles of Vigilante Justice - Part 1

As a kid growing up in the Ozarks, I’ve always heard of the notorious Bald Knobbers. There are manikins and pictures of them painted on the walls of Silver Dollar City’s “Fire in the Hole” ride. Also, the Bald Knobbers made their raid and set a cabin on fire nightly at Shepherd of the Hills’ outdoor drama. Lastly, and my favorite, was The Baldknobbers Hillbilly Jamboree Stage Show from Branson, Missouri. When I was a little boy, I enjoyed these entertainers; they held my fascination in the early 1970’s (I’m 46 years old). I remember they came to Mountain Home, Arkansas, in late April of 1972. They were some wild characters & great musicians such as, the Wild Man on the guitar, Droopy Drawers playing the washboard, and George Aggernite thumping washtub & string. The small school stage was packed full of musicians and equipment, and the night began in the gym auditorium with enormous excitement. After the second song, comedian George Aggernite was announced, and he ran onto the stage, tripped over his washtub, and fell off the stage. A collective sigh could be heard across the auditorium. As the trooper & performer he was, he crawled back on stage, cracked a few jokes, played a song, and then went backstage to bandage his cut leg. He came back a few moments later and acted like nothing was wrong.

Click on above picture to learn more about the history of -
The Baldknobbers Hillbilly Jamboree Stage Show.

George Aggernite (Lyle W. Mabe) was one of the main characters I always watched on stage because, in my mind, he was larger than life. The reason? He was on the nightly 10 o’clock KY3 news out of Springfield, Missouri, doing commercials for Empire Gas. I didn’t get to see him often because we didn’t have a TV, due to we lived to far in the valley to get a signal. Therefore, I would spend the night, every so often, at my Granny Anderson’s knowing she would watch the news, and I would see George Aggernite with his toothless smile.

Of Politics & Religion
And now, a word of warning…I’m about to sound a little political. As to the “party” I belong to…American. After that, it’s a toss-up. I am conservative and get an uneasy feeling when meeting politicians because I don’t always trust them. Nevertheless, I’m one of the guys that will make phone calls, write letters, and emails from the White House all the way down to the locals. I do this because it is my call, duty, and responsibility. If I have done this sincerely, the burden and responsibility is then upon the representative. I realize that many politicians have disregarded my nuisance; but in the Day of Judgment, the Lord will hold them responsible for their transgressions. I’ve long been a political activist before some people who woke up late in the game called the Tea Party. Nothing against Tea Party, but 2009 was a bit too late. I believe the Lord gives our nation the leaders we deserve, and we have to work with the ones we have been blessed or cursed with. In the end, I’m an optimist. I believe with every cursed & corrupt leader/leaders, we have the opportunity to see our mistakes as a nation. At this moment, we have such glaring opportunities it is amazing. Yes, you may read between my lines.

Political parties, many times start out with great intentions. But, as time goes by, grandiose objectives become mixed with flamboyant excess and disparaging corruption. In times past, political maneuvers and tactics were meted out by stately politicians who would pelt each other with their canes, brandishing a Bowie knife, or have a civil duel. (Lately, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea.) Additionally, an exasperated crowd may revert to tar & feathering the culprits and ran them out of the country. At this time, these alternatives, unfortunately, are not looked upon kindly by those who make the laws for us to live by.

The Ozarks’ History
In the past, the Ozarks too has had its’ political parties, though we haven’t seen them on the ballot lately. The two parties I’m referring to are the Baldknobbers and the Anti-Baldknobbers. To the defense of the Baldknobbers, it all started out with good intentions with the determination of freedom to practice their religion. As to the historical Ozark Bald Knobbers, there is a story to discover that will show the darker side of our nature and the terror and prejudice once endured. These events spanned Taney, Christian, and Ozark counties in Missouri. There is one book covering these Ozark desperadoes called, Bald Knobbers: Vigilantes on the Ozarks Frontier, by Elmo Ingenthron and Mary Hartman. According these authors, the Bald Knobbers were "mostly conservative Republicans and former Unionists," the anti-Bald Knobbers were mostly "Democrats and former Confederate soldiers." The initial leader of the Bald Knobbers was a man named, Captain Nathaniel N. Kinney, whose nickname was the "Old Blue Gobbler."

At the moment, I might be of the Anti-Bald Knobbers Camp because in the late 1800’s they won in the courts, and the losers were literally strung up…on a rope. This may mean I might also have a Southern leaning in looking at the War of Northern Aggression, which is sometimes known as the Civil War. It seems from time to time, history hangs its’ heroes on the gallows at times.
Throughout this year, 2012, I will be blogging a series of newspaper articles from the 1886 – 1918 that will cover the spectrum of the Bald Knobbers. I have culled and saved over 100 of these fascinating articles that details their conception, raids, capture, trials, executions, and exoneration. We will discover how others looked at the whole series of events to the commercialization of these outlaws. I am not going to write the whole history of the Bald Knobbers on this blog, but I will post significant articles that chronicled some of their exploits, triumphs, and downfalls.  Additionally, you may notice, the spelling of this group can be either “Bald Knobbers” or "Baldknobbers.” This is the beginning of the saga called the Bald Knobbers which is all a part of our Ozarks’ History.


They had to Hang Two Men and Shot Another,
and to Pray, Speak, and Sing with
their Hands on their Trusty Revolvers.

FORSYTH, Mo - April 24. The town, situated in Taney county, twenty-five miles from a railroad and within sight of the bald knob of the Ozark Mountains, is a forbidding little place. The people are easy going in everything except their deviltry. Shiftlessness is the rule. They can get up energy enough to shoot or hang a man, but it would take some entire families to produce enough vim to paint a weather-beaten house, mend a roof, or nail a hinge on a gate. There are two factions in the county.

About a year ago the first Sunday school ever held in this region was opened here. As soon as the scheme was broached there was trouble. The Cogburn boys announced that there never had been a Sunday school in Taney county, and it was altogether too late in the century for one to be started now. They and their friends attended the service and interrupted them. The backers of the Sunday school called upon the Sheriff for assistance but he was a sympathizer with the Cogburns and on the ground that no jury could be found to convict them, and that it would cost a good deal of money anyway, he refused to take action. Finding themselves outside the protecting influence of the law, the Sunday school party held meeting to devise mean of self-defense. The last of these, at which a permanent organization was effected, was held in the bald knobs, and from this fact the band became known as the "Bald Knobbers." Two brothers named Taylor, who had been in the habit of riding on to the porches of dwelling houses and firing their rifles in at the windows, were the first victims of, the knobbers. They were caught at their tricks one night and the next morning their bodies were found hanging in a tree where the pious Bald Knobbers had placed them. This episode opened the war in earnest.

Captain Nathanial N. Kinney
The Sunday school having flourished and established a few branches in various parts of the county, it was decided to hold a convention at Oak Grove late last summer. Everybody attended,
knobbers and anti-knobbers. Things went smoothly the first day, but on the morning of the second day of the session, when the allegations met, they round a skull and crossbones and a coffin marked “Capt. Kinney’s," and a note to Kinney, with a buckshot enclosed, warning him to get out of the country as soon as possible. Capt. Kinney was the leader of the knobbers, a man six foot five, weighing 250 pounds, and a very enthusiastic worker in the Sunday school.

The Cogburn boys were in the Convention that morning when it was called to order, apparently without their guns, but it was afterward learned that their sisters, who were also present, had the family revolvers suspended under their skirts, where they could be reached at a moment's notice.
After the opening prayer several speakers referred to the skull and cross bones episode, all denouncing the authors of the placard in unmeasured terms. While these addresses were in progress the Cogburns laughed out loud and made frequent interruptions. Then Capt. Kinney stood up, and after clearing his throat, said:

"I don't know exactly who left them things In the vestibule, but I can guess pretty straight, and all I have to say is that I'll bet he’ll need a coffin before I do. If he undertakes to interfere with this convention I think there’s enough of us here to hang his hide on the fence in about three minutes. I'm a peaceful man and don't want any trouble, but I give everybody here fair warning that this Sunday school convention is going to sit here till it gets through business, and anybody who interferes with it will get hurt."

After further speeches in the same strain the convention adjourned. In the afternoon all the delegates came around many of them with rifles and shotguns. The brother who led in prayer knelt with his face toward the door and held a revolver in his hand. Not one of the delegates, whether they were speaking, singing, or praying, dropped his weapon once during the proceedings. The Cogburns made no further demonstration, but when the convention adjourned they again threatened that no more such meetings would be held.

From that time down to the first of this month, Capt. Kinney and the Cogburns kept a continual lookout for each other. Then one Sunday evening one of the Cogburns was seen hanging around the church which Capt. Kinney usually attended. He had a rifle, and as he had been drinking, it was thought that he was about on mischief, A young man who taught one of the classes in the Sunday school determined it his duty to inform the Captain of the circumstance, and he accordingly walked down the road to meet that worthy. Kinney had his gun also, and being forewarned he crept stealthily to the church, got the drop on Cogburn, shot him dead as he stood in the doorway. The Coroner’s  jury was made up of Bald Knobbers taken from the Sunday school, and Kinney was acquitted on the ground that the shooting was justifiable.

Soon after this tragedy, which was only one of a score or more that had proceeded directly or indirectly from the institution of the Sunday school and the organization of the Bald Knobbers, several prominent men in the town not previously identified with either faction determined on organizing a militia company. The Anti-Bald Knobbers, who had suffered severely at the hands of that organization, saw in this scheme an opportunity to get even, and they espoused the cause in large numbers. Meetings were held, a roster was signed, and two prominent citizens started to the capital to lay the matter before the Governor, and receive the necessary authority and equipment. At this stage of the proceedings the Bald Knobbers got wind of the enterprise, and they, too sent delegates to Jefferson City. They showed Gov. Marmaduke that not one of the proposed militiaman was a taxpayer, and proved to his satisfaction that the organization was intended to make war upon citizens. One young man who had been induced to enlist, confessed that the intention of the military leaders was to match on the Bald Knobbers some time when they were in church or Sunday school, and take them prisoners. Then they were to be deposed of in various ways. Capt. Kinney was to be shot down in the presence of all the others, several were to be lynched, others were to be whipped, and still others were to be banished from the county.

When Gov. Marmaduke came to examine into the matter closely he made up his mind that a militia company was not needed in Taney county, and he therefore refused to issue arms and commissions. This decision filled the Bald Knobbers with glee, and they proceeded to hold a celebration. They now number about five hundred and comprehend about all the preachers and Christians in this county. Further violence is expected.
End of Article
Works Cited:    
Darnell, Gerry. Bald Knobbers: The Ozark Vigilantes. “Turmoil and Unrest in the Missouri Hills.” 12 Dec. 2010 .

Ingenthron, Elmo and Mary Hartman. Bald Knobbers: Vigilantes on the Ozarks Frontier. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 1992.

Our History. 2011. Baldknobbers Jamboree Show. 12 Dec. 2010 <>.

“The Pious Bald Knobbers.” The Sun, Ney York City, New York. 53.237 (25 Apr., 1886) 1. New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundation. United States Library of Congress, Washington D.C. 15 Nov. 2011 <>.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Reflection of Thanks

Jacob Grisso - The Stones Cry Out.
I would like to take this moment to thank all those who have read Ozarks’ History this past year. I have enjoyed the many emails and the contacts from many. The blog that seemed to receive the most response this past year was the entitled, “The Stones Cry Out: The Grisso Cemetery.” This particular blog was a joy to write, and it also took a few trips to the archives in Little Rock to cull out its’ contents. Moreover, the reflection and introspection in that piece that I wrote about myself is still something I carry in my heart. It is amazing in how researching & writing are one of the tools the Lord uses to plant small kernels of truth in me, and then later, I begin to see His hand working in other avenues. Another blog that have topped the list of responses was Junior & Viola Peters. This one was truly from my heart and evoked past memories & emotions of my childhood. Even though I received a fair amount of responses from the Ozark County area from people who knew Junior & Viola, it was amazing to see the responses from those who do not live in the Ozarks, but they had the chance to briefly meet them in only a few paragraphs in this blog. Wow…go figure.