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Bald Knobbers
December 14, 2012 5:46 AM   Subscribe

The Bald Knobbers were a vigilante group founded in the southern part of Missouri in the years after the Civil War. Though the group originally formed as a hedge against rampant crime and to protect citizens against marauding gangs, the Bald Knobbers themselves began terrorizing locals in an effort to enforce "clean living". The Bald Knobbers, who wore frightening masks, are not to be confused with The Baldknobbers, who make frightening faces.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates (28 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
What was it with the masks and hoods of these vigilante groups in the American South? Was being recognized really such a risky thing for these people?
posted by three blind mice at 5:56 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Good post, thanks.

The Baldknobbers theater is one of the bigger ones in Branson. The stretch of US 65 between Springfield and Branson is littered with their billboards. And holy shit am I sick of 27 years of looking at them. It used to be one of the most beautiful drives in the country, and now it's all them and Yakov and Andy Williams, every mile of the way.

(Also, Missouri is the Midwest, not the South, though there's little cultural distinction in the Ozarks.)
posted by middleclasstool at 5:59 AM on December 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Was being recognized really such a risky thing for these people?

In a word, yes.

In this case, at least. Well, if your enemies are known to kill, and as neighbours are likely to know who you are, you want to make sure they don't see that it's you doing the vigilanteeing, you want to take a few precautions. So you drag out the ski mask lovingly made by your eight year old daughter, turn mama's picture to the wall, and do what has to be done.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:04 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Baldknobbers are also the theme of an amusement park ride here. No kidding.
posted by sourwookie at 6:09 AM on December 14, 2012


This youngster looks like he's about to be dragged off by a pair of Krampus.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:13 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I saw the Baldknobbers--I believe the show's fill title was the Baldknobbers Hillbilly Jamboree--many years ago before Branson became "like Vegas — if it were run by Ned Flanders." They were pretty much the only game in town other than Silver Dollar City. The main thing I liked about Silver Dollar City was Fire in the Hole, and underground roller coaster that, as I just learned from Wikipedia, prominently features baldknobbers (the vigilantes, not the band).

Also, Missouri is the Midwest, not the South, though there's little cultural distinction in the Ozarks.

Several years ago I was visiting family in Springfield and the lack of diversity came up. I was curious and found that Springfield's African-American population was 10-20% in the early 1900s before three black men were lynched in the town square. The African-American population quickly dropped to around 2%.
"Grizzly as it now sounds" and "marshal law"? C'mon, News-Leader!
posted by kirkaracha at 6:32 AM on December 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


...began terrorizing locals in an effort to enforce "clean living".

Sorta like the "Amish Mafia"???
posted by incandissonance at 6:33 AM on December 14, 2012


Oh wow, this is great - I'm from near-ish Branson and have been probably a dozen times but was totally unfamiliar with this bit of history. Thanks!
posted by naoko at 6:37 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


This youngster looks like he's about to be dragged off by a pair of Krampus.

Where did you come across that pic? It could be Belsnickel (it looks like he's carrying a switch) on the right and Zwarte Piet on the right.
posted by drezdn at 6:37 AM on December 14, 2012


Zwarte Piet on the left.
posted by drezdn at 6:42 AM on December 14, 2012


That's the problem with vigilantes. We romanticize them but up close, they are just your garden-variety thugs and killers. We have all these stories about noble Lone Rangers and Batman and cops who Go Outside the Law, but what you really get is these guys, every time.
posted by emjaybee at 6:48 AM on December 14, 2012 [14 favorites]


Driven through that area any number of times - mrs jq's family hails from all over that area. I'd never heard of this before. Thanks for posting it.
posted by jquinby at 6:50 AM on December 14, 2012


(Also, Missouri is the Midwest, not the South, though there's little cultural distinction in the Ozarks.)

Missouri really can't be so easily pigeon holed, it's really a swirling focal point of where the main "regions" of the United States meet. Southern Missouri shares a lot with the American South, and that's ignoring the fact that a lot of central and western Missouri was settled by Southerners who brought their slaves with them. Tilting the whole mix are a number of immigrants who consisted of a lot of Catholic germans, Irish, Polish, and others, as well an influx of settlers also from such places as Indiana and Ohio, to name a few. There's a very good reason why the state was a border state in the American civil war rife with guerrilla violence (the most of any border state).

The Bald Knobbers are not a surprising outcome from the aftermath that followed the Civil War, particularly in the Ozarks region, where feuds from the war boiled over for years. For information on the guerrilla fighting, you can read Daniel Sutherland's Savage Conflict.

Several years ago I was visiting family in Springfield and the lack of diversity came up. I was curious and found that Springfield's African-American population was 10-20% in the early 1900s before three black men were lynched in the town square. The African-American population quickly dropped to around 2%.

For a definitive covering of the Springfield Lynching ("Easter Offering"), as well as other lynchings and race related violence in Southwest Missouri/Ozarks, White Man's Heaven. Admission of bias: married to the author.

The drop in the African-American population wasn't quite as precipitous as 10 - 20% to 2%, but the vibrancy of the community and its political participation were very much reduced by the lynchings.
posted by Atreides at 6:59 AM on December 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


I was curious and found that Springfield's African-American population was 10-20% in the early 1900s before three black men were lynched in the town square. The African-American population quickly dropped to around 2%.

Yep, I believe there's a documentary in the works about the lynching and Springfield's racial history. I think the white population of Springfield peaked at about 97-98%, and is slowly coming back down now. There's been a noticeable influx of Latino immigrants, and I could be wrong (I don't live there anymore but visit regularly), but it seems like local culture is just starting to change.

But yeah, I didn't have to take my shoes off to count the number of African American kids in my graduating class.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:59 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Missouri really can't be so easily pigeon holed, it's really a swirling focal point of where the main "regions" of the United States meet. Southern Missouri shares a lot with the American South, and that's ignoring the fact that a lot of central and western Missouri was settled by Southerners who brought their slaves with them.

Can we at least agree that Missouri has no business being in the SEC?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:01 AM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Can we at least agree that Missouri has no business being in the SEC?

If it means I can watch my Arkansas games on the local cable package, then their placement in the SEC is by DIVINE RULE.
posted by Atreides at 7:03 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Missouri really can't be so easily pigeon holed, it's really a swirling focal point of where the main "regions" of the United States meet. Southern Missouri shares a lot with the American South, and that's ignoring the fact that a lot of central and western Missouri was settled by Southerners who brought their slaves with them.

Oh, sure, that's why I specified the Ozarks, which is very Southern, culturally. I lived there for nearly 20 years, then moved to the South (Tennessee and Arkansas), and the only real cultural differences I've noticed is that there are generally thicker accents down here and waaaaaaaaaaay more meth up there.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:03 AM on December 14, 2012


Kent Brockman: "Mr. Simpson, how do you respond to the charges that petty vandalism such as graffiti is down eighty percent, while heavy sack beatings are up a shocking nine hundred percent?"
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 8:19 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's the problem with vigilantes. We romanticize them but up close, they are just your garden-variety thugs and killers. We have all these stories about noble Lone Rangers and Batman and cops who Go Outside the Law, but what you really get is these guys, every time.

I don't think you even need vigilantes for this. It is simply the universal law that you eventually become what you fear/hate. It happens to cops, nation-states, vigilantes, preachers, indie rock bands, parents and puppies. I've always suspected it is something to do with the second law of thermodynamics
posted by srboisvert at 9:41 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think you even need vigilantes for this. It is simply the universal law that you eventually become what you fear/hate. It happens to cops, nation-states, vigilantes, preachers, indie rock bands, parents and puppies.

This definitely explains that puppy I had that grew up to be a vacuum cleaner.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:42 AM on December 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


Not to be confused with the Knobgobblers.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:45 AM on December 14, 2012


Oh I love this stuff! We're leaving Tuesday for Cabool to spend Christmas with my in laws and like driving around Springfield/Branson checking out old little known historical areas and things like this. Thanks for giving me more places to check out.
posted by hollygoheavy at 10:35 AM on December 14, 2012


The Calico Indians had a similar look.
posted by bonefish at 12:58 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Heading to Springfield myself in a few days. OzarkIRL?

(oh, and hollygoheavy, the best chicken salad I have ever had was made in ... the DQ in Cabool. Dunno what they did to it, but it was fresh and wonderful.)
posted by scruss at 1:51 PM on December 14, 2012


Huh, close to home. Really close.

The Baldknobbers were started by the Mabe brothers in the Ozarks in the late 50s. My own family (The Presleys') was also performing in the area at the same time and built a theater in 1967 on the road between the town of Branson and neighboring Silver Dollar City. The Mabe family opened their own theater in 1968 a few hundred yards up the road. Both theaters are still operating today.

As long as I can remember, given my closeness to this topic, the show never really referenced anything about their namesake. For a show actually about the Bald Knobbers, there is a live outdoor performance based on the Shepherd of the Hills novel which featured the vigilante group as the villains. That book in the early 1900s was a primary source of interest for the Ozarks as a tourist destination.

Locals know the rough outline of history - Bald Knobbers were a vigilante group that did bad things. There are elements that tourists see - Shepherd of the Hills, some things at Silver Dollar City, but overall you'd hardly even know what you were looking at.

One more thing - in fairness to the Baldknobbers show, that video linked above is probably about 10 years old? Not that the general feel of the show is all that different, but part of the reason it looks even more out of place. Given, Branson is still an odd place in general.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:10 PM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Missouri really can't be so easily pigeon holed, it's really a swirling focal point of where the main "regions" of the United States meet. Southern Missouri shares a lot with the American South, and that's ignoring the fact that a lot of central and western Missouri was settled by Southerners who brought their slaves with them.

My experience as a native Missourian is that other Midwesterners insist that Missouri is the South, and Southerners reject us as clearly the Midwest. So that's fun.

I think it's more Midwest though. My grandma drinks pop. Case closed.
posted by naoko at 10:25 PM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it's more Midwest though. My grandma drinks pop. Case closed.

My parents grew up drinking pop in Southern Appalachia.....COLD CASE STRIKES AGAIN.
posted by Atreides at 6:44 AM on December 15, 2012


I highly suggest "Buried in the Bitter Waters: The History of Racial Cleansing in America" by Elliot Jaspin. The situations all start looking the same, and it gets fairly repetitive in pointing out the "WTF"-ness of what happened.....but that's rather the point, isn't it?
posted by DisreputableDog at 11:40 PM on December 15, 2012


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