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Reconstruction-era Klan Violence in Catawba County

Privacy Level: Open (White)

Date: 1868 to 1873
Location: Catawba County, North Carolina, United Statesmap
Surnames/tags: Catawba_County North_Carolina US_History
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Contents

Summary

After the American Civil War "Catawba County, because of its scant population and the absence of vital industries, was bothered little by the Union rule in the sense of the presence of soldiers, and it was allowed to attend to its internal affairs generally at its own will" (Preslar, 1954). During Reconstruction, disguised white men identifying as "White Brotherhood" or "Ku Klux" terrorized blacks and whites for “working for the first Republican election, particularly of Nathaniel Boyden, a radical candidate for Congress” (Freeze, 1995) and voting for the “negro constitution” of 1868 - which abolished slavery in North Carolina (as the 13th Amendment had done at the federal level in 1865) and provided for universal male suffrage (U.S. Senate, 1871). A number of people were indicted under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, but most (or all) of the cases appear to have been dismissed and none of the perpetrators were ultimately brought to justice.

Former Confederate Colonel-turned-Republican William Preston Bynum of Lincoln County, then solicitor of the 9th judicial district who also practiced in Catawba County at the time, testified to the U.S. Senate based on information which came to him in his “official capacity as solicitor, in many instances, from the complaints of the persons who were outraged, those persons often bearing upon their bodies the marks of the outrages they complained of.” Bynum claimed to have “sent bills before grand juries in several counties upon evidence that I regarded as sufficient to find bills upon, and evidence that was uncontradicted before the grand juries, but, in most instances, the grand juries have ignored the bills.” He had “succeeded in getting one or two bills from a grand jury,” but he had “never yet succeeded in bringing a single case to trial.” In one instance, “the prosecutors were compelled to leave the county” due to “threats of violence and intimidation.” As Bynum said, “They moved to Tennessee” (U.S. Senate, 1871).

At least one of the cases, United States v. M.M. Wilson, R.P. Reinhardt, Andrew Yoder (Case No. 1 below), was eventually dismissed nol pros (will not prosecute) by another former Confederate who became a staunch Republican and the U.S. District Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina after the war. Virgil Stuart Lusk ruled from Statesville that the "evidence will not sustain the charge" on October 28, 1872. The Hickory Tavern Eagle celebrated the end of what they described as a "malicious and oppressive prosecution" in which, according to the conservative Raleigh Times, the "courts of justice are converted into engines of political vengeance" by "low Radical creatures who seek to gratify their malicious feeling by the punishment of honorable and high-toned gentlemen." In a manuscript on the events written fifty four years later in anticipation of a "cowardly assault" on him by Randolph Abbott Shotwell in his memoir, Lusk would observe that "[t]he present generation can never have a faint conception of the condition of society in North Carolina from 1861 to 1871; blood and carnage, fire and sword, famine, starvation, murder, arson, theft, personal abuse, sl(a)nder, ostracism, threats of personal violence." Amidst the "Panic of 1873," the Slaughter-House cases and the Colfax massacre in Louisiana would reveal to the nation the limits of the federal government's commitment to stopping race-based and political violence in the South. So by 1890, the "Ku Klux Klan" was officially "destroyed" but undisguised "Red Shirts" and "White Caps" were operating openly in the Catawba River Valley and the local lawyer, judge, and former Klan leader David Schenck in Lincolnton would write, ominously, that "nothing prevents the white people of the South from annihilating the negro race but the military power of the United States government" (Steward, 2012).

Victims

Andrew Loretz Ramsour, a third cousin of Schenck (both being second great grandsons of Johann Daniel Warlick), fled his home in Catawba County in 1870 to report a Ku Klux attack on him to Tod R. Caldwell in Morganton. Described by Caldwell as “a harmless, inoffensive citizen, an industrious man, and a man of some property...[h]is only offense, so far as is known, was that he is a Republican.” According to Ramsour's 1870 testimony to the U.S. Senate, the following people were terrorized by disguised "Ku Klux" in Catawba County between 1868 and 1873. Quoting from the Report On the Alleged Outrages In the Southern States by the Select Committee of the Senate: March 10, 1871 (U.S. Senate, 1871):

  • Newton Willfong, colored, whipped and shot: the one that died; they whipped him several times, and the last time they shot him, and be died.
  • A. L. Ramsour, white, whipped: my flesh was cut open; my shirt was all bloody when they put it back on me; my skin was cut up on my back.
  • Elijah Finger, colored, whipped.
  • Newton Killian, colored, whipped.
  • Sidney Mutts, colored, whipped.
  • Lawson Blackburn, colored, whipped: one of the best servants, I believe, that ever was in our county; he was doing as well as any man: they whipped him because he voted for the constitution.
  • George Conly, colored, whipped.
  • Jim Coulter, colored, whipped.
  • Robert Smyer, colored, whipped: he was whipped with me; he has been whipped and interrupted three times.
  • Rufus Rhinehart, colored, whipped (possibly Alexander Rufus Reinhardt).
  • Steven Warlich, colored, whipped.
  • Isaac Robinson, colored, whipped.
  • Daniel Bullinger, white, whipped.
  • Letty Willfong, white, whipped.
  • Maria Probst, white, whipped.
  • Bob Robinson, colored, whipped.
  • Michael Petrie, white, whipped.
  • Peter Young, white, whipped.
  • Mahala Willfong, white, whipped: they have been at her house three times, I believe.
  • John Fowler, white, whipped: a young man I was guardian for, that was my body guard, they whipped him the other night...just about two weeks ago; he was staying with his grandmother [Catherine Whitener], an old lady sixty years old, and they frightened her pretty near to death.
  • William Hall, white, whipped: the miller, at the mill, they run him off.
  • Henry Bost, white, whipped: he was pretty near dead.
  • Mony Carpenter, white, robbed: a white man, was robbed of $80, the other week, by men in disguise.

Indictments

The following people were indicted (case numbers in brackets) under the Ku Klux Klan Act in 1871 in U.S. District Court in North Carolina (Preslar, 1954), but Case No. 1 was dismissed Nol Pros in October 1872 by Virgil Stuart Lusk as noted in the Summary, with the remaining cases dismissed at the same time or later by Lusk:

Indictment: Conspiring & going in disguise & beating A. L. Ramsour. Witnesses: A. L. Ramsour, Elmina Ramsour, Alice Ramsour, David H. Ramsour, Robert Smyre (colored), Rufus Smyre (colored), Amy Smyre (colored), Louise Smyre (colored). June term, 7 June 1871. Bill found. Arrested in June/July 1871.
Summary: Defendants "did unlawfully and willfully band together and conspire together and go in disguise upon the premises of...Andrew L. Ramsour and then did and there forcibly break and enter the dwelling house...and there beat wound and ill treated him...because of his having fore that time exercised and enjoyed his right to vote." Defendants were bound in sum of $2,000. Numerous other witnesses were subpoenaed through November 1871.
Disposition: Dismissed Nol Pros (will not prosecute) in Statesville by U.S. District Attorney V. S. Lusk on October 28, 1872.
  • [Case No. 2]: United States v. Aaron Sigmon, Adolphus Sigmon, Marcus Lynn
Indictment: Going in disguise upon premises, &c. Witness: Simon Barger. June term, 7 June 1871. Bill found.
Summary: Defendants "on the 10 day of April A.D. 1871 with force and arms...did unlawfully and wilfully band and conspire together to go in disguise upon the premises of...Simon Barger and did then and there beat wound and ill treat him...with intent to oppress, injure and intimidate him...because of his having upon that time, exercised and enjoyed his right to vote as a citizen of the State of North Carolina..." Case transferred to Statesville (3 Oct 1871) per application from District Attorney. Capias and Sup issues through Jan 1872.
Disposition: Aaron Sigmon and Adolphus Sigmon were "discharged" in April 1873, and the case itself was dismissed No Pros (without explanation) in April 1874.
  • [Case No. 35]: Unites States v. Peter Ramsaur, Govan Bost, Albert Smyre, Henry Wilson, John Bumgarner, Benton Clonniger, Keer Setzer, Cain Bost, Franklin Propst, Noah Wise, Bill found. June term, 1871. Act May 30, 1870. Witnesses: Lewis Witherspoon and Julia Ann Perkins.
Indictment: Conspiracy.
Summary: On the first day of June A.D. 1871 defendants "did conspire together, for the purposes of depriving John Hensen...of voting for the candidate of his choice" and "having exercised his right to vote at the election, upon the 1st Thursday of August A. D. 1871 for one Nathaniel Boyden for member of the House of Representatives of the Congress of the Unites States." Defendants bonded over at $500-1,000.
Disposition: Dismissed No Pros (without explanation) in October 1873.
  • (38) Penkney Wilson, Starling Gill, Pinkney Setzer, Edward Bost, Bill found. September session, 1871. Witnesses: George Conley and Abraham Wilson. Dismissed Nol Pros October 1873.
  • (39) Adam Reap, Hosea Whitener, Pinckney Bradburn, Osborn Wilson, Henry Yoder, Sidney Yoder, Joseph Fry, Mat Hoffman, James Wilson and Pinckney Wilson. Bill found. September session, 1871. Act May 30, 1870, U. S. witnesses; James Coulter and Bob Robinson. Dismissed Nol Pros in October 1874.
  • (43) Govan Bost, James Gibson, George Moose, Frank Huffman, Hugh Pence, Caleb Setzer, Cain Moose, Lewis Witherspoon, Thomas Setzer. Bill found. September term, 1871. Witnesses: John Powell, Catherine Powell, Samuel Gibbs. Disposition: ????
  • (48) Adolphus Abernethy, Lafayfette Abernethy, John Marshall, Marcus Lynn, Noah Hallman, Joseph Childers, Cephas Simmons, James Bowles. Bill found. September term, 1871. Act May 30, 1870. Witnesses: Joseph Abernethy, Jasper Deal. Disposition: ????
  • (56) Wilborne Boyd and others. Bill found. June term, 1871. Witnesses: Thomas Hope, Lee Clark, Reuben Kirksey, Andrew Davis, B. A. Kirksey. Dismissed No Pros (without explanation) in April 1872. Disposition: ????
  • (57) O. F. Bost, John Sigman, Adam Reape, Frank Icard, John Propst, David Keistler, John Conrad, P. C. Rudisill, Daniel Shuford, Phillip Hoyle, Henry Yoder, Alfred Jarrett, John Corpening.Disposition: ????
  • Frank Keistler, Eli Starr, Pinckney Cline, Philip Coulter, Abel Starr, Jacob Huffman, Marcus Huffman, Pinckney Wilson, Max Huffman, Jacob Gilbert, John Hoover, Franklin Smith, S. Bolch, John Bolch, M. M. Wilson, Robert Reinhardt, Julius Helton, John C. Sharpe, J. A. Fry, Abel Fry, John Whitener, Wash Ramsour, Enos Campbell, Jacob Rudisill, Henry Rudisill, Adelphus Rudisill, Phillip Burns, George Fin-cannon, Noah Huffman, Hosea Whitener, Benjamin Whitener, Philip Gilbert, Franklin Huffman, Adolphus Whitener, Austin Wilson. Disposition: ????
  • George Rabb, Brock Self, John C. Warlick, David Warlick, Henry Warlick, Loney Carpenter, Thornton Martin, John Rader, John Ramsour, Jefferson Saunders, Daniel Hoover, Pinckney Fry, James Frye, N. D. Lutz, Alonzo Lutz, Benjamin Lutz, Friders Rink, Nelson Keever, Charles Alexander, Wallace Throneburg, G. W. Caldwell, Rufus Self, Monroe Coulter, Daniel Reap, Adolphus Abernethy, Thomas Wilfong, Bill found. November term, 1871. U. S. Witnesses; A. L. Ramsour, John Sims, Albert Angle, R. F. Hamblet, Logan Crouch. Disposition: ????
  • (59) Adolphus Abernethy, Lawrence Miller, Lafayette Abernethy, Marcus Whitener, Marcus Lynn, Adolphus Sigmon, Daniel Whitener, Adolphus Propst, Robert Fry, Simon Propst, John Seigler, Sidney Ward, Jasper Deal, John Marshall, Chick Alexander, James Bawles, Cephas Simmons, Poley Hefner, Hiram Miller. Bill found. November term, 1871. Witnesses: Simon Barger, Joseph Childers, Noah Hallman. Disposition: ????
  • (63) Cail Setzer, Caleb Setzer, George Fincannon, Charles Setzer, Eli Starr, Pinckney Miller, F. S. Smyre, Henry Wilson, James Gibson, John Conrad, Allen Settlemyre, Pinckney Fry, Peter Ramsour, Thomas Marlow, Sidney Houston, Howell Harris, E. G. Bost, George Throneburg, Richard Wilson, Starr Gill, Abner Smyre. U. S. Witness: Franklin Huffman. Disposition: ????
  • (64) John Hilton, Daniel Shuford, Henry Yoder, Sidney Yoder, James Wilfong. U. S. witness: Emeline Shuford." Disposition: ????

Relationships

As noted above, Andrew Loretz Ramsour and Schenck were third cousins, both being second great grandsons of Johann Daniel Warlick). However, Ramsour was also connected to the alleged perpetrators of the attack on him. Here are some of the more notable confirmed connections:

  • Robert Reinhardt's first wife, Susan, was Andrew Ramsour's second cousin, both of them being great grandchildren of David, a son of Johan Dietrich (Rahmsauer) Ramsaur (the namesake of Ramsour's Mill in Lincolnton).
  • Sidney Yoder was a second cousin of George Monroe Yoder, a local Confederate militia colonel (and later a local historian in the early 20th century). George’s daughter, Florence, would marry Andy Ramsour's son by the end of the decade
  • M.M. Wilson worked with Andrew Ramsour on the railroad and “married a girl that [his] father-in-law was guardian for” so he was “a sort of brother-in-law” (U.S. Senate, 1871). Wilson's wife was Catherine E. Wilfong, the daughter of Anna Ramsour (Andrew Ramsour's cousin) and George Daniel Wilfong. Catherine's brother, George McDuffie Wilfong, lived with the Wilson family in 1860. Also note that a 14-year old black girl named Dora Wilfong lived with Andrew Ramsour in 1870.

Notes

  • All names are listed as they appear in the primary and secondary documents cited. Links to individual WikiTree profiles is based on census, birth, and death records of people with the same name (accounting for variant spellings) who were living in Catawba or surrounding counties at the time. These appear to be the most plausible connections based on current sources, but these assumptions may be falsified based on new information in the future.
  • According to Shotwell (Vol. II, 1939), William Alexander Graham was the Chief of the Ku Klux Klan in Catawba County; however, his name is notably absent from the list of those indicted under the Ku Klux Klan Act.
  • Sidney Yoder (Andrew's son) died in 1873 after he was arrested by A. L. Ramsour, Peter Sharp and John Miller under the Ku Klux Klan Act (Hickory Eagle, as reprinted in The Raleigh News, 8 Nov 1872). As noted in the Summary, the case (1) against M.M. Wilson, R.P. Reinhardt, Andrew Yoder was dismissed nol pros (will not prosecute) by U.S. District Attorney Virgil S. Lusk on October 28, 1872. Henry Yoder (Sidney's brother), also disappears from the census and other records after 1870.
  • U.S. witness Julia Ann Perkins and her husband disappear in local records after 1870. U.S. witness Emeline Shuford was apparently sentenced to hang in Newton for "child murder" just four months after Case No. 1 was dismissed. Her appeal to the State Supreme Court was handled by David Schenck, and a retrial was ordered (Disposition: ????). She disappears from local records afterwards.
  • The "white girl" named Maria Probst that Ramsour identified as a victim is listed as an 18-year old "black" girl on the 1870 census, when she was living with her parents, Simon and Hannah (Cansler) Probst, and five younger siblings in the Jacobs Fork Township. She does not appear in the 1880 census or other records after 1870.
  • According to David Blight, around 3000 white men were indicted across the South but only 600 were ultimately convicted, with 250 acquitted and most receiving only fines or light sentences. Only 65 would wind up in federal prison (like Shotwell) for up to five years, and all of them were out of prison by 1875.
  • "On April 21, 1873, the indictment against Schenck was withdrawn. As he recalled, 'I attended the U.S. District Court at Statesville. His Honor, Robt. P. Dick, District Judge presiding. Judge Dick proposed . . . that all defendants under the Enforcement Act or Ku Klux might submit without cost and no fine would be imposed; judgment being indefinitely suspended unless the defendant committed a new violation of the Act. . . . about one hundred and fifty defendants took these terms and were finally discharged. So ends these vexatious indictments, which brought almost as much distress and suffering on our section of the state as the recent war,' wrote Schenck. 'Nol Pros in my case was entered by the District Attorney, he and the Judge both knowing it was but a political indictment instigated by G. W. Logan and founded upon the most miserable and bare faced perjury'” (Steward, 2012).
  • Judge Logan appointed Nathan Scoggin as a U.S. Commissioner in 1871 to help him in his efforts to arrest and prosecute local Klan members, and Nathan and his brothers tracked down and arrested many local Klan members - including Shotwell in July of that year.

Sources

Case #1 U.S. v. Wilson, Rheinhardt, Yoder - 43 pages
Case #2 U.S. v. Sigman, Sigman, Linn - 37 pages
Case #35 U.S. v. Ramsour - 50 pages
Case #38 U.S. v. Wilson - 33 pages
Case #39 U.S. v. Reap - 47 pages

See also:





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