War in the Black Patch
1906 - 1911
During the period between 1900 and 1906 trouble began to brew among the tobacco
men of the state, especially in the Black Patch area around Hopkinsville. The
buyers had formed a trust and were controlling the market. They were getting
tobacco at ridiculously low prices and the farmers were unable to make a living.
On September 24, 1904, Felix Ewing and Joel and Charles Fort addressed a
gathering of 1,000 farmers in Guthrie and formed an organization to fight the
trust. They secured a charter and called themselves "The Planters Protective
Association". Within a few days they had enlisted more than 5,000 new members.
The primary objective of the PPA was for the farmers to obtain better prices for
their crops by pooling them and fixing their own prices.
A great many farmers refused to join the Association and they were paid higher
prices by the Trust in an attempt to break up the Association. There was a great
deal of friction between these two groups of farmers.
"Night riding" began almost at once in an attempt to force the outsiders into
the Association. Independent farmers were threatened by anonymous letters,
barns were burned and plant beds were scraped. Bundles of matches and/or
switches were sent to persons who talked against the Association and later some
of these outsiders were burned out or whipped. This activity frightened nearly
10,000 men into joining the Association.
In 1906, the hot-headed elements of the Association formed a secret order with
the official name of "The Silent Brigade" or "The Inner Circle" but they were
commonly known and feared as the "Night Riders." They were drilled in a
military fashion by their leader, Dr. David Amoss, who had been a cadet and
drill master at Major Ferrell's Military School in Hopkinsville. The purpose of
this organization was to force all growers to join the Association, to force
independent dealers to cooperate with the Association and to force Trust
companies to buy tobacco only from the Association at its set price. In order
to achieve these ends the Night Riders were willing to commit acts of violence.
The first organized attack occurred at Trenton when a band of armed and masked
men burned the tobacco warehouse and factory of an independent dealer who had
bought non-association tobacco. A little later they appeared at Elkton and
dynamited the warehouse there.
On the night of December 1, 1906, two hundred night riders rode into Princeton,
took possession of the town and proceeded at leisure to burn the largest tobacco
factories in the world, filled with tobacco purchased from the British market.
Hopkinsville was electrified by the news of the Princeton raid. Since this city
was in the midst of the trouble area its citizens expected the night riders to
strike here next. The Militia, under Major Erskine Birch Bassett, the police
force and a large body of armed citizens prepared for a raid. On January 4,
1907, the Mayor, Charles Meacham, received a telephone warning that the Riders
were on the way. The different units were alerted and took their positions for
the defense of the city. However, the report turned out to be a hoax. The
Night Riders had sent the warning in order to test the city's preparedness.
Night after night the riders gathered for an attack on the city. It was their
custom to have one of their members move into a city before it was attacked and
watch the place. Certainly Hopkinsville was watched. One night when the riders
got almost to the city limits they were turned back by a warning that a whole
company of militia with loaded rifles was concealed in a building waiting for
It was a year before a night came when vigilance was relaxed and that night,
December 7, 1907, a little before 2:00 a.m., the Silent Brigade struck
Hopkinsville. There was no opposition.
The attack was made from the ICRR Depot. The masked men had left their horses on
the outskirts of town and marched down 9th Street to Main where they separated
into six squads and carried out their orders with military precision. Three men
were sent to guard the Seventh Street bridge and small parties guarded other
downtown streets. A corral was formed at 9th and Main into which all citizens
who ventured out were herded and guarded by a small squad. One squad went to
the Cumberland Telephone Office where they broke down the door, cut the wires
and captured the two telephone operators on duty before they could sound the
alarm. Another unit surrounded the police station and shot through the walls
and windows quickly taking prisoner of the men who were surprised inside. Other
units took over the Fire Department and the L&NRR Depot. Small groups rode up
and down the street shooting out windows wherever a light was turned on. In a
very few minutes the city was in complete control of the masked men.
The office of the newspaper, The Kentuckian, was vandalized and a buyer for the
Imperial Tobacco Co., was dragged from his home and brutally beaten.
The largest squad marched to the Latham Warehouse near the L&NRR Depot and then
to the frame warehouse of Tandy & Fairleigh on 15th Street and burned them to
the ground. The fire soon raged out of control destroying several residences,
the Association Warehouse and threatening the Acme Mill. A railroad man was
shot in the back when he tried to save some box cars from the fire. The leader
of the night riders, Dr. Amoss, was accidentally wounded in the head by his own
At the conclusion of the raid the men assembled for roll call at the main
intersection and then marched out of town singing "My Old Kentucky Home".
Meanwhile Major Bassett, having climbed out of a rear window of his house, made
his way unseen about the city arousing his men to form a posse of eleven men.
Six of the men were on horseback and the other five in a carry-all. They set
out in hot pursuit. The night riders had neglected to post a rear guard which
made it possible for Major Bassett and his five companions on horseback to
mingle with the riders. They rode past the front of the group searching for the
leader but Dr. Amoss had left earlier in another direction to have his wounds
attended. Since they could not find the leader they turned up a side road and
waited for the riders to pass and then rejoined the men in the carry-all.
Farther up the road about two-thirds of the night riders left the main body and
the posse opened fire on the remaining group. In the pitched battle that ensued
one of the riders was killed and another wounded.
As a result of the raid on Hopkinsville, Company D was ordered on active duty
and Major Bassett was given command of all military operations in the area.
There were troops on duty from December 1907 until November 1908.
On January 3, 1908, while the soldiers were guarding Hopkinsville and other
points, the night riders raided Russellville with 55 men and destroyed two
factories. There were no raids where the soldiers were stationed.
As a result of his efficiency in handling the difficult situation arising from
the Night Rider War Gov. Augustus F. Wilson commissioned Major Bassett a
Lieutenant Colonel on December 17, 1908. Although the worst of the troubles
were over by this time Lt. Col. Bassett was called on several times to protect
witnesses in trials of the Night Riders. By the summer of 1910 the Night Rider
trouble had come to an end except for a few scattered and minor episodes.
John C. Latham did not rebuild his warehouse but gave the site to the city of
Hopkinsville to be used as a park. It was named Peace Park.