War in the Black Patch
1906 - 1911
 
NIGHT RIDERS
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 
them.

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 
men.

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.


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Work cited: most of the above information originated from here.