Ku Klux Klan in South Dakota History

Can We Hide From Our KKK History?,” by Bernie Hunhoff, South Dakota Magazine,
25 April 2005, http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/index.php?p=314.

The Rapid City Journal fine tunes the Klan outfit controversy,” by Ken Blanchard, South Dakota Politics, 1 May 2005, http://southdakotapolitics.blogs.com/south_dakota_politics/2005/week17/index.html#a0004535802.

To correct some minor points on the fantastic blog SDP and the local paper Rapid City Journal

The Rapid City Journal fine tunes the Klan outfit controversy.

The Rapid City Journal fine tunes the Klan outfit controversy.

Some South Dakotans understandably are upset by a Ku Klux Klan outfit in a new display at the state Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. For others, the robe and hood offer a skewed view of South Dakota history – a powerful image overshadowing accomplishments and events involving African Americans.The real issue with the display, though, is its location – right in the middle of such things as the FFA.

The RCJ agrees that the Clan outfit was a reasonable part of the exhibit [Changing Times: South Dakota in the 20th Century], but questions is particular location.

But here’s the part that fascinates me:

The robe comes from a Rapid City couple, who found 60 of them in their home in 1971 and turned them over to police. Sixty Klan uniforms is significant – even if the overall impact of the white supremacist group wasn’t that great in South Dakota.No one wants to overemphasize the influence of the organization. But we need to recognize it as part of our history.

Okay. Did the robes suddenly appear out of nowhere, or was there some enormous closet in the guest bedroom that no one bothered to look in? I mean one or two Klan Robes, is one thing, but 60 of them? I wonder how much more South Dakota History is hidden in our closets. Some South Dakotans understandably are upset by a Ku Klux Klan outfit in a new display at the state Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. For others, the robe and hood offer a skewed view of South Dakota history – a powerful image overshadowing accomplishments and events involving African Americans. The real issue with the display, though, is its location – right in the middle of such things as the FFA.

The KKK was not white supremacist organization in South Dakota. It was a WASP [White Anglo-Saxon Protestant] support group

There were 3,000 KKK members in S.D. in the 1920s, with chapters (klaverns) across the state. It wasn’t the violent, terrorizing klan of the post-war South. Historians think it gained a foothold here and in other rural areas because it offered a social group in young and unorganized towns …, “a way for the good old boys to gather, gossip and drink a sip of moonshine,” wrote Stoel and Collins.

Like Sadrists today, they attacked “vice”

Klansmen in Rapid City tried to chase a brothel owner out of town. When she laughed at them, the Grand Dragon arranged for her kidnapping. They took her to Farmingdale, where they forced her to kiss a bible and swear to leave town. She mocked them, so they stripped her naked, tarred and feathered her, and left her in her front yard. She left by train the next day.

and Germans, Catholics, and other minorities

Few Jews or blacks lived here at the time. In some communities, Catholics felt they were the targets. At Sturgis, local klansmen lit crosses up to 25 feet tall with oil-soaked gunny sacks, on a hill within view of St. Martin’s Academy.

Of course, sometimes the victims fought back

The Catholics responded by burning a circle on an opposing hill, inspired by the Klan’s name, derived from the Greek world “klukos,” meaning circle.

19 thoughts on “Ku Klux Klan in South Dakota History”

  1. Anyone else get the mental image of the world’s largest game of tic-tac-to?

    “and Germans, Catholics, and other minorities

    Few Jews or blacks lived here at the time. In some communities, Catholics felt they were the targets. At Sturgis, local klansmen lit crosses up to 25 feet tall with oil-soaked gunny sacks, on a hill within view of St. Martin’s Academy.

    Of course, sometimes the victims fought back

    The Catholics responded by burning a circle on an opposing hill, inspired by the Klan’s name, derived from the Greek world “klukos,” meaning circle.

  2. Even at the end of her life, my grandma told with emotion the story of her father and other German immigrants guarding cattle at night, because of raids by the American Legion (post-Great War). One night, when the American Legion were going to spook the capital to prevent their shipment to relatives in Germany, they met the immigrants in a silent standoff.

    Spooky times.

  3. Yikes! And I thought the modern Legion’s obsession with flag burning was bad . . .

    My Grandpa (WW2 Marine vet) described them as people making up for a lack of combat experience by trying to look more patriotic than thou. Sound like that took some nasty turns at times:(

  4. It had all settled down quite a bit by the time I went to public high school in South Dakota. We were the Golden Eagles. When we would play the local Catholic high school in basketball us Klan-Legion types would toss a frozen fish on the court and they would respond by tossing out a rubber chicken.

  5. sonofsamphm1c,

    Older residents of the state will recall the habit of throwing dead jackrabbits onto the court during USD-SDSU games.

    I am sure there are other reasons, but I have never seen a living jackrabbit.

    Michael,

    Heh.

    I imagine there was Grand Army of the Republic – Ku Klux Klan violence in border states after the end of the war.

    One difference between terrorists and community leaders is who won the last war.

    Another (a partial consequence of the first) is the number of innocent people killed.

  6. The Klan did not like Catholics and immigrant Catholics even less.
    On a trip to SD last summer I learned there were a lot of Italians and other immigrants in Lead, SD. Did the Klan act against them?
    PJ

  7. Maybe a statistic analysis could be done on the import/consumption of Mozzarella or Olive Oil, or on the issuance of building permits for pizza parlors?

  8. Hi, while the checking on olive oil might work don’t include tomato sauce. Many of the Italians I came across in Lead were from northern Italy. Cream sauces, polenta (corn meal based) rather than spaghetti and other culinary differences frm South.
    Don’t know about Sturgis’ ethnic mix though they did let the KKK know they didn’t like their presence. Maybe a few paisanos from Lead drove over to Sturgis? People used to visit kin a lot back then so could happen.
    Anyway % wise there were often more Italians in the West than recognized. Nevada was a good example of that. According to Andrew Rolle (classic work The Immigrant Upraised) as Italians moved west from urban areas “In relative terms, the highest increses were in the North & West and particularly in the Dakotas.”
    Ciao, PCM

  9. Keep in mind, there are different waves of the Klan.

    There was the post Civil War KKK v1 which was a sort of 4GW militia and an arm of the Democratic Party. It lasted maybe 10 years.

    There is KKKv2 which was started after WWI after the film “Birth of Nation” glamorized KKK v1. It hit big in the 1920’s and then started fading in the 30’s do to corrupt and criminal leaders and a scandalous rape trial.

    KKK v2 would most likely include being anti-catholic. KKK v2 spread way out of the deep south and was quite big.

    I guess the current KKK, such as it is should be KKK v3. It is pretty small and not powerful. It is not significant in any way. It started up during the late 1950’s during the civil rights movement and the movement’s Civil disobedience tactics beat them pretty handily for the hearts and minds of the rest of the population and for those in the Federal Gov.

    My guess, though is that current KKK v3 eats lots of pasta. And canned spaghetti-os…often in their parent’s basement…were they live for now until they get things back on track.

  10. Yup, Three waves, which is three too many. The SD story is on the ’20s, maybe not enough folks in post Civil War SD to justify using up all the bedsheets.

  11. Expanding on what P Jay said . . .

    A fair number of Italians wound up here in Southern Colorado. Florence (home of the SuperMax prison) was reportedly founded by Italians who got tired of the Klan (2nd wave) in Canon City. And Pueblo has so many, who are so interrelated with each other, that people joke about the city having only three families: Italians, Hispanics and BoJons (eastern Europeans of various types). The Klan not only didn’t take root here, this one of the first places (if not THE first place) to celebrate Columbus day–a fact not lost on the irony-deficient portions of the Hispanic population:)

    BTW: thank you, oh thank you, for giving me the munchies with the pasta talk:P

  12. I can’t say much about Italian Catholic immigrants, but my grandfather was a recent Irish Catholic immigrant who homesteaded in Chalk Butte (between Stoneville and Union Center) in 1920,. He had little respect for what was a fairly soft Klan membership and confronted them personally at their klavern HQ, when he heard they were looking for him. You can read the details of his confrontations with the Klan in Tom Finn: An Uncommon Odyssey (Celtic Castle Press, 7371 Rio Hondo Pl., Downey, CA 90241 for $16.95 plus $2.50 S&H). His story is an exciting collection of events around bare knuckle fights, Titanic construction, Prohibition, the Great Depression, moonshine, gold mining, homesteading, orphanage life, etc.

  13. My great grandfather was Andy Fredrickson, son of king frederick of denmark and i keep hearing that he was one of the leaders of the KKK in south dakota… Does anyone know if this is true?

  14. As a collector of about anything old, I recently acquired a collection of KKK Klan literature from Elk Point SD form the 20’s. No, I do not follow their theories. But, I was fascinated to find that they were protestants against other religions, mainly Catholics, rather than black/white. I’m kind of looking do get rid of them to anybody interested in the history.

  15. Steve,

    Interesting!

    As a Catholic, I’ve never come across the actual literate used by the Klan (though I have seen it from other groups, and had friends in high school whose grandparents would have been Klansmen in that era).

    Are you able to scan the documents, so that they can digitally live on?

  16. To Steve…I’d be interested in the material since I’m actively doing research on Klan in west. I’d donate the papers, once I finished, to a local historical group.

    Just finished up a paper on Irish Catholics in Denver vs Klan. Thing is before the Klan I learned there were other anti-Catholic groups in Colorado. Klan was just a continuation of WASPS unhappy w/ anyone different from them who seemed to be doing.

    There are Klan documents from other parts of the US online currently. Anyone interested in their ideas, etc can find these materials.

  17. To Steve…I’d be interested in the material since I’m actively doing research on Klan in west. I’d donate the papers, once I finished, to a local historical group.

    Just finished up a paper on Irish Catholics in Denver vs Klan. Thing is before the Klan I learned there were other anti-Catholic groups in Colorado. Klan was just a continuation of WASPS unhappy w/ anyone different from them who seemed to be doing well.

    There are Klan documents from other parts of the US online currently. Anyone interested in their ideas, etc can find these materials.

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