The Tobacco Wars
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 Association 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 (or Hillbillies, as they were called) into the Association. Independent farmers were threatened by anonymous letters, barns were burned and plant beds were scraped. Bundles of matches 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, of , who had been a cadet and drill master at Major Ferrell’s Military School in Hopkinsville. the purpose of this organization was Cobb 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 hoaz. The Night Riders had sent the warning in order to test the city’s prepardness.
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 limis 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 I.C. 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 the men who were surprised inside. Other units took over the Fire Department and the L & N 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.
As a result of the raid on Hopkinsville, Co., 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 efficienty in handling the difficult situation arising from the Night Rider War, Gov. Augustus F. Wilson commissioned Major Bassett a Lt. Col., on December 17, 1908. Although the worst of the troubles were over by this time Col. Bassett was called on several times to protect witnesses int rials of the night riders. By the summer of 1910, the night rider trouble had come to an end except for a few scattered 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.
Dr. David A. Amoss (1857 – 1915)
Alleged Leader of The Night Riders
Attended Major Ferrell’s School (1875-1876)
Resident of Cobb, Caldwell County, Kentucky
Ruins of people’s tobacco warehouse, southwest corner of Ninth and Campbell Streets, December, 1907. Warehouse, owned by John C. Latham, was filled with dark tobacco owned by farmers who would not join the Planters Association, thus the target of the Night Riders. Three tobacco warehouses were burned during the raid on Hopkinsville, December 7, 1907.
The largest squad marched to the Latham warehouse near the L & N 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”.
In the 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 th eother 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 wound 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.