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The Klan in Walsenburg, part 1

by Edi Sheldon

WALSENBURG- The rebirth of Klansmanship in Colorado is well documented in the annuls of Colorado history.  The movement began in Denver and spread to cities and smaller communities throughout the state.  The popularity of the KKK seemed to spring from the pervasive lawlessness after World War I.  Walsenburg was not immune to the KKK, but did ultimately resist the strong growth of the club.

    I remember a story relating to the building on my parents’ ranch known as the manager’s residence.  There was not much left of the structure by the time we took ownership.  It had no windows and the door was there, but would not latch.  I did not like the atmosphere in the house, so only entered it one time.  My understanding of the story relating to this structure was that the ranch manager secretly belonged to the KKK, but his wife knew nothing of this membership.

    She was gathering clothing to put through the laundry one day and picked up a pair of her husband’s good trousers which he had left lying over a chair.  When she turned them upside down to hang them, some items fell out of the pockets.  She reached down to pick them up and found a KKK membership card with her husband’s name on it.

    The stigma associated with this organization was strong.  It was well known for discrimination against Jews, Catholics, and many minority immigrant populations.  The county had been heavily populated by immigrants from Italy, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Ireland, Wales and other European countries as well as India, and China.  These nationalities became fearful of the Klan activity which seemed to be directed against them.

    Several days after the discovery of her husband’s KKK membership card, the lady was found hanging from a rafter in the home.  She supposedly had committed suicide as a result of her discovery because she was of mixed ancestry and had never told her husband of her Catholic upbringing.  The husband was fired and persecuted till he left the area and the house remained empty.

    Newspaper articles throughout the months of 1924 chronicle Klan activity.  A parade down Walsenburg’s Main Street was described by the Walsenburg World in its January 22 issue as having 160 marchers carrying banners stating, “The Bootlegger Must Go,” “America for Americans,” “Walsenburg Klan No. 12,” “We’re Here to Stay,” “Free Press,” “Free Speech,” and other similar announcements.  The paper also reported that a cross, estimated to be 40 feet high, burned on Saint Mary’s Hill, (now known as Chico Hill).

    This display of KKK might was purported to have been a protest against the lawlessness that had resulted in the death of two Walsenburg police officers.  They had been acting on reports of bootlegging activity which seemed to be rampant in the area.  The rebellion of the mine workers against the strict repression exercised by the mine owners had resulted in a particularly difficult social atmosphere of drunken lawlessness.  Prohibition only accentuated the mine workers’ feelings of resentment and oppression.  The bars and whorehouses were said to be operating at full capacity between the 1914 Ludlow Massacre and the appearance of the KKK in the early 1920’s.

­    Several op/ed pieces appearing in successive issues of the Walsenburg World criticized KKK actions for discriminating against religious freedoms.  Walsenburg and Trinidad were not tolerant toward KKK efforts due to the impressive religious stronghold of the Catholic Church in the area.  Many of the immigrant miners were Catholic when they arrived or followed the Church doctrine after they established independent lives in this area.  The main focus of KKK activity was to promote Protestantism, with an underlying emphasis on political influence.  The newspaper sought to calm and unite a community characterized by a blend of many different nationalities.

    Next week’s follow-up will detail a local home built to house KKK meetings.