DESPERATE MEASURES: Jesse James and the Klan Battles of Reconstruction
N.C. Reconstruction-era Klan Connected to Jesse James
and Quantrill Missouri Guerrillas
A historical research team has confirmed for the first time that during the post-Civil War Reconstruction period, the Ku Klux Klan of Alamance County, N.C., was associated with ex-Missouri guerillas including members of the James-Younger Gang. There are indications that the Carolina Klansman may have been responsible for bringing the organization to Lafayette and surrounding counties of Missouri.
The N.C. Klan’s connection to the Missouri outlaws is based on the extensive genealogical information and official North Carolina court records from the state archives, as well as other sources such as newspapers. Many Alamance County families migrated to Clay County, Missouri, before the Civil War and were actually neighbors of the James family. The family names include: Holt, Albright, Crossett, Cummins, Schoolfield, Wharton, Denny and many others. These same families were the principal participants in Reconstruction-era Klan activities.
After the Civil War, conditions were very chaotic as the Radical Republican Party attempted to influence southern politics and implement various plans to integrate the former slaves into society. The resentment from ex-Confederates over disenfranchisement coupled with white-supremacist social and political assertions gave rise to various clandestine organizations and activities designed to defeat northern policies. The conditions in North Carolina were among the most volatile in the nation; it was from this environment that the Ku Klux Klan emerged as a structured organization around 1878. The activities of the Klan were particularly violent in the counties of Orange, Alamance, Caswell and Rockingham. In 1870, N.C. militia troops were sent to suppress Klan activity in Alamance and Caswell counties.
After the assassination of Sen. Stephens by the Klan in Caswell County in May 1870, Gov. W. W. Holden declared Alamance and Caswell counties to be in a state of insurrection. Holden subsequently sent in troops and arrested hundreds of citizens. In response to this “occupation” strategy, key members of the N.C. Klan fled to Missouri to avoid capture; once there, they received protection from their friends and relatives in Clay and Lafayette counties. By a twist of history, the North Carolina Klan became enmeshed with the Missouri guerilla networks and vice versa. Evidence indicates that in Missouri, Captain Dave Pool a Quantrill lieutenant and an intimate friend of Jesse and Frank James, may have been a focal point for the NC Klan in Missouri.
Prior to Gov. Holden’s proclamation of insurrection 1870, Missouri men may have come to North Carolina to assist Klan operations. Inflammatory articles in Missouri newspapers reported the depredations of Col. Kirk’s men in Alamance and issued what basically was a call to arms. Impassioned by reports of atrocities against their families, it is clear that some of the Missouri-born Tarheels headed east to support their North Carolina cousins. This group apparently included Frank and Jesse James, whose family married into the Albright family of Alamance County. Additionally, fellow gang member Jim Cummins had numerous connections to the N.C. Klan. Cummins’ father and mother had roots in Guilford County and were members of the Buffalo Presbyterian Church in Greensboro. Documents show the James brothers to have visited the Williamsburg Community where Alamance, Caswell, Guilford and Rockingham Counties converge; Locust Hill in Caswell County; Graham in Alamance County; the Mayfield area of Rockingham County; and the Irisburg Community of Henry County, Virginia, on the N.C. line.
Documentation clearly shows that the James brothers would continue to use their N.C. associates during their long outlaw career. Frank James returned to North Carolina in 1881 while on the run. He stayed in Greensboro at the McAdoo House. It is believed that he was protected by his old Klan associates in reciprocity for the support given the Klansmen during their flight to Missouri in 1870. Jesse James also returned to North Carolina even earlier, from 1878-79, at which time he visited gang members in Anson and Union counties in the Southern Piedmont.
The story of the N.C. Ku Klux Klan’s connection to Jesse James and the Quantrill guerilla network is compiled in a book titled “Desperate Measures: Jesse James and the Klan Battles of Reconstruction” that was published in July 2007.
The research team is composed of Mr. Ralph Ganis, author of Uncommon Men: A Secret Network of Jesse James Revealed; genealogist Julie Hampton Ganis; Alamance County historian Jay Shouse of Graham, N.C. and Matt Bumgarner of Hickory, NC, who's the author of Kirk's Raiders: A Notorious Band of Scoundrels and Thieves.
Questions? Email us at: Desperate Measures