Shawnee history: KKK and railroad strikes dominate early in 1922

Clyde Wooldridge
The Klansmen gathered at Fairview Cemetery in full regalia on the night of  February 3, 1922.


More than 600 Rock Island shop men, including the members of the seven interrelated crafts, machinists, boiler makers, blacksmiths, sheet metal workers, car men, clerks, electricians, and the shop laborers, went on strike at the Shawnee shops on January 31, 1922.

The trouble arose over the interpretation of the rules recently handed down by the United States Labor Board. A representative of the men said they wished it understood they were not protesting the Labor Board rules, but against the railroad company’s interpretation of them.

The representative also said that the present trouble involved no vital issues, and he was confident the differences would be adjusted soon, and the men would return to work in a very short time.


The Rock Island shop men who went out on strike on Tuesday, January 31, returned to work on February 2, at the usual hour. What was termed a “fifty-fifty” agreement by one of the craft representatives, was reached at 6 P.M., on February 1, after an all-day conference between the local committee of the various shop crafts and representatives of the company. The men gave as their reason for striking was a misinterpretation by the company of rules recently handed down by the United States Wage Board. Neither side would discuss the terms of the agreement, other than to state that an amicable settlement was reached.


What was probably the most impressive ceremony ever beheld in Shawnee took place on the night of February 3, 1922, at the Fairview Cemetery. Almost 200 Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, dressed in full regalia, and carrying flaming crosses held a memorial service at the graves of three recently departed members of the Klan: S.E. “Nuck” Hunt, real estate man, and R.F. Bass, Rock Island shop man, who were victims of the smallpox epidemic recently in Shawnee, and R.L. Alexander, who committed suicide the past June, were the subjects at hand.

The crowd in attendance was estimated at between two and three thousand and was densely packed on both sides of the cemetery driveways and standing in groups among the graves.

A flaming cross appeared over the hill in the direction of Shawnee heralded the coming of the procession and the coming of the Klansmen in automobiles. A tall Klansman in spectral robes, walked silently among the crowd in advance of the procession, leading the way to the graves. The license tag on each car was covered.

Alighting from the cars, the men formed a huge circle around the graves of Hunt and Bass, the people silently following, moving obediently aside when the leader waved his naked sword for passageway. An American flag, a Bible, and a lighted cross were placed upon each grave, while the relatives of the departed looked on from a place of honor beside the two fresh mounds.

The Klansmen then formed a circle around the two orphan daughters of Alexander at his grave and swore to protect them from harm while they were alive. A member of the Klan spoke at each grave, paying a tribute to each of the departed, speaking of his life and works, the protection his family should receive from the Klan and ending with prayer.

The speeches were made in solemn earnest tones. After finishing the ceremonies at the graves, the men re-entered their automobiles and departed, without uttering a word except for the speeches made at the graves. The crowd following their example, kept silent and talked only in subdued tones.

In the dim light of the moon, the figures of the Klansmen were at times hardly discernible from the tall white gravestones, which formed a weird and spectral setting. When the wooden crosses bearing candles on each of the three points were lighted, however, the scene was almost as bright as day, clearly revealing the figures and faces of the closely packed crowds.

The announcement the day before that the service would be held at the cemetery caused a good deal of excitement. The speculation was rife as to whether the announcement was true or a joke. Long before the hour set for the appearance of the mysterious brethren, however, all the roadways about the cemetery were packed with automobiles for a half mile or more. Many people walked out from Shawnee, while others came in from the surrounding country in all kinds of conveyances.

“Follow the example of Christ, whose characteristics were those of a Klansman,” said the speaker, while the leader of the Klan stood by with uncovered sword, with which he occasionally waved the crowd back, or cleared a passage for the procession.


The Ku Klux Klan was working in all parts of Shawnee on Sunday night, March 12, 1922. The Methodist and Baptist churches in the southwest part of the city were visited by the robed men. Donations were made at each church.

About 10 P.M., witnesses stated that four men dressed in full regalia of the Klan grabbed Claude McCannon, Frank Cole, and two boys near the Convention Hall and dashed down Main Street with them. It was reported that the two men were whipped, but nothing else happened.

The kidnapping happened just as the congregation was leaving the First Methodist/Episcopal Church, and many witnessed the event. The stories of the witnesses differed widely about the matter. Excitement was running high as the car driven by Bill Sawyer had just dashed through the line of pedestrians as they were leaving the church.

(These stories and hundreds more appear in the first volume of Shawnee history, entitled: “REDBUD CITY: SHAWNEE, THE EARLY YEARS, 1830-1929.” It can be purchased by calling Clyde Wooldridge at (918) 470-3728, or by visiting the Pottawatomie County Historical Society at the old Santa Fe Depot. It can be purchased for $35. Volume two, “1930-1949,” is also available for $30. They may be obtained as a package for $60. Volume three, “REDBUD CITY: SHAWNEE, THE MIDDLE YEARS, 1950-1969,” is coming sometime before Christmas. All three volumes are slightly over 400 pages with hundreds of photos and illustrations. They are fully indexed, making it easy to look up individuals or places of business. Volume four 1970-1989; volume five 1990-2009; and volume six 2010-to the present, are scheduled in the next two to three years, bringing the history up to the current time of publication.)

Clyde Wooldridge is a local historian.