K—K—KSundry Facts and Comment
LETTER FROM EARL SHERWOOD
June 20th, 1879
Editor Hardin Gazette,—Dear Sir: In your issue of June 13th you say that "We want the readers of the Gazette to understand that the Ku-Klux-Klan is not a political organization, but gotten up for the purpose of exterminating all the known enemies to the members thereof without any regard to religion, politics or standing in society. Won't they have their hands full, though?"
Also under the head of "More Ku-Klux," you say that "comment is unnecessary,"—that the threat of a mad boy in the northwest corner of the county against a neighbor boy on account of a pretty girl,—"can be traced to one of the Klan back of Cave-in-Rock." James A. Lowry, you know [in] your soul that is a Falsehood.
You say that the "tendency of this Klan and all others of a like character run into murder, robbery, arson, and all their kindred crimes." In this connection I will say that you named our organization a Klan. Call it what you like. If a few honest hearts combined together for the purpose of ferreting out a crime and bringing criminals to justice can be called a Klan, then call us what you will. If the murdered of Luke Hambrink can be found it shall be.
You say "it runs into murder, robbery and arson." I say that we endeavor to bring to justice murders, robbers and burners, and to crush them by the strong arm of the law. You say crush us by the strong arm of the law. You say wipe us out of existence. You say "Let peace and quiet once more rest upon the people" We say disband you army that has been in arms ever since Luke Hambrink was patricided;—make them stop terrorizing the county with shot guns by the dozen. Make them let their witnesses be interviewed.
They refused to allow Wm. J. Banks, et. al, to see the widow Browning when sent by the Grand Jury, and have since then shipped her.
You say "stop it at what it is at and let the peaceable and industrious citizen's who have been driven from their homes return to their families and their farms."
We know of now one who has been driven from their homes. The shot gun company do so from choice and an evident joint interest. Wm. H. Hall, who you say has "been driven from home by these outlaws," was actuated by fear, inducted by the mind-paralyzing lies told by the Judas who gave the medicine to his wife's former husband about one month before he married her. These lies, colored by an interested party in Wm. J. Hall's neighborhood caused his flight. I to-day read two letters from said Hall to Mr. Logan Belt, and they throw dark shadows on some who roost high.
You say "let us apply to the Governor for militia to nip this thing in the bud." If the thing had been nipped in the bud before the poor peddler who unsuspectedly ate his dinner and then—a few trinkets scattered and his pack,—in the big sink; if the bud had been nipped before poor Osbrooks, the husband of Joe Adams's first wife took his last dinner at G. W. Hollemon's; if the bud had been nipped before poor old man Hardesty, after chatting and smoking with friends, took that last dose of medicine and was bounced to the grave with a whoop and a yell; if the bud had been nipped before poor old man Hambrink was made to take the heavenly train to keep his money from going to Germany with him, there never would have been this disturbance, nor such a general uprising by certain characters among high and low to shout "stop this investigation,—it retards the wheels of justice. Ku-Klux.
"Oh! judgment, thou has fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason," when good men can be misled by men who have given libels under their signature,—when good men cannot see the cause and the effect, the sequence and consequence,— when bad men can kill stock, burn fences, assassinate men, swear lies and band together armed to the teeth to resist law, and obtaining certain worshipped counsel,— after they find it a ground hog case,—Oh! it is a grand "coup d'eteat" to shift the origin of the excitement upon parties who deplore that our county has been despoiled by such men as comprise this shot gun gang, thereby deterring any wealthy immigration to our country. And here we will say that the Ku-Klux-Klan" so much talked of is simply this: a few men met together for the purpose of devising ways and means to ferret out the Hambrink murder, and to protect the witnesses, as the witnesses were all under the control of armed men; they took a solemn obligation to keep secret all that might be discovered until the arrest of the party or parties implication. And as to the report that this was Logan Belt's Klan, or in his interest, I will state this, that if the discovery of the murders of Luke Hambrink would benefit Logan Belt, then it was in his interest; if it would injure him, then it was against his interest.
I see that the papers of different states have said a great deal about his matter. I ask that they copy this, and that hey do not give us a newspaper death. Let us live before the people as we live before high heaven; with conscience clear, let our reputation be with our conscience.
I am yours, &c.
Earl Sherwood, et. al.
Earl Sherwood, a spokesman for the Klan, came to see us last week and asked permission to use these columns to explain up matters in which they were concerned, and to try to allay the excitement existing; which privilege we granted, and the above is what has come of it. Verily, "Whom the gods destroy they first make mad." He upbraids us for calling their organization a "Ku-Klux-Klan." That is what they called it a year ago when serving notices on the Oldhams, as will be seen from one of those notices published elsewhere. He says they organized for the purpose of ferreting out the murder of Luke Hambrink. Are they such friends of law and order as to compel them to this step? Were they such intimate friends to Mr. Hambrink as to cause them to take such extraordinary steps? Why no. In point of fact some of them were his desperate enemies. [A] point of fact Luke Hambrink [was af]raid certain members of [MS missing] [w]ould kill him. In point [word missing] ose use Hambrink told the [words missing] paper over a year ago [word missing] was going to Germany, for [word missing] "I[f] I stay where I am Logan Belt wil[l] kill me. Perhaps Mr. Sherwood will stigmatize this as another huge life, and in case he does we are able to cite him to other persons, of unquestioned veracity to whom Mr. Hambrink used the same language. It looks more like they wanted to cover up the murder of Luke Hambrink than to bring it to light. If this had been their only object as he would have you infer, then why, in the name of all that is good, have they been bulldozing, threatening, and terrifying citizens against whom they could have had no suspicion whatever? The idea that some of the parties engaged in this thing should undertake it for the purposes stated by Mr. Sherwood, is really a joke, which the people who know them best will appreciate most. We would have Mr. Sherwood and all concerned with him to understand that we do not wish to misrepresent anyone. We are not actuated by malice but by a desire to promulgate the truth and shield the people from danger by warning them of that danger. If it had been our disposition to prejudice Logan Belt's case, it look reasonable that we'd have commenced some time ago. Mr. Sherwood with a tragic air calls up the case of the peddler who was sup[posed to have disappeared up in that country, and of two or three men who in all probability died natural deaths of disease. This is done for effect. Had we the power of the Witch of Endor manifested before King Saul, we could call forth the Shad of Captain Gibson, of Mr. Dorris, of Lewis Franklin, of Doc Oldham, and others, and this too would be for effect, and to pretty good effect too. We have no apology to offer for anything which has appeared in these columns, nor shall we promise to be quiet while there is an armed band of this character in existence in this county. They may try some quieting process, but we feel confident, knowing this people as we do, that our fall would not go unavenged.
The following editorial article and document was prepared for last week's Gazette, but was laid over for good reason.
The excitement occasioned by the exposure of an organized and armed band in this county has somewhat subsided, but we fear the danger is not yet past. Some of the parties say that they have dropped the organization and have abandoned everything connected with it. It is to be hoped that this is true, but if it be true why do they still hold their clandestine meetings? Why do they still prowl around the premises of Zed. Jenkins and other citizens? Why are they still trying to intimidate men against whom they have grudges? We are inclined to think the trouble is not past, and we fear that in case it ever gets another start, that they will rival the Williamson county outlaws in the number and atrocity of the crimes committed. This county is too small, too weak, too poor and too much depends [word missing] to ever stand the expe[nse] of even [word missing] a state of affairs as existed in Williamson a few years ago.
The members of this gang claim that it was organized to detect and punish the murderers of Luke Hambrink, and some of them may think so, but in point of fact this thing was planned a year ago, and it was gotten up solely for the purpose of making capital in the Belt murder trial now pending. In proof of this assertion we publish below a letter, mailed one year ago at Salem , Ky., directed to two persons back of Cave-in-Rock and taken out of the post office by a person well known by the citizens of this town, so that the matter can be easily traced back to the reception of the letter one year ago; and the authorship of the letter can be clearly established by the handwriting, and by one other circumstance which we for the present withhold.
Here is the letter, and it proves what we have said in regard to the object of this organization, and if anybody doubts any of the allegations we propose to fully and clearly establish them by proof when occasion requires it:
At home in all places, but more}Now this clearly shows a bad state of affairs to exist. The author of the letter is a citizen of this county and a member of the Ku-Klux recently on trial here. We have a law here and the majority of the people wish to see it lived up to and executed. The people are not satisfied with this way of intimidating, bulldozing and driving witnesses and prosecutors. It has been done before in this county, and will be done again and again if the people are not outspoken and prompt in breaking down this last attempt. We say again put it down, or we shall not live to be old enough to see the end of it, nor will our property be sufficient to pay the expense it will entail.
From the Johnson County Journal
A gentleman of Elizabethtown has written to a friend in this place that a band of Ku Klux has been terrorizing the citizens of the eastern part of Hardin county; that eleven of the gang have been arrested and admitted to bail; and that ninety men are under arms night and day in that locality.
There seems to be a bad state of affairs existing in Hardin county, but we are unable to learn the particulars. It appears that a party had organized for the purpose of ferreting out the murderer or murderers of Luke Hambrink. Another party was also organized, and there existed bad blood between the two organizations, growing out of former troubles. It is said that parties were notified to leave the county, and some did leave. The Sheriff was afraid to make arrests. The factions hearing of this, concluded to go into Elizabethtown and voluntarily give themselves up. So they armed themselves, about fifteen or twenty on a side, with revolvers and sabers, so that neither side should have the advantage in case of difficulty, and went in for trial. Some of the citizens of the town in fear closed up their places of business and left. The trial resulted in several parties being placed under bond of $200 each. These are substantially the facts as we can learn them at the present.
* * * It would seem that the days of Murrell and Ford were again upon us; Hardin county being the especial theater of attention for these desperadoes. Just across the river and a little above Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, is the little Kentucky town of Ford's Ferry, where the celebrated James Ford had his headquarters, and where Ford finally met his death at the hands of an assassin. The editor of this paper has been over almost every square mile of the territory mentioned, and while knowing that a very large majority of the people of Hardin county are as clever folks as the sun ever shone on, yet knowing the parties engaged in this Ku-Klux business, is forced to say that they have been known for years as desperate characters.
The Bad Belts
Evansville, June 12.—Old citizens of Kentucky and Illinois need not be reminded that Ford's Ferry and Cave-in-Rock, on opposite sides of the Ohio river, long since became notorious for the robberies and horrid murders perpetrated by Ford and his confederates. These tragedies have recently been revamped by some of the Kentucky papers. Your correspondent who had occasion to make a business trip a few days ago through Hardin county, Illinois, has to speak of modern barbarities, which he ventures to say even the red-handed Ford would not be ashamed to own were he living among the desperadoes who seem to have taken their cue from him. Verily, they are fit successors of the dead monster, and are entitled to undisputed possession of his "dark and bloody" patch of ground.
Belt is the name of a large family living near Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, which for years has been more terrible to the timid than were ever names of Little and Strong in the Kingdom of Breathitt. It can be found on nearly every criminal docket that has been made up in Hardin county during the last fifteen years, and is not entirely unknown to criminal fame in several of the adjoining counties. I will begin with the last exploit of Hardin county lawlessness; will then "advance backward," and tell of deeds of theft, assault and dark assassination that have been mysteriously withheld from courts, grand juries and even Argus eyed reporters for the great dailies.
On the 30th day of May last, upon complaint made by Frank Hardin & B. Z. Jenkins, a warrant was issued charging with unlawful conspiracy (i. e. Kukluxing) the following parties: Logan Belt, Jonathan Belt. H. J. Belt, James Belt, Arthur Belt; Elisha Morris, son-in-law of Jonathan Belt; William Fraley, brother-in-law of Logan Belt; George Ratliffe, nephew of the Belts; Frank Justice, Tom Leeper, Robert Sheridan, W. D. White, Bill Lyons and Harry Holloman. All, except the two last-named, when they ascertained that a charge had been preferred against them, gave themselves up to J. F. Taylor, the County Judge, for their trial, which began at Elizabethtown on the 4th and ended on the 5th of this month. Hardin and Jenkins were the principal witnesses for the people, and stated substantially that by various influences and false pretenses, employed from time to time by Loge Belt and Bob Sheridan, they were persuaded to join the conspirators on the night of the 7th of May last. The place of meeting was a sequestered gulch near the Ohio, the pretended purpose was to ferret out the mysterious murder of one Luke Hambrink, committed in that locality on the night of the first of last April. It was also suggested that a man named Covert should be whipped or killed, and that society thereabouts should be regulated generally. Speeches were made by several of the midnight regulators, grips, signs, uniform and password adopted. Their faces were to be cowled, and a light was to be carried in the hat of each during a raid on evil-doers. Steps were taken to arm all who were too poor to furnish their own weapons. The question whether a fellow should be whipped or "treated worse" was to be left entirely to the conscientious discretion of the clan. In the event one of the brethren should get into the clutches of the law he was to be rescued by pistols drawn and cocked in the hands of disguised men. The plan adopted to escape the inquiry of courts and grand juries was very simple and effective—at least it so seemed to the pliable consciences of these night-riders. The organization was born, but left without "a local habitation and name." in order that its members could truth-fully swear that "they knew of no Ku-Klux organization in the county." Hardin and Jenkins having satisfied themselves that it was the intention of the conspirators to assassinate persons who were important witnesses against Logan Belt in a trial for murder pending in Gallatin county, and to commit such crimes that they were not sufficiently hardened to take a hand in, determined to disregard the infamous oath that bound the members under pains and penalties "to stick to one another until death." They resolved finally to consult W. S. Morris and J. Q. A. Ledbetter, able and courageous attorneys of the Elizabethtown bar. Tremblingly and in whispers their terrible secret was revealed, and the prosecution began; but they do not appear to have relieved their perilous situation, for they are kept in constant apprehension of a sudden and unexpected "taking off."
The Sheriff took time by the forelock, and had important business up the river and day the trial commenced. Indeed, it has been stated on good authority that he declared to the Commissioners of the county he would resign his office before he would attempt to "force the formidable Belts into a favorable opinion of the law." Prudent people are not disposed blame him much for transacting long-neglected business in the farthest corner of the county while the ferocious clans were gathering at the county seat with knives, pistols and shotguns eager to obey their leader's commend. I say clans, for be it remembered there are three of them, which may be designated as the Belt, Simmons and Oldham factions, the two last having declared war for self-protection against he Belt faction. But more of this civil strife and the cause thereof hereafter. It has been estimated that not less than 100 armed men attended the trial. Near the close of the investigation a youthful Beltite, not one of the defendants, was seen to enter the temple of justice bearing a carpet-bag full of pistols. Logan Belt, a shrewd villain, with some knowledge of the criminal law—"so much a long communion tends to make us what we are"—conducted the defense. He generally kept maliciously cool, but once or twice scattered fire from his lead-colored eyes, and nervously fingered a large pistol concealed in the right pocket of his pantaloons. His favorite method of cross-examination of a witness whom he disliked was to tell him" he had sworn an infamous lie." A question arose as to the competency of evidence offered by the State, when he coolly informed the court that if a decision were rendered against defendants he should decline to make further defense. What he meant by this statement was not clear to those who heard it, but fortunately the court adjudged the evidence improper, and the trial progressed peaceably to the close. The defendants proved them selves that their purposes were lawful and praise-worthy. Jonathan Belt, himself, an indicted murderer, tearfully declared that Hambrink was a kind, good neighbor, and that, "law or no law," he intended to drag the assassin of the lamented Hambrink to justice.
To say that the times were getting squally to the court conveys a very poor idea of the difficulties and dangers of the situation. The end came at last without bloodshed, and the defendants were held in the sum of $200 each to answer indictments. They were released on their own recognizance. Indeed, the Judge seemed anxious to get rid of them on any terms, and your correspondent is not the man to censure him for it. I think I should have released them without any bail, and then set up the drinks on the condition of their leaving town immediately. After old Jonathan Belt had made an ineffectual effort to get up a "shootin' scrape" with Morris, the lawyer, who had pressed the prosecution with great courage and ability, the whole party retired to their guns, which were hid in the edge of the town, and thence retreated to their native fastness. But they intent to give Elizabethtown only a short respite. They have had Hardin and Jenkins arrested on charge of perjury, and will return next Monday in force, to prosecute the charge.
It was proven on the trial that whenever the clan deemed it necessary, threatening letters were sent out. A number of such notices were issued, some of which were read in evidence. The following is a fair sample:
LICKPORT HEADQUARTERS—To Jack Oldham and the balance of the damned Oldhams clan: You have two weeks to clear out, or hell will be your doom.He found also pinned to his gate a card informing him, "ben burten" in substance, that he must get away in ten days or submit to the pleasurable sensation of being killed by a leaden ball or other hard substance.
Robert Sheridan, the Captain of the nameless band, has lived in Hardin county about twenty years, and bore a very good character until four or five years ago, when he yielded to the wicked influence of the Belts. He is now considered "as bad as they make 'em." Frank Justice, the second Captain, lived until recently in Pope county, where he was for a brief period, agent for some kind of patent medicine. While engaged in this businesses he was mysteriously robbed of $200 that he had collected for his employers. He is now "bad medicine" himself.
Wm. Fraley has been indicted for forgery, larceny, perjury and assault with intent to commit murder.
Earl Sherwood attempted to commit a rape in Franklin county, and fled to Hardin, where he soon got into trouble, and was indicted for a murderous assault on some person unknown to the writer hereof. George Ratliffe began his criminal career several years since by stealing a horse in Hardin county. Very little is known of the antecedents of Morris, White and Leeper. The last named is considered by Jenkins and Hardin as the most desperate villain in the clan, and they always tremble for their safety when his eye is upon them. H. J. is perhaps the "mildest-mannered" of all the Belts. He has yet to kill his man. He tried once, however to achieve a bloody notoriety, and was indicted for the offense. James and Arthur Belt are scarcely grown but have been well trained in "ways that are dark" and assassinations that are never found out. Jonathan Belt is more devotional than his fellow-clansmen. He often prays and preaches, "without money and without price." His auditors have discovered that, while he talks of "peace on earth," a Colt's army is concealed in his bosom, and they are, therefore, uncommonly attentive and respectful. He is a Baptist and none of his neighbors have ever dared to deny in his presence the doctrines of close communion and baptism by plunging. Indeed, such a firm believer is he in the necessity of immersion that he would not hesitate to tie rocks to a heretic and plunge him into the river where the current runs deepest. During the war he was a Captain under the infamous Payne at Paducah, but becoming dissatisfied—some say cashiered—he tried to get the position of Major in the Forty-eighth Kentucky infantry. Failing in this, he retired to the crags of his native Hardin, and rarely leaves them except on important business that concerns the lives of his fellow-citizens. When the war commenced he lived in Kentucky, where he got his first taste of human blood by killing a Confederate soldier. Several years since Hutson Belt was shot and killed in Elizabethtown by Capt. Frank Gibson, but Jonathan got even by sending a load of buckshot through Gibson while the latter was unsuspectingly riding along a public road.
There were two witnesses to this murder—one of them died, and the other, frightened by the Belts, fled the county. A farcical trial ended in the acquittal of the assassin. During the war, Joe Belt, under arrest at Cave-in-Rock accused of murder, was forcibly released by Jonathan and Logan Belt, assisted by persons unknown in that locality.
Logan Belt is the central figure of the group of Hardin county desperadoes—the master-spirit of all the deviltry that has lately been perpetrated by them. Every movement of the Belt faction has been made in his interest to save his body from the penitentiary or his neck from the legal halter. He is, in some respects, a remarkable man. He possesses uncommon nerve and a force of character, a pleasing address, unlimited self-possession and great native shrewdness—qualities which fit him well for leading the lawless characters whom he has gathered about him. He was an officer in the Forth-eighth Federal (Kentucky) infantry, and soon won a first-class reputation as a horse-thief. He "pressed" more for himself than for the Government. A soldier of the regiment who knew a good deal about Belt's crookedness was found dead and scalped early one morning. The Indian who played this trick on the unsuspecting soldier has never been captured. The criminal charges that have been preferred against him in Hardin and adjoining counties are too numerous to mention in this article. Several years since a man named Dorris whipped Belt in a fist fight at Elizabethtown. Dorris, a short time afterward, was assassinated at his own house in Gallatin county. Belt was indicted, proved an alibi, and escaped. His next man-killing exploit was bolder. A dancing party were gathered at the house of Tom Oldham, in Hardin county. Belt walked into the crowd, coolly shot and killed Dock Oldham, a brother of the host, and then dared any of his friends to "take it up." The indictment for this murder is the danger that Belt dreads. Hambrink, the father-in-law of one of the Oldhams, and the only moneyed man engaged in the prosecution of Belt, is believed by the best citizens who are conversant with the foregoing facts, to have been murdered by Logan Belt, or at his instigation. The pretended purpose of the clan to ferret out the Hambrink affair is, therefore, a very thin falsehood, and was evidently intended as a diversion in favor of the murderers.
Logan Belt and a man named Covert were once confidential friends. Belt made damaging admissions to Covert. A rupture after this occurred between the two, and Covert's life came near paying the penalty. He was waylaid by Bill Fraley and Logan Belt. Though badly riddled with buckshot, he lives to hid between courts, and now fails to turn up when the case of the people against Belt is called. It must not be presumed that Belt is ungrateful to his friends. In 1873, Aleck Fraley, a brother to Bill, murdered Arthur Price, but was easily cleared by Belt's testimony.
This dark picture has a bright side. Although Logan Belt is running at large on straw bail, the probability is that he will be convicted of felony. This will rid of the community of his presence, and will break up the nest of criminals, of whom he is chief. Furthermore, the shocking developments of the late trial have aroused and united the order-loving people of the whole county, and there is a general disposition among them to hold the Belt party responsible for every secret, lawless act that may be committed in the county. Your correspondent would not be surprised to hear, at no distant day, of a lively rope-stretching performance in the vicinity of Cave-in-Rock
While the main facts and allegations in the foregoing article are, so far as we know, correct, yet we do not with the impression to go out that all the Belts in this country are bad and lawless men; for many of them are as good citizens as we have, peaceable, industrious, and law-abiding, minding their own business and having no difficulties with any one. Further, we do not think that the impression giving this article that Judge Taylor was intimidated, &c., is either fair or true; for is such was the case, no one present at the trial could see it. No decision which was lawful was withheld, and no order necessary to be given was refused. With these corrections we give the article to the people, as a matter of news, and also because we deem it our duty to give them the fullest insight possible into the deeds and objects of this clan.
Grayson, Ky., May 27.—Reports from the Underwood war to-day are of a more startling nature than disclosed by the dispatch last night. It is alleged that Holbrooks is at the head of the party who attacked the Underwoods on Thursday last. The conduct of the Underwood party for the past two years has gained them many friends. Most of the men in the Upper Tygart county, is the locality of the troubles, are out in the woods armed and on the alert for their enemies. Reports here this morning were that the old Chief George had been killed on Sunday morning by the Glover brothers. Later reports, which are believed to be reliable, are that the old man was badly wounded, but is not yet dead. Some of the best armed and least excitable men believed this to be the beginning of a terrible outbreak, of which the end will not soon be seen. Breathitt County is again on deck with another murder. They have commenced bushwhacking. On Friday afternoon Andrew Carpenter, a witness for the commonwealth against the Little party, was shot from the bush while engaged in the cornfield. As long as one of those fellows can get sight of an enemy and shoot from the bush, the public will be furnished with murder from Bloody Breathitt.—Ex.
The above articles were transcribed by Jon Musgrave from Vol. IX, No. 26 of The Hardin Gazette of Elizabethtown, Hardin County, Illinois, published on Friday, June 27, 1879. James A. Lowry is named as editor.