The Bald Knobbers of Southwest Missouri were an organization of vigilantes that emerged in the Ozarks in the year of 1883. What started out as an organization with good intentions that believed in justice and protecting their communities from crime, turned into the violence and the slaying of innocent people. The history and accounts of the Bald Knobbers is a compelling part of Missouri’s history that had a substantial impact on the Ozarks.
Following the Civil War, Taney County and other surrounding counties were in a state of chaos. With a failing economy and high taxes, the Ozarks was filled with uncontrollable crime. With little to no law enforcement, outlaws were able to roam free after committing murder, robbery, and other unimaginable acts. Because of no action being taken to put a stop these outlaws, at least forty unsolved murders had occurred through the years of 1865 to 1885. After another murder occurred on September 22, 1883, Nathaniel N. Kinney, six feet six and weighing more than 300 pounds, had finally had enough(“The Fierce Missouri Bald Knobbers”). He wanted justice and authority for his town; with his persuasive ways, he ordered a secret meeting calling twelve of the town’s leaders to propose coming together to fight the corruption in their local government and raging crime. The men gathered on a hill with no trees, also called a “bald knob”. Thus, giving them the name The Bald Knobbers.
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With the number of willing participants rapidly growing, the Balder Knobber’s had over 200 men in their corner. Within weeks of their first meeting and swearing to be respectful to everyone as they caught criminals (Malone 57), the Bald Knobbers were taking matters into their own hands. Their first act of “justice” was the kidnapping of Taylor brothers, Frank and Tubal. The men were taken from jail by one hundred Bald Knobbers and hanged. The violent account made by the Bald Knobbers was heard around the county and many of the members resigned in their role of fighting crime. It did not stop their numbers from growing into nearly one thousand, stretching from Taney county into Christian and Douglas counties(“The Fierce Missouri Bald Knobbers”).
Because not all of the members of Bald Knobbers were true to the original goals, many of the men had to hide their identities. Covering their faces with flour sacks or pillowcases with the eyes cut out and occasionally adding the terrifying allusion of devil horns, the night riders would terrorize and even kill the townspeople with guns, whips, and hangings. The ones most vulnerable to the attacks were ones who did wrong to a member and men who Bald Knobbers believed did not provide for their family or treat their families the way that they should(“The Fierce Missouri Bald Knobbers”). These acts led to an organization called the Anti-Bald Knobbers. The creation of this led to many violent encounters between the two rivals (Christensen 24).
The ending of the Bald Knobbers was near. With members of the Anti-Bald Knobbers in power politically, nine of the Bald Knobbers were called to be tried for the murders of William Edens and Charles Green after they refused to obey the Bald Knobber’s demands (Jackson 12). Four of the accused were sentenced to be hanged for the killings. After this, the activities of the Bald Knobbers greatly decreased. Governer at the time, John Marmaduke, was petitioned for a regular militia to put an end to the vigilantes of the Ozarks. Nat Kinney, leader of the Bald Knobbers, protested this and had to be investigated by Adjudent J.C. Jamison. As a result of the investigation, 80 people were indicted by a grand jury for the wild spree of crimes that were committed(Shoemaker 117). Filled with fear of being sent to prison or hanged, the Bald Knobbers began to become a minority.
Nat Kinney had claimed self-defense in crimes that he had committed and was acquitted, just like many others; this angered many of his enemies. In 1888, Nat Kinney was found shot and killed in a planned assassin by an Anti-Bald Knobber named Billy Miles. With their leader gone, the sprees of crimes slowly died down. The complete end of the Bald Knobbers was around 1899(“The Fierce Missouri Bald Knobbers”).
In conclusion, the history of the Bald Knobbers is an important part of Missouri’s history and has a tremendous impact on the Ozarks. Looking deeper into the history, the impact this terrifying era had on the Ozarks is clear. The history is proof of what happens when authority is absent and violence takes over. The future of society can be improved by considering the history of the Bald Knobbers.
Christensen, Lawerence, and Gary R. Kremer. A History of Missouri: Volume IV, 1875 to 1919. University of Missouri Press, 1997
Hartman, Mary, and Elmo Ingenthron. Bald Knobbers: Vigilantes on the Ozarks Frontier. Pelican Publishing Company, 1988
Hix, Lisa. “Were the Bald Knobbers Law-and-Order Folk Heroes or Murderous Thugs? | Essay.”
Zócalo Public Square, 20 Mar. 2018,
Jackson, Rex. Notable Persons and Places in Missouri’s History. Litho Printers, 2006
Malone, Ross. Mysterious Missouri. Bluebird Publishing Company, 2013
Shoemaker, Floyd C. Missouri, Day by Day. Vol.1 Jefferson City [Mo.]: Mid-state Printing Co., 1942.
“The Fierce Missouri Bald Knobber.” Legends of America, www.legendsofamerica.com/mo-baldknobber/.
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