Dallas Historian

Ku Klux Klan

Facts about the Ku Klux Klan

KKK started as a result of the Civil War and the freedom of slaves. Members made their own robes, mostly white with white hoods to disguise their identity and terrify African Americans and their allies. Some robes were very colorful with big cone hats also designed to invoke fear. Historically, the first Klan used terrorism, both physical assault and murder, against politically active blacks and their allies in the South in the late 1860s, until it was suppressed around 1872. 

I want to be clear from the beginning. The Klan did have a chapter (Klavern) in Dallas in the 1920s.However, it did nothing to earn mention in history books or even local paper accounts beyond a few rallies and a parade down Main street. The Klavern died out in the mid 1920s and never returned. 

The Klan was none existent until  it was formed again in Indiana, in the early 1920s and spread throughout the country. Maj. Luther I. Powell, a gregarious Louisianan, swore in the first Oregon Klansmen in Medford while his fellow Kleagles recruited  in Portland, Eugene, Salem, Astoria, Hood River, Pendleton, Tillamook and other communities.

Historians estimate that the national Klan attracted more than two million members during the 1920s, and by 1923 Oregon Klan leaders claimed 35,000 members in more than sixty local chapters and provisional Klans. Hundreds of other Oregonians joined the Women of the Ku Klux Klan, the Junior Order of Klansmen for teenagers, and the Royal Riders of the Red Robe for foreign-born Protestants.

The Klan spread rapidly in Oregon, focused their racism on Catholics, and the Chinese laborers. Internal fighting and theft plagued it from the beginning. After his election as the first Exalted Cyclops (leader) of Klan No. 1 in Portland, Fred L. Gifford forced Powell from Oregon and became the Grand Dragon (head) of the state Klan. From their Portland headquarters, Gifford and his associates, including Lem Dever, the colorful editor of the Oregon Klan's newspaper, The Western American, turned the organization into a powerful and controversial political machine during the elections of 1922 and 1924. In 1922, Klansmen won election to local and county offices throughout Oregon, and some Klansmen won seats in the state legislature. The Klan helped elect LaGrande Democrat Walter M. Pierce as governor and played a significant role in passing an initiative measure requiring all children eight to sixteen years of age to attend public schools. While targeting Roman Catholics, the compulsory school bill would have eliminated other private and denominational schools.  As the only state to pass such a law, Oregon gained notoriety and faced numerous legal challenges. The law was never implemented, and the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1925.

Klansmen and their allies in the 1923 legislature resurrected controversial racial and religious issues rejected in earlier years. A bill prohibiting the ownership of land by aliens, aimed primarily at Japanese immigrants, passed easily. Other successful bills with connections to the Klan banned teachers from wearing religious garb in the public schools and blocked public schools from using civics and history textbooks with negative remarks about the Founding Fathers and American heroes. The Klan's political agenda also included support for bills to improve state roads and public education. there were fifty-eight chartered Klaverns around the state of Oregon.

By 1924, most Klansmen outside of Portland grew wary of the Portland leadership and the scandals and quit the Klan. Most Klansmen got out of the Klan  in Oregon. By 1930, only a few Klansmen were left. Attempts to revive the Klan in Oregon was not successful. 

The Klan in Polk County was active in Independence, Monmouth, Falls City, Rickreall, and Dallas. Independence had one of the most active chapters in the State. The Klan was unique from other Klans mainly because there were few recognizable minority groups that they could accuse of being un-American. So they turned their racism ideas to the Catholics and the Mennonites. Instead of burning crosses, the Klan erected a cross on the road between Monmouth and Independence and lit it with red lights. The Klan also had problems with the Russian-Germans who were Mennonites who migrated here after World War I. Dallas had one of the largest populations of immigrants this side of Astoria. 

The active Klansmen in Polk County participated in local parades and other civic functions. The first Klan meeting in Polk county was July 30, 1923. It was held in the Independence city park with a crowd of approximately 2000.  Reverend C.C. Curtis who was a former minister of the Christian church of Dallas. He spoke about the Klan objectives in such a manner that many people were converted. 

On August 29, 1923 the Klan scheduled a meeting at the Dallas Armory. C.C. Starr was in charge of the meeting. He was an associate of the Grand Dragon, Frank Gifford. Approximately 50 Klansmen in full regalia would be in attendance. Reverend Allison of the Lebanon Christian Church would give a "sermon" on "The Truth and Quality of the Ku Klux Klan". Reverend Allison was the Klan's most powerful anti-Catholic speaker. He believed the Catholics were criminal, illiterate, and not 100 percent American, because the authority of the church (the Pope) lied outside of the United States. The motive for this meeting was to gain support for the Oregon Compulsory School Bill. If the bill were to pass it would do away with all the Catholic schools.

On April 3, 1924, a meeting held by the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan at the fairgrounds in Dallas. It was attended by klan members from all over the Willamette Valley. The estimated number of people in attendance was 2000 to 5000 people. Prior to the meeting there was a parade of hooded Klansmen going through town with bands from Eugene and Portland. There were approximately 1000 people in the parade. There was a ceremony that inducted 40 people into the Klan. It was performed on a grandstand with hooded figures standing on each side and the gap at the end of the stadium was filled by the Royal Riders of the Red Robe, which were associated with the Klan open to foreign born people. At the head of this large group was an electric cross.

On April 17, 1924, a large crowd gathered downtown Dallas, to witness a parade and ceremonials of the KKK. The purpose of this gathering was to watch the Dallas Klan receive its charter number, 40. At 7:00 cars carrying Klansmen began to arrive, and by 8:30, there were about 500 out of town automobiles bringing Klan members from Portland, Salem, Rainier, St. Helens, Eugene, Albany and Tillamook, a very powerful Klan organization. There were 65 new members inducted this evening with the ceremony being held on the grandstand at the fairgrounds. Between 1922 and 1932, the majority of the state, county, and municipal officials were from Tillamook. The Klan symbolized the concept of "Americanism" and the American flag was hung on almost every business and house in Dallas. 

"There was nothing special about Klan activity in Dallas Oregon. It was the same activity seen in all the towns of the same size in the Willamette Valley." Arlie Holt, Polk County Historian

Myths about the Ku Klux Klan

Dallas Dragon (Dexter) is not a connection to the Dragons KKK but instead was a choice of the high school student body.

There really are no secrets or hidden messages about the Dallas Dragon. The Dallas Dragon is more ferocious than Dallas Dolphins. In the 1930s when Willamette Valley schools were adopting mascots, Dallas needed a name alliterative with Dallas. They were known officially as the "Prune Pickers", which went well with Dallas being the Prune City capital. Newspapers called them the "Orangemen" because of the school colors. There were five names suggested for the new Dallas mascot, only two were alliterative with Dallas, the Dolphins and the Dragons. The student body voted for the Dragons. The students were not thinking of the KKK. It had been dead since 1924-1925 in Dallas and gone from the state with a few exceptions by early 1930s, so why would that be on their minds in 1938, when the Dallas high school had it's new mascot? There are hundreds of people who graduated from Dallas that never heard any rumors about the KKK and the Dragon. I am one of them.

At the time of this writing, there are four Oregon schools with a Dragon mascot ; Beaverton International School of Learning, Dallas High school, Monroe High school, Delphian School Sheridan

Ku Klux Klan Legends

A half century after the real Klavern died out, rumors became so embellished with additional details.

Secret meetings were held in the basement of the Polk County courhouse. (or variations like the Dallas Police station and the Fox Theater)

Hooded Klansmen gained entrance to their meetings through tunnels that ran beneath Main street in Dallas.

The Dallas Klavern was the biggest this side of the Mississippi.

People of color were "run off" by Klansmen, bent on keepping its American born white community.

One of the most popular meeting place of the Klan was a secret room in The Plantation. Entrance was gained through a tunnel to avoid the dinner crowd. 

There is not, or never was a system of tunnels running under Dallas.

Knights of the Ku Klux Klan

A letter to the editor that was in today's local newspaper (July 1, 2020 Itemizer-Observer) sparked me to do some quick additional research. The author of the letter, "Mascot Should Be Knights", advocates changing the mascot and uses the argument that the Prune Pickers should not have been changed because Prune Pickers was the fabric that built Dallas. The author says "Slay the Dragon and become the Dallas Knights"

Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, KKK, was founded in 1975. The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan has attempted to put a "kinder, gentler" face on the Klan, presenting to the media itself as a modern "white civil rights" organization. Beneath that veneer lurks the same bigoted rhetoric.

"Non-whites who reside in America should be expected to conduct themselves according to Christian principles and must recognize that race mixing is definitely wrong and out of the question. It will be a privilege to live under the authority of a compassionate White Christian government."
— The Knights Party website

 (needed: proof read)