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Bald Knobbers

Since the Y2K Reunion was held in Missouri, members of our Casey Clan might be interested to know just who the infamous, Missouri Bald Knobbers were.

Wars between the opposing forces, bushwhacker, militiamen, the Bald Knobbers and anti-vigilantes raged through the hills and 'hollers' of the Ozark Mountains for more than half a century. It started in 1839 and did not end until 1892.

The Bald Knobbers were very active around the town of Forsyth, Taney County, Missouri. During the 1880's their numbers were estimated to be a nine hundred member band of vigilantes that roared through the Ozarks.

The idea of organizing a group of vigilantes to take the law into its own hands was not an isolated oddity, the models had been shimmering on the horizon since the colonist first swarmed into the New World. These early adventurers were by no means passive, and did not have to think twice about taking matters into their own hands when they decided to correct what they perceived as injustices. Even some judges, lawyers, and peace officers sometimes felt that vigilantism dealt a quicker, cheaper, and more certain form of justice. In the Ozark Mountains of southwest Missouri, the vigilantes called Bald Knobbers were mostly conservative Republicans and former Unionists. There were two kinds of Bald Knobber vigilante movements. A 'good', socially constructive group would organize to deal with a single problem and then dis-ban, leaving the community more socially stable. A 'bad' group would remain active long after the original purpose had been accomplished and would continue to cause much destruction and terror in the area of operation.
In the Ozarks, the opposition group known as Anti-Bald Knobbers was made up mostly of Democrats and former Confederate soldiers. Their methods of retaliation were just as terrifying, but less organized and operated with fewer members.

The Bald Knobbers 'occupied' Taney County and other parts of the Ozarks ostensibly from 1884 to 1886 when the governor of Missouri forced them to disband. Unofficially, however, they continued in existence until 1892, growing ever more violent and anarchic. No records were kept on the dead bodies found in Taney County during their eight year reign. No one knows how many homesteaders packed up and fled their claims in the dead of night, fearing for their lives. Many who fled were 'good' Bald Knobbers fearing punishment from the 'bad' vigilantes who did not take kindly to them opposing the continued terrorist attacks.

The story of the Bald Knobbers appeared a century ago in newspapers and numerous books across the nation but nowhere have both sides been fully covered. There is still controversy about the good or bad intentions of both the Bald Knobbers and the Anti-Bald Knobbers. Most of their activities were shrouded in secrecy and went to the graves with the people who lived through this era.

There were many members of our Casey family living in this White River, Taney County area of Missouri during these years. If any of you have historical stories of the activities of the Bald Knobbers as related to our Casey family history, please consider sending them to the CFA newsletter and we will print them for all to share.

If you would like to read more about this interesting history, I recommend the book, BALD KNOBBERS, Vigilantes on the Ozark Frontier by Hartman and Ingenthron (Pelican Press)

Review by Mary Burlison

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