THE KU KLUX KLAN AND THE CHIPPEWA VALLEY
by Harold Kronenberg
If you think of the KKK as an organization of fun, excitement, and games, you just don't think very clearly.
The Ku Klux Klan is the nation's oldest secret society for organized mayhem, violence, and bigotry, and its century-long struggle against social change, and for a white Protestant America. During the Civil War Reconstruction the Klan lived only in the South. In the 1920's it became a nationwide power with close to five million members, using its influence to elect governors and senators from the West Coast to the East Coast, from New England to California. It wasn't until the 1920's that the Klan made its presence known in the Chippewa Valley, particularly in Chippewa County, and especially in Cornell.
The first Ku Klux Klan was a secret, masked organization which started after the Civil War, in the 1870's, and became the chief instrument of the white underground resistance movement in the South against northern Republicans and Negro domination. It would eventually become a national political power.
The Klan was formally organized at Nashville, Tennessee in 1867. By the 1870's it became a robust organization known as the "Invisible Empire of the South". It was divided into realms, county provinces, and individual dens. The whole Klan was presided over by a Grand Wizard, and under him in order of importance. The Grand Dragon, Grand Titans, and Grand Cyclopses. At the lower levels there were giants, genii, hydras, furies, goblins and nighthawks. The purpose of the organization was to suppress the Negro and assert the political and social superiority of the whites.
Probably, the major weakness of the Klan during its heyday was that it never effectively disciplined or led from the top. Soon other similar societies such as the Knights of the White Camelia, the White League, the Invisible Circle, and the Pale Faces spread throughout the South.
It became so violent and so vicious that even the Grand Wizard of the "Invisible Klan," a former Confederate officer. General Nathan Bedford Forest ordered the Klan to disband.
The first group of Klansmen called their clan "Ku Klux" from the Greek word, kyklos meaning circle. At first, that's what the Klan was - a circle of friends. In time it would become anything but friendly.
President Lincoln did not want to punish the South for their transgression. He simply wanted to bring the South back into the Union as quickly, as easily, and as painlessly as possible - "with malice toward none and charity for all." When he was assassinated his plans died with him.
During the war. Northern troops had burned farms and destroyed plantations. The devastation was compounded after the war by Northern Congressmen passing laws to rule the defeated South to keep the freedmen (former slaves) " in their place," Klansmen started a reign of terror. At night, Klansmen rode out to whip and hang blacks who "who did not know their place." With more than 500,000 members the KKK became a powerful force. But it was not legal, —so they wore disguises - white hoods and robes. They were a secret organization. Members talked to each other in a secret language. "Ayak?" meant "A (re) Y(ou) a K (lansman)?" It was answered by "Akia" - "A (klansman) I a(m)." They usually met at night but their secret meetings could be seen for miles because their symbol was a burning cross. If some of these things sound simple it's because they are simple. Nevertheless they would become a powerful force.
In 1923, the largest rally in history took place near Kokomo, Indiana. More than 100,000 men and women gathered there. They wanted to hear David Stephenson, Indiana's "Grand Dragon." Speak. His main theme was "America for Americans." To Klansmen the only true Americans were white Protestants. It seem? to me that that flies in the face of what America is all about.
In 1915, Colonel William Simmons, a preacher and promoter of fraternal orders proclaimed the Klan a "high class"; mystic, social, and patriotic society devoted to the protection of womanhood, and the supremacy of white Protestants. The first Klan was designed to hostility toward the Negro, but Simmons added bias against Catholics, Jews, and foreigners. Later they added another bias toward organized labor.
After World War 1, the Klan moved north and into our area of the Chippewa Valley. Chippewa County, and especially Cornell became focal points for Klan activities.
A small tarpaper building, located in Lake Hallie was sometimes used as the town hall meeting place. On other occasions it was used by the Klan members for their meetings. The Hallie Klansmen were members of the new Simmons Klan, but adopted the rituals and regalia of the first Klan. Their biases were aimed against the Catholics, Jews, and foreigners, since there were few Negroes in the area at that time. The location of the Hallie Klan building was approximately where the Holiday filling station is now located on Highway 53. At one time the Midway bowling alley was located there.
On July 4, 1925 the first organizational meeting was held for the purpose of building a second country club golf course in the city of Eau Claire. The Eau Claire Country Club denied some of their members the privilege of bringing guests from New York to a club function and for a leisurely round of golf. The guests were Jewish and were in Eau Claire discussing the purchase of the Gillette Rubber Company. Unhappy about the situation, some members headed by Curt Stubenvoll, a vice-president at the Rubber Company, assembled a group of 100 people who put up $100 each, and had land purchased for the new golf course. Chet McCann, who lived near the golf course property (directly across Hwy 12 from the property), was hired to clear the land and grub out the stumps. After completion of the nine-hole course, (it took about two years) Chet was retained as greens superintendent and served in that position for 44 years until 1970. Stubenvoll was elected the first president and served in that capacity for the first three years of its existence.
Between 1925 and 1926, while the actual course was being prepared for play, club owners played on leased land at the Hallie Golf course. They leased the course from Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Moe, the builders and owners of the Lake Hallie course. The Moe's were uncle and aunt to Vie and Don Johnson, both of whom worked at the golf course in the late 1930's. Vie became a major league baseball pitcher and Don became a PGA golf professional, at one time was the head professional at the Eau Claire country club.
A Hotbed for Klan Activities
In the 1920's Cornell was a hotbed for Klan activities. Directly across from the Catholic church was a vacant lot where Klan members set up a wooden cross and set it on fire - the symbol of the Klan. This was done when the Catholics purchased the vacant lot, they built their new church on it, and named the church the Holy Cross Church.
(The stanzas are sung to the tune of "From Greenland's Icy Mountains," and the chorus, "Home Sweet Home."
"We meet with cordial greetings
In this our sacred cave
To pledge anew our compact
With hearts sincere and brave;
A band of faithful Klansmen,
Knights of the K. K. K.
We all will stand together
Forever and for aye."
"Home, Home, country and home,
Klansmen we'll live and die
Four our country and home."
"Here honor, love and justice
Must actuate us all;
Before our sturdy phalax
All hate and strife shall fall
In unison we'll labor
Wherever we may roam
To shield a Klansman's welfare,
His country, name and home."
"Blest be the Klansman's tie
Of real fraternal love.
That binds us in a fellowship
Akin to that above."
(Tune — America)
"God of Eternity Guard,
guide our great country,
Our homes and store.
Keep our great state to Thee,
Its people right and free.
In us thy glory be,
KLUX - WISCONSIN
(Tune --- On Wisconsin)
Klux Wisconsin, Klux Wisconsin,
Klansmen make that goal,
Klux the old foks, Klux the young folks,
boys we'll make some show;
Klux Wisconsin, Klux Wisconsin,
Klux on for her fame,
Klux, Klansmen Klux
And we will save her name.
LET THE FIERY CROSS BE BURNING
(Tune -- "Let the Lower Lights be Burning")
On the hill tops, on the mountain,
Brightly gleams our mystic sign,
Calling Klansmen to the fountain -
Filled with drops of love divine.
Let the Fiery Cross be burning,
Spread its beams o'er land and sea;
Satan's wiles forever spurning,
Bringing Christ to you and me.
Serried ranks in stainless armor,
Kneel before the flaming tree,
Pledging life and wealth and honor,
All for Christ and Calyary.
Side by side, always non Silba,
Songs of praise and promise sing,
Hand in hand, always Sed Anthar,
All for Christ, the Klansman's King,
Clasp the Cross, Oh, Klansman peerless,
Pledge to God thy strength anew,
Stand ye forth erect and fearless,
strike for home and kindred true
Rally 'round the sacred Alter.
Purged of sin and baseless fear,
Ne'er shall Knight in armor falter,
Nor shall craven enter here.