The Klan in Northern Colorado,
Part 7 — We Weren’t Immune
The Ku Klux Klan had an unusually expansive influence across the United States in the 1920s with the State of Colorado boasting the second largest rate of Klan membership in the Union at the time. In 1924, the “Invisible Empire” took control of the state with a newly elected governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, two U. S. senators, and the superintendent of public instruction for Colorado — every single one of whom were Klan members. In addition, the state’s attorney general, one state supreme court justice, and the mayor of Denver were also klansmen.
But what about here in northern Colorado? Surely we didn’t buy in to all that tomfoolery in Larimer and Weld, did we?
We most certainly did.
The story of the “Second Klan” (the 1920s Klan) in northern Colorado actually begins in 1910 when a play entitled “The Clansman” was performed at the Orpheum (a theater located where Hodi’s Half Note is today on N. College Ave. in Fort Collins). The Fort Collins Weekly Courier described the performance (in which the klansmen were the heroes) with effusive praise.
Scenes of tremendous power have made the success of “The Clansman,” Thomas Dixon’s thrilling historical play, which will be presented at the Orpheum theatre on Tuesday, February 22d, matinee and night. The awesome convocation of the Ku Klux Klan in the third act has made the dramatist celebrated from one end of the country to the other. But even this is not the biggest thing in “The Clansman.” The struggle between the white abolitionist and the mulatto politician in the last act is said to be one of the most tremendous and significant passages in any modern drama. (Fort Collins Weekly Courier, February 17, 1910.)
Five years later the play was made into a movie — “The Birth of a Nation” — and soon after that, William Joseph Simmons and a band of fifteen men resurrected the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia (often using the movie as an evangelism tool to draw people into the movement). By 1921, Denver had its own klavern, the first in Colorado. And by the spring of 1922, the Klan had officially registered with the State (forming the Colorado Realm).
But how and when was the KKK established in northern Colorado?
Though I’ve searched, that information is not forthcoming. Secret organizations tend to keep such details close to the hooded jammies, after all. But there were certainly some goings-on that give hints. If I had to guess, I’d say that klaverns were formed, at least in Greeley and Fort Collins, by 1922 or early 1923. Loveland appears to have had their own klavern as well, but I was unable to find anything specific to Estes Park, Windsor, Wellington, or any of the other smaller towns.
On September 23, 1921, just three months after the Denver klavern went public with an announcement in the newspaper, the Estes Park Trail published a summary of the state of the Klan in the U.S. It focused on the pushback that the Klan was receiving around the nation as people called it a menace and complained that the organization acted outside of the law. But the article also pointed out that the KKK was continuing to grow nonetheless and was at that point established in every state except New Hampshire, Utah and Montana.
On December 2, 1921, an aside in the Loveland Reporter wondered, “Apropos the activities and claims of the Ku Klux Klan, some folks wonder why it should be necessary to wear a nightgown and a mask to advocate Americanism.” I found this type of wary attitude over and over again in the papers, showing an initial resistance to, and distain of, the secretiveness of the group.
Then on April 28, 1922, things started to get real in northern Colorado. Handbills had been posted throughout downtown Fort Collins stating “Warning, We are Coming to Fort Collins. K. K. K.” No one seemed to know who had posted them, but the Fort Collins Courier shared the local speculations. Some thought it was an official warning from the Klan. Some thought it was a college prank, or perhaps a marketing ploy for a college play or publication. One man thought it was an announcement from the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. (Huh?) The Chief of Police, A. C. Baker, was interviewed and he said that he had suspected for some time that a branch of the KKK had already been formed in the city, though he had no proof to back up his suspicion.
In addition to a “wait and see” attitude, there appears to have been some folks who regarded the KKK far more flippantly. The Colorado Aggie Carnival, hosted by the Agricultural College, referred to the event as the Kow Kollege Karnival. (Yes, with all K’s.) Making up the parade were the College Military Band, the polo team on horses, a string band (also on horses), “cow boys and cow girls,” floats and a tractor hauling a car which was hauling a band, pigs, a big goat, and… a section comprised of klansmen (whether actual members or just college students in costume is unknown). And those costumed participants were listed right in along with all the rest of the procession as if it were no big deal. Nor was the change to the name of the event commented upon in any way other than stating that the name was being used. (Fort Collins Courier, 5 May 1922.)
In reading through the newspapers regarding the Klan in northern Colorado, you almost get the sense that there was worry, there was consternation, there was hesitation… and then there wasn’t. The Klan went from posting somewhat threatening notes on trees and electrical poles to marching in a parade to much applause. It’s almost enough to give a reader whiplash. In fact, not mentioned in the paper until the following week was that a fraternity float decorated in Klan regalia had won first prize! The Fort Collins Courier announced, “The white ‘Ku Klux Klan’ auto of Kappa Alpha Theta won the ten dollar prize for the best float in the College Day parade while the second prize of five dollars was awarded to the Disabled Veterans for their wild-west riders.”
Once things got rolling, they really took off. In mid-June, 2,000 hooded Klansmen gathered just outside of Estes Park for the state’s first publicized outdoor initiation. Three hundred new recruits joined up that day. According to the Longmont Ledger, it was also during this event when new klaverns were accepted into the society, including “Longmont and other northern Colorado towns.” (Longmont Ledger, 16 June 1922)
The American Legion held their third annual state convention in Greeley in September. During their business session they addressed “big questions of the day, including discussion of the Bonus, Prohibition, Law and Order and the Ku Klux Klan….” (Fort Collins Courier, September 7, 1922.) Clearly the Klan was making inroads and, whether the American Legion supported the Klan or not (the newspaper article didn’t make that clear), they still found the topic to be an important one to address at their annual convention.
In January 1923, Greeley, Hudson and Fort Lupton received the same treatment that Fort Collins had experienced earlier. Signs were posted in the night that once again stated, “Ku Klux Klan Warning. K. K. K. is coming.” (Fort Collins Courier, 24 January 1923) This implies that Greeley didn’t yet have their own klavern, though once they organized, Greeley’s would become “the largest in the state” according to the Longmont Daily Times (on August 28, 1925). Greeley’s klavern was the 81st formed in Colorado, so they were by no means the first to jump on the bandwagon, but apparently once they did, they went whole hog.
One of the Colorado Klan’s primary goals was to restrict, or at least impede, the activities of Catholics (many of whom were Mexican or Italian immigrants). There were rumors of papal intrigue and “in the Fort Collins area klansmen circulated faked copies of the oath of the Knights of Columbus [a Catholic fraternal organization, which the flyers called], ‘the oily knights of the Pope’s militia.'” (Hooded Empire) Gano Senter was active in the Denver klavern and was chief among their anti-Catholic leaders. He was a businessman involved in the fruit trade, and for that reason he was often in northern Colorado meeting with fruit growers and cherry canners. Robert Goldberg, author of Hooded Empire, referred to him as “the Great Titan of Colorado’s northern provinces.”
Local Catholics fought back through educational events such as one held by Father Donegan over two evenings in May. Saint Joseph’s church in Fort Collins was packed two nights in a row when the Father spoke about the Biblical support for confession the first night and the basis for Holy Communion the second. The use of wine in communion, something that Catholics had requested and received an exemption for during this time of Prohibition, was particularly under scrutiny by Protestant teetotalers. (Fort Collins Courier, 24 May 1923 and Larimer County Independent, 25 May 1923)
About a year later, the Knights of Columbus would add 150 new members in a ceremony that brought hundreds of visitors to Fort Collins from throughout the state. (Fort Collins Express Courier, April 7, 1924) The growing membership was likely a response to fears sparked by boycotts against Catholic owned businesses, incidents such as the distribution of flyers as mentioned above, and burning crosses (some in City Park in Fort Collins, others in the foothills west of both FoCo and Loveland, and yet others in front of people’s houses).
On June 24th, Dr. G. C. Minor, an Atlanta klansman and former minister, came to Colorado to speak. Fort Collins hosted him for an evening before he traveled down to Denver to give a presentation there. The event was held in the Empress theater, the same location as the play “The Clansman” had been held in 1910 (though the name of the theater had changed). Minor opened the evening with prayer, and the podium from which he spoke was draped in an American flag. He encouraged anyone that wanted to join the group to contact their Denver office. (Fort Collins Courier, June 25, 1923 and the Larimer County Independent, June 29, 1923)
Though the Klan had been politically active in Denver ever since the election of Benjamin F. Stapleton as mayor in 1923, it was in 1924 that the Hooded Empire began its political marketing at a state-wide level. This was accomplished through a variety of means. Klaverns made donations to local churches and charities in order to build good will and show that they were the “good guys.” Picnics and festivals were held, emphasizing the family-friendly nature of the Klan. And then rallies would be held to talk-up the Klan’s political candidates.
One example of the Klan’s “good deeds” took place in January 1924.
KLANSMEN VISIT CHURCH IN LOVELAND
Loveland, Colorado., Jan. 21. – Five men in the long robes and peaked hoods of the Ku Klux Klan created a sensation in the Baptist church here last night at the closing service of a series of revival meetings conducted by “Big Jim” Kramer, evangelist, when they quietly entered the church, deposited a substantial offering on the platform and marched out without a word. The men entered the church at a side door, marched slowly to the platform, deposited the money, then faced about and walked single file down the main aisle and out of the door. Not a word was uttered by the members of the band or the audience, but as the five men walked from the church the audience applauded. (Fort Collins Express Courier, January 21, 1924)
And in August, Loveland was host to a Klan parade and political rally with an estimated 20,000 people in attendance from Denver, Greeley, Brush and Fort Morgan (and probably Fort Collins as well, though they weren’t mentioned specifically in newspaper descriptions). That was four times the entire population of the town of Loveland at the time. The crowd loudly applauded speakers that favored Clarence Morley for governor and Rice Means for U.S. Senate, both of whom were klansmen. (Denver Post, August 24, 1924. Loveland Reporter Herald, August 27, 1924.)
Then a bombshell dropped, and for the first time there was an article that named names in northern Colorado.
The article stated that Mr. Samuel J. Salyer had been the Exalted Cyclops of the Fort Collins Klan. But as activities ramped up before elections, and as the Klan pursued ever more sweeping campaigns to enlist anyone and everyone into the organization (whereas before this time it tended to be a “word of mouth” group that pulled mostly from the merchant and upper classes), Salyer felt he had to speak out. He had two main complaints about changes that he was seeing take place in the lead up to the September primaries. “He believed in treating Jews and Catholics with a Christian spirit and suggested to the organizer that only men of good reputation should be proposed for membership in the Klan.” (Larimer County Independent, October 24, 1924) Word of his opinions were sent to the chief office in Denver and Mr. Salyer was immediately deposed with William H. Althouse installed in his place. Samuel Salyer’s grocery business was then boycotted by Klan members. It’s unclear if Salyer’s grocery was closed due to the boycotts and he moved to Nebraska, or whether he was only visiting that state, but in early November, 1925, Samuel Salyer and R. H. Bentz, also of Fort Collins, were killed instantly when their automobile was hit by a Union Pacific train near Maxwell Crossing, Nebraska. Lilla Salyer, Samuel’s wife, was taken to the hospital with injuries and later succumbed (Moffat County Bell, November 13, 1925, though this story was picked up by several Colorado newspapers.)
First the primaries and then the November elections were a sweeping success for the Invisible Empire with Greeley, Loveland, and Fort Collins all voting overwhelmingly in favor of Morley for governor and Means for senate.
At this point the Klan looked unstoppable. They had swept the state politically, and they hadn’t hesitated to replace a person in leadership who wasn’t willing to tow the line. But in 1925, the Colorado Klan learned that running for office and being in office were two very different things. With elected officials now focusing on their jobs, and Klan officers operating in some capacity as puppet masters, directing the newly appointed, there was much less effort given towards swaying voters in subsequent elections. So in May 1925, when Klan candidates ran for school board in Fort Collins and Greeley, only one Klan candidate (in Greeley) was elected. (Steamboat Pilot, May 6, 1925)
Meanwhile, Governor Morley tried to appoint klansmen to vacant positions in the State government. Among his 25 appointees included the Exalted Cyclops of Fort Collins, William Althouse. (Hooded Empire) It’s unclear whether or not Althouse was approved for a position. In 1927, Althouse appears again on a list of Morley appointees and that time around he definitely didn’t gain approval. (The Longmont Daily Times, January 22, 1927)
Though the Klan shifted focus in 1925, they continued to hold parades and festivals. In early June, 1925, Longmont was thrilled to have their first Klan parade, which “proved a big drawing card for the Longmont people and those living in [the] vicinity. …It was the first time that a klan parade had been staged in Longmont and everyone was curious to see what the ‘kluckers’ looked like. …Denver, Boulder, Lafayette, Loveland, Fort Collins, Greeley and other places were represented in the parade, each division in the line representing a town.” There were about 2,000 klansmen in attendance, which was a smaller number than had been anticipated. And there was no music, so it was simply a long line of hooded men in robes marching silently by. (In other words, the kluckers weren’t all that exciting to see.) A picnic and cross burning were part of the after-parade festivities, but non-klansmen trying to get close enough to see the goings-on ended up in an hour long traffic jam instead. (Longmont Daily Times, June 3, 1925)
And then things started to just get downright weird (as if grown men in nightgowns and hoods holding secret meetings and burning crosses but still believing themselves to be Biblical Christians wasn’t weird enough).
First Governor Morley encouraged a bit of vigilante law enforcement against bootlegging. According to Goldberg,
Morley agents staged a night raid in Weld County. Armed raids, lacking criminal or search warrants, ransacked several suspected residences and hauled twelve men to jail. The presiding justice of the peace levied fines for possession which he subsequently divided with the dry agents. The Greeley News censured the actions of these officials and angrily asked: “Has Colorado come to a stage in her development where that sort of thing is to be permitted? Is there no law that must be observed any more except for the liquor law?” (Greeley News quoted in Denver Democrat, July 11, 1925, via Goldberg’s book, Hooded Empire.)
Around the same time, the Atlanta Klan (where the headquarters were located and where all those pajamas and hoods were sewn) sent a representative to remove Dr. Galen Locke from his position as Klan Dragon over the Colorado Realm. At first Locke refused. But then he decided instead to leave the Klan and start a new organization called The Minute Men. Immediately, large numbers of klansmen became Minute Men (including all 980 members of the Greeley klavern that showed up to their mid-July meeting). (Longmont Daily Times, July 23, 1925)
Then Carl Milliken, the Secretary of State, declared publicly that though he had been one of the first fifteen members of the Colorado Klan, he was officially resigning, and would not be joining the Minute Men either. He had held the second highest rank as Klaliff in the Denver klavern. But after being given orders from the Kansas Realm (which was now in charge over Colorado until a new Grand Dragon could be selected) to fire an employee under him and replace him with a klansman, he decided to call it quits. (I guess it was all well and good when he was high and mighty in the Klan to order others about. But when someone else started telling him what to do, well a man’s gotta draw a line somewhere, amiright?)
The Greeley klavern had to hand over all of its property to the national Klan since they had, en masse, switched allegiances to the Minute Men. (Longmont Daily Times, August 19, 1925) But there must have been a few that remained because in March of 1926 the Ku Klux Klan held a parade in Greeley with the new Grand Dragon, Reverend Fred Arnold, in attendance carrying a huge flaming cross. The turnout was small, however, with only 400 members joining in from Fort Morgan, Sterling, Longmont, Loveland, Denver and a few other towns. (Brush Tribune, March 26, 1926)
The Republican party in Greeley seems to have woken up to the fact that the Klan and Minute Men associations were only weighing them down and in August of 1926 it officially disavowed all former associations with both organizations. (Longmont Daily Times , August 4, 1926)
By 1927, the last remaining hint that northern Colorado klaverns were still continuing to meet are two listings that can be found in the Fort Collins City Directory — one from 1927 and one from 1929.
A 1929 map of “Fort Collins and Suburbs” includes a rectangle of land located just south of what is now W. Elizabeth street and just west of Overland Trail Road. It’s labeled “Ku Klux Klan.”
In 1929 this last known vestige of the Second Klan in northern Colorado was sold… to an Italian immigrant family that owned property just to the east of this plot — the Arancis. It’s perhaps a telling statement that the great and powerful Klan, usurper of Colorado’s political order in 1924, would eventually peter out to the point that immigrants, the very people the Klan was opposed to, could come in and buy up the organization’s leavings.
This article is part of a series. Read the other articles here:
– An Overview of the Klan in Colorado, Part 1 – Chronological Context
– When the Klan Came to Colorado, Part 2 – Rise to Power
– When the Klan Came to Colorado, Part 3 — Denouement
– How the Klan Took Over Colorado, Part 4 — Shrewd Planning, Crafted Messaging
– Colorado Women of the Ku Klux Klan, Part 5
– The Klan in Colorado Part 6 — Bringing Religion into It
– The Klan in Northern Colorado, Part 7 — We Weren’t Immune
– Timeline of the KKK in (mostly northern) Colorado in the 1920s — An Appendix