Tobacco Wars and the Boone County Night Riders
By: Hillary Delaney
In 1904, a group of Western Kentucky and Tennessee Black Patch tobacco famers formed an alliance in response to the underpricing of tobacco crops by the American Tobacco Company, the monopoly owned by James B. Duke, of North Carolina.
The group of farmers, was called the “Dark Tobacco District Planters' Protective Association of Kentucky and Tennessee” or “PPA.“ The PPA aimed to withhold tobacco crops from the monopoly as a united group, to exert pressure and force a price increase.
Despite pressure, some farmers who were already in financial trouble began to sell crops to the monopoly. Groups of more militant PPA members began a campaign of terror and intimidation upon those who sold their crops. These groups of hood-wearing men would ride in on horseback, and destroy crops, salt fields, burn barns and sometimes do violence upon the owner of the property. They were known as “Night Riders.”
This movement spread into Northern Kentucky, where burley tobacco growers formed the Burley Tobacco Society and joined the American Equity Society, also to oppose the monopoly. Large rallies were held at Big Bone and Rabbit Hash in December of 1907, to generate support and pledges to withhold the 1908 crop. A September 11, 1907 letter to the editor of the Boone County Recorder reports that the group held over 70 million pounds of tobacco from the 1906 crop and over 100,000 acres of 1907 crop pledged to be withheld.
Two weeks after this letter was published, night riders burned the old Whipps tobacco warehouse, in the “center of Walton”, according to the Lexington Herald, Sept. 30. 1907. The barn contained the crop of Noah Glasscock, who lost 65,000 bounds of tobacco to be sold to the Continental Tobacco Company (part of the monopoly trust). The crop was not insured, and total loss was estimated at $80,000, including damage.
Night riders in Boone County did not stop with the politics of tobacco, however. The 1907 volume of the Recorder previously mentioned contains a report of Night Riders destroying telephone lines from Petersburg to Belleview, in response to a meeting of the stockholders of the company. In the next month, there was a Night Rider raid on the Gasburg area, near Petersburg. This group disagreed with the formation of a new graded school. They chopped the shutters off of the schoolhouse, took down Henry Terrill’s fence, (setting loose his cattle who destroyed his crops) and demolished a mailbox. Several years later, Night Riders also targeted toll houses in the area, concerned with road conditions and price-gouging by turnpike owners. Most citizens didn’t like these tactics, and support fell away.