Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



The Bald Knobbers of Southwest Missouri were a vigilante organization that originated in Taney County, Missouri, in 1885, before spreading to adjacent Christian and Douglas counties in ensuing years. They began as a group dedicated to protecting life and property, aiding law enforcement officials in the apprehension of criminals, opposing corruption in local government, and punishing those who violated the social and religious mores of their community. In some places, the vigilantes gained much political influence, occupied key offices, and became effectively the ruling faction in local politics. They made many enemies, however, with whom they had several violent, sometimes fatal, confrontations. Using a variety of primary and secondary sources, I advance three major arguments in this dissertation. First, the Civil War contributed to the Bald Knobber movement by leaving a legacy of bitterness and mistrust among the people of Southwest Missouri, creating a polarized political culture, and increasing the acceptance of violence and vigilantism as methods of solving problems and deterring crime. Second, the original vigilance committee in Taney County consisted of a coalition of middle and upper class men of diverse occupations and backgrounds who wanted to enforce the law, fight corruption in local government, and promote the economic modernization of their region by encouraging new investment, businesses, and settlers to come to the area. Third, in contrast to the original group, the Bald Knobbers of Christian and Douglas counties were mostly poor and overwhelmingly agricultural. Rather than promote economic modernization, they often resisted it when it produced hardships for themselves or their families. To that end, they expelled homesteaders who competed with them for land and resources, and clashed with railroad agents over what they perceived as unfair pricing and employment policies. They also emphasized moral regulation, the punishment of people who violated their standards of decent behavior, more than their counterparts in Taney County.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Cooper, William J.



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