Sunday, May 23, 2010

1920s Beeville, Texas: Shades of the Ku Klux Klan

1914 Beeville

My second great grandparents William M. and Serena Sutton Wallen were married in Rockcastle Co., Kentucky in 1869. My great grandfather Oliver was the oldest of their 9 children. Serena died in 1886, and in 1892 William married Sofa Thacker. Sofa had a young son named Brack from a previous "relationship". William and Sofa had 6 children together, the last being born about 1906. In August of 1908 Brack, now married, went and got himself shot and killed by John Calvin Graves and I believe that is why Sofa and William packed up their family and left for Texas.

They settled in Bee county and for a number of years William was a night watchman for the city of Beeville. He died February 14, 1922.

Ten years ago I wrote to the South Texas Genealogical Society for help in locating information on William. An obituary was found and a death record. He was buried in the Glenwood Cemetery but there was no stone. The Recording Secretary at the time, Kay Pacheco, went above and beyond the call of duty for me going through records and newspapers on microfilm and making trips to the library. Nothing else was found. She was copying the obituary from the "Beeville Picayune" when another article on the front page caught her eye. She e-mailed me right away to tell me about it and copied that page and included it in the package she sent me. For 10 years my dad's first cousin Charlie and I puzzled over that front page article...what did it mean? What did Sofa DO to "assist" the Klan?

Beeville Picayune for Thursday,
16 Feb 1922 Front page:

"Bereaved Widow Very Grateful to Klan for Donation - Writes Note"

The Picayune is in receipt of the following letter from the Ku Klux Klan organization, at the bottom of which the recipient of the latest donation from this organization pens her appreciation:

Beeville, Tex., Feb. 15, 1922
Mrs. W. M. Wallen

Dear Mrs. Wallen:

Enclosed you will find $25.00, which is a donation from the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan for your assistance, as well as to show our respect for your deceased husband. We hope you will accept the same in the spirit in which it is given. If so, will you kindly acknowledge the receipt of same by handing this letter to one of the local papers for publication? 

Done by order of the Exalted Cyclops, Bee County Klan, No. 121, Realm of Texas. (SEAL)

Beeville Picayune
Beeville, Texas


I accepted the above well placed donation in the spirit in which I feel sure it was given, and shall ever feel grateful to the members of the klan. May the helpful work the klansmen of Bee county are doing continue successful.
Very respectfully,
Mrs. Wallen"

Naturally, I hope William was not involved in any way with the KKK, although I suppose it's entirely possible. ...but I'll think about THAT tomorrow!

Comments and speculation welcomed!



  1. Lisa, I had every intention of reading through your past posts, and perhaps making a comment or two. However, this one couldn't wait. First your story about your 2nd great grandparents moving was very interesting. But made more so because I have a great granduncle who left Michigan and lived in Bee, Beeville, TX for abt. 30 years (in 1910-30 censuses). So I esp. loved seeing your photos. Many thanks.

  2. Hi Lisa,

    As I read the article several things come to mind. There appears to be a familiarity between the Klan and Serena based on the "donation" seemingly being unsolicited by her indicates the Klan was aware of her husbands death.

    The fact they are aware of his death and "insisted" that their letter be turned over to a "local" newspaper indicates they were certain it would be reprinted.

    The family resided in the area for approximately 14 years, and grandmother Serena viewed the activities of the Klan as something positive that she praised them in her letter, again demonstrating some knowledge of the people in the organization.

    Since the family lived in the area for about 14 years you might consider looking at the local papers for Klan activity during that period there may be other clues to their activity and there may be other letters similar to the one your grandmother received in the paper.

    Clearly the Klan had been active in Bee County and were not shy about what they were doing for them to insist on their letter and donation be publicized. It could have been done to attract others in the county as recruits to their organization and because $25.00 went a long way then, grandmother Serena whether she and her husband were involved with the organization she more than likely was appreciative too pass the letter along as "suggested" by the Exalted Cyclops.

    Lisa remember, we are not responsible for our ancestor's action. We can only hope to learn from them.

    As Helen Keller said: "In every king is a slave, and in every slave is a king."

    This mystery should give you plenty to research probably on a subject you never thought about? Remember it is important as genealogist we must research the area/communities our ancestors resided to understand their lives in context with their surroundings.

    I recall when I first started my research, I told myself to be open to all I found and not be alarmed if there were some unpleasant discoveries, my goal is the big picture and placed in it's proper context. My morals are not my ancestor's and their's are not mine.

    But I do like a good scandal!

  3. I so appreciate these comments! Barbara..your ancestors and mine may have been acquainted, you never know! From reading your comments on other posts it would seem to be a pretty small world!

    Terry, you have been very helpful...but let me first say that it was not my grandmother Serena but William's second wife Sofa that was involved here. It was only the children from the second marriage that went with them to Texas.

    I agree that more research needs to be done in Beeville and I look forward to that because area research makes a much clearer overall picture and without it, much can be overlooked.

    William and Sofa's morals were definitely their own! My great grandfather Oliver Wallen, son of William and Serena, was a devout Christian man. He was a school teacher and later became a preacher. He was educated at Georgetown University in Kentucky and left a detailed diary of his rather short life. He loved his father and only spoke kindly of him...even as he prayed for his soul.

    I wonder if in Texas at that time the Klan was looked on as a good thing by the residents? I am not familiar with the KKK and clearly need to learn more about them. I've always felt they were a group to be feared and, in fact, I was just advised by a distant cousin a few days ago that I should consider NOT publicizing such potentially harmful which I replied that I'd rather tell the real stories of my family and live dangerously! Besides, I too like a good scandal!

    I love the quote of Helen Keller! Wise words.

  4. This is a site that has Beeville Newspapers listed as well as a reel of KKK papers. Might help.

    And have you gotten his death record?

    Sounded like the KKK maybe used some of their fee money to assist the widows to keep a positive image.

  5. Thank you for the links and comments. Yes, I do have his death certificate. I got that when I got the newspaper clippings with the obit and the KKK article. Definitely need to check the newspapers for more articles though!

  6. One thing to be aware of is that the Klan had its hand in more than one activity. Considering the date - the association may have been over the Klan's activity to get Prohibition passed.(They associated the evils of drinking with immigrants) If her husband had been actively involved in supporting prohibition, the Klan could conceivably have donated the money to her at his death for that reason. And it might have nothing to do with their other activities.

    I too have some relatives who lived in Beeville Texas in the 1915-1920 time period.

  7. Prohibition is certainly something to consider John. I also thought that William's job as night watchman might have been useful to the Klan in some way, although the suggestion here is that William's wife is the one who was useful.

  8. Very interesting blog (and comments). My mother always said that her father was a racist and that she thought he was in the KKK. My mother also said that she never saw him dressed in the white hood etc., but "wouldn't be surprised"if he was a member. This thought always deeply distressed my mother and my family. He was born and raised in northeast Indiana. Being the family historian, how could I determine if this family lore was true or not? The thought occurred to me, and perhaps someone would know, are there membership roles/lists for the KKK that are publicly available?

  9. I would like to know that too. I tried to write to someone once that I thought would know about the one in Beeville but my mail was ignored.

  10. The publisher of the Bee-Picayune was a prominent member of the Klan. I grew up in Beeville and have had family in Bee County since it's inception. Racism is a tradition that lives on.

    1. Is it possible to trace the KKK back to the 1890s in Beeville?

  11. I remember that my mom told me years ago before she passed that my grandfather WC Stephenson was pressured by some locals to join the KKK which he refused to do and as a result his business suffered.