The Bald Knobbers were one of the earliest documented vigilante groups documented though I am sure there have been many groups before the Bald Knobbers that were undocumented.
The Ozarks in southern Missouri became very under populated after the civil war. It is reported that the population of Taney County went from population of approximately 3,500 before the civil war to around 1,000 by the end of the war.
There was unrest in the Ozarks. The Confederates returned home only to find much of the land was occupied by the Union men after the war. It was confiscated due the failure to pay taxes during the war. The Confederate veteran soldiers even lost voting rights as a new state constitution didn’t allow for any rebel to do so. The Confederate veterans became citizens of a lower class. Frustrated with the way they were being treated some became criminals and targeted the Unionist who were better to do financially.
With the rise in crime from the second class Confederate veterans, a Union veteran by the name of Nat Kinney formed what was called the Bald Knobbers. The Bald Knobbers were originally formed from 12 of the county’s leaders. Kinney was reported as being quite a large man standing 6’6” and weighing more than 300 pounds. The Bald Knobbers were a vigilante group. The Bald Knobbers name came as a result of having meetings on bald knobs. Bald knobs was a term used for treeless hills. They chose these hills so that they could see possible spys that would attempt to hear the meetings. By April 5, 1885 nearly 200 members of the Bald Knobbers assembled to take instruction from Kinney. The Baldnobbers would conduct their vigilante justice at night. They would wear masks to protect their identity and would whip the lawless. They later moved on to lynching.
The former rebels (Confederate soldiers) formed the Anti-Bald Knobbers to stop what was happening.
It was reported that a mini Civil War was taking place in the Ozarks with the Bald Knobbers which were ex-Union soldiers and Republican and the Anti-Bald Knobbers who were the former rebels were had lived in the area for a very long time and were typically farmers.
A story is reported of 100 Bald Knobbers breaking into a jail and kidnapping Frank and Tubal Taylor from the Taney county jail. The group wanted to show their strength and perform their version of vigilante justice by taking the two brothers south of Forsyth and hanged them both. It should be known that the brothers were both in jail for wounding a store keeper that happened to be a Bald Knobber.
The vigilante group headed on a crusade to correct the behavior of the greedy, disciplined those who disrupted church services, whipped those that voted in opposition of what the group wanted.
At the high of enlistment the group grew to nearly 1,000 members.
Reports vary when it comes to the amount of people that died as a result of the mini Civil War and vigilante justice that took place. Some report mention a dozen while other report more than thirty. This does not account for those that were severely beaten and driven from their property and the area in general.
After restrictions on former Confederates (no voting or holding public office)were lifted Governor Marmaduke came into office. He as a former rebel and wanted the killing and fighting to stop in the area.
Things finally started to slow down 20 of the Bald Knobbers were arrested. Of those arrested some were given fines, given jail time and 4 were put to death. Nat Kinney was shot and killed by Billy Miles On August 20, 1988. Billy Miles was part of the Anti-Bald Knobbers. Miles went on trial for the killing of Kinney but was found not guilty based on self defense.
By 1899 without a leader, the Bald Knobbers vigilante justice movement ran its course.
Though the Bald Knobbers were one many other groups that existed after the civil war, this one appeared to be most famous of the groups during that time.