News story in editor/publisher Martin J. Hutchens’ Missoulian, July 19, 1921: The Ku Klux Klan is being organized in Missoula. An organizer of the body, which claims to stand for free, white Americanism, is in town to start a local chapter of the society.”
Editorial by Martin Hutchens, Aug. 8, 1921: “We neither need nor desire the Ku Klux Klan in Montana or Missoula where efforts are under way to establish it. It will produce no end of trouble, if permitted to operate along the lines followed in Texas where helpless women have been tarred and feathered and both men and women tortured because their conduct did not meet with the approval of these self-constituted judges of moral and legal codes.”
The July 19, 1921, news story: “The nation-wide organization of the movement, the organizer said, looks forward to the crises threatened by unrestricted immigration, and the encroachment of foreign races and ideals on American institutions. The problem, he said, is acute.”
Editorial, Hutchens, July 3, 1921: “Recently we referred in this column to the menace of this organization, which was started in the South and is spreading to the North. Other features of its program included war upon the negro and the Roman Catholic church. In other words, it is a secret society designed to appeal to the worst human prejudices and passions in the localities of the country in which the leaders think they can draw the largest membership.”
The July 19 news story: “’The Ku Klux Klan believes,’ (the organizer) said, ‘that America was founded by white men with Christian tenets of faith, that white men were supreme in this country, and it means that they shall continue. The Ku Klux Klan does not believe in taking the law into their own hands, and they never do it where officers of the law do their duty.'”
Editorial, Hutchens, Sept. 19, 1921: “It is not necessary to emphasize the possibilities of danger from an organization that takes the law into its hands, holds secret courts within its lodge rooms and fixes and executes punishment upon individuals … If we do not want the Ku Klux Klan in Montana let us take good care to see that the enforcement of law prevails in this state.”
The July 19 news story: “The A. B. C. of the order it is said is:
A – America first in thought, in affections and first in the galaxy of nations. The Stars and Stripes forever above all other nations and every kind of government in the whole world.
“B – Benevolence in thought, word and deed, based on justice, and practicably applied to all. To right the wrong; to succor the weak and unfortunate; to help (the) worthy and to relieve the distressed.
“C – Clanishness: Real fraternity to each other in all things honorable: Encouraging, protecting, cultivating and exemplifying the real fraternal human relationship to shield and enhance each other’s happiness and welfare. A devoted, unfailing loyalty to the principles, mission and purposes of the order in promoting the highest and best interest of the community, state and nation.”
Editorial, Hutchens, Oct. 10, 1921: “Evidence seems to be accumulating to the effect that this modern Ku Klux Klan, a pretended revival of the old order of that name, but more truly a revival of the old 'American' or 'Know-Nothing' party of ante-bellum days, is an undesirable institution, un-American in purpose and method, in spite of its lofty professions of Americanism.
“The majority of citizens seem about convinced that it ought to be abolished. But it does not necessarily follow that it should be abolished incontinently by force. Anything bearing the semblance of persecution may help the Klan rather than hinder it … Publicity is a better method. Let the light in. If the precise nature of this much-debated organization is made clear to the public and to the membership itself, the results will take care of themselves. The light now beating upon the Klan, with growing intensity, will probably suffice for the purpose.”
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The July 19, 1921, news story: “The eligibility requirements are given as follows: Only native born American citizens who believe in the tenets of the Christian religion and owe no allegiance of any degree or nature to any foreign government, nation, political institution, sect, people or person, are eligible.
“It is stated that an initiation fee of $10 is required.”
Editorial, Hutchens, Sept. 27, 1921: “We have done our best to discourage the Ku Klux Klan from entering Missoula, but since it has arrived over our protest, we suggest that the big wizard look over our local bootleggers with the idea of starting something to make himself solid with the people.”
Hutchens and the Missoulian continued carrying stories of Klan doings in Missoula for the next few years. Wire reports of trials and violence in the KKK’s name elsewhere abounded, but none were reported here. The closest thing to a face-off was in 1925, when Washington McCormick issued a challenge on the pages of the Missoulian to any qualified member of the University City Klan No. 16 to a debate over the Roman Catholic church. The Klan accepted, also via the newspaper, but insisted on conditions that in essence killed the debate.
No matter how much Hutchens loathed the organization, and whatever fear and intimidation it spread, his newspaper covered it with straight news stories. The local klansmen made sporadic public appearances through the mid-1920s, decked out in their “regalia” of white robes and hoods. They didn’t permit themselves to be identified, even in instances like the one in July 1922, when a cab driver got a call to Greenough Park. Four hooded klansmen stopped the car as it arrived, climbed in, pulled down the curtains and directed the driver to a corner of Main Street and Higgins Avenue. A Salvation Army rally was taking place.
“They presented the captain with an envelope containing $50 in currency as an offering from the Klan to the campaign fund of $4,000 now being raised in Missoula,” the Missoulian reported. “They re-entered the taxi and were spirited away before the spectators had time to realize what had happened.”
In September 1923 the paper reported that Missoula had been made headquarters for province No. 1 of the KKK’s four Montana provinces. According to missoulian.newspapers.com, pages containing references to the secret society peaked that year at 192. By 1926 they’d dwindled to 13 and the Missoulian relayed a report on the results of a nationwide New York Times survey.
“Almost all the reports agree that the Klan’s once powerful political influence has shrunk to virtually nothing,” the New Republic surmised. “Politicians who, two years ago, felt forced to align themselves with it, today feel equally compelled to repudiate it.”
Hutchens left the Missoulian in September 1926. He either quit of exhaustion, the newspaper's line, or he was fired by the Anaconda Company-led ownership of the Missoulian and Missoula Sentinel. After editing two anti-company papers in Butte, Martin Hutchens died in a Salt Lake City hospital in January 1929.
Years later, he was back in the Missoulian in spirit. On Aug. 22, 1974, we reported: “Martin J. Hutchens, a pioneer Montana newspaperman who, while editor of the (Montana) Free Press, was assaulted, shot at and threatened, has been nominated as the 20th member of the Montana Newspaper Hall of Fame.”
A plaque honoring Hutchens’ legacy hangs in the Hall of Fame on the third floor of Don Anderson School of Journalism building on the University of Montana campus.