Lake County History, Chapter 110: The White Cap Murders, Part 1

After the smoke and sounds of the bloody Civil War died away, there was peace. Yet, for some, the prejudice and hatred remained. Long after the Civil War ended, there was bitterness and prejudice between people of different political parties; Democrat and the Klan-like bands of marauders and vigilantes rode by night to enforce their ideas of right and wrong and punish those who held views about slavery, race, morality, and religion different from their own.

These avenging night riders were descendants of the Civil War Northern Knights of the Golden Circle, or as they were called by others, The Circle of Honor or The Knights of the mighty Host. One of the most violent was the White Caps.

The White Caps rode in disguise on their missions of violence. White paper foolscap covered their heads. They wore masks of white and coffee sacking over their overalls, crudely made with holes for arms and head, spreading terror wherever they rode. As the Twentieth Century loomed closer, their power, their numbers, and their crimes increased. In 1888, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, ‘The White Cap investigation by the authorities has discovered a great pile of secret evidence against that organization. If there are indictments, only the state militia has the power to enforce the court’s decision and protect the litigants from the White Cap’s enmity. The White Cap members are certain to intimidate and drive away all persons that may wish to turn state’s evidence.’

The following year the Chronicle announced, ‘Their maltreatment of citizens is more infamous than ever. They have taken to tar and feathering women in order to purify the morals of the town. A lawyer, named Middleton, was seized on the porch of his home by 12 or 15 men with white masks. He was whipped to unconsciousness.’

In Toledo, Ohio, papers reported, ‘A band of men in White Cap attire forced entry into the home of a farmer named Handst. They committed the shocking outrage of cutting off Handst’s right ear and part of his left ear.’

In Ohio, a newspaper declared,‘A Catholic Bishop in Dyersville, Iowa, was threatened with death if he dared to take part in the dedication of a new Catholic church.

 In Mason City, Ohio, a paper stated, ‘…prowling, cowardly ruffians visited a Mason City home. They dragged out both husband and wife and ordered them to leave and never return to this area.’

A special bulletin in the Denver News, in 1890, told of the growing power of the White Caps in New Mexico. ‘The White Cap Organization in New Mexico, whose outrages were recently called to the attention of the Secretary of the Interior, has become so bold that the Governor is compelled to proclaim they must disband. If they do not, he shall order out the United States troops.’

Government had enough. They were fed up with the White Cap’s threats, ravages, and crimes. A campaign began to round up and punish the miscreants.

What happened in Lake County in 1890, were called the White Cap Murders. Strangely, the bizarre crime was not even perpetrated by members of the original ‘White Caps.’  The ten men that raided the Camper’s Retreat were ‘wanna-bee’ White Caps, although what they did was just as murderous and destructive as the men whose titles they took. Perhaps because it was a wish to hide behind a more powerful movement of the times that the ten men assumed the trappings and the disguises of the more popular and infamous group.

Next episode; The Raid on Camper’s Retreat


To enjoy and learn more about Author Gene Paleno’s books

visit Gene’s website; http://genepaleno.com/

Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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