As I mentioned over the winter, one of my favorite rides at Silver Dollar City is and will always be Fire in The Hole! (Pronounced “fi·urrrrrrrr” + “in”+”thuuuhhhh”+ “Hooooooooooooooooooooooohhhhllll!!!”(with a long O). When you ride the ride, this pronunciation will make complete sense. Last weekend, while I was unable to ride the ride, I did soak in the sights and sounds surrounding it, most notably the mentions of my favorite cast of characters from the time frame: the Baldknobbers.
The Baldknobbers were a vigilante group of men who, for a season (about 15 months) in the late 1880s, greatly slowed the post-Civil War lawlessness in Southwest Missouri by “runnin’ out the bad guys” (and shootin’/hangin’ a few too…). These men formed this organization on top of a treeless Ozark Mountain (called a bald knob…a colorful name that my own head is starting to resemble). They were a scary lot, referred to as “devils” by the East Coast media of the day. Their hooded appearance reminds one of the Klan, but they were not even a little bit associated with this terrible hate group other than, perhaps, looking scary in their makeshift masks. There were local offices of this type of group all over the Ozarks, called in one area “The Anti-Horse Thief Association” and in another “The Law and Order League”, but the founding principle was the same: to stop the rampant crime (murders, horse/cattle theft, assaults). All was good until it wasn’t. Crimes went down…especially the ones they had targeted. Ultimately, however, the group became corrupt and misguided and started committing crimes themselves, even, sadly, killing a few innocent people. Ultimately they had to be broken up by the state militia, sent by Governor Marmaduke. Here is The White River Valley Historical Quarterly‘s take on starting that process:
During April, 1886, Governor Marmaduke sent Adjutant General J. C. Jamison to Forsyth to investigate the situation. General Jamison met in Forsyth with Captain Kinney and other leaders of the Bald Knobbers. He read the articles of organization and the bylaws, then remarked, “Boys, I see nothing wrong with the principles of your order but it is against the law.” Captain Kinney issued the call for all members of the order to meet at the court house in Forsyth. On the appointed day over five hundred men met on the court house grounds. Among them were lawyers, farmers, merchants, teachers and even some ministers. Captain Kinney made a brief speech explaining that their mission was now accomplished and suggesting that the order disband. My grandfather Col. A. S. Prather wrote the articles of dissolution. (Springfield Daily Herald, Vol. IV, No. 21, April 14, 1886).
Further readings Here and Here and Here
My Great, Great Grandpa Gil was a Baldknobber as well as some more family. Gil was arrested and ultimately released…or this column would have no writer.
So… why on God’s green Earth would we be talking about the Baldknobbers on an Alzheimer’s blog? Better said, what can we learn about dementia from the rise and fall of a vigilante group 130+ years ago?? Here is my list:
- Things with a loved one are not always as they seem. The Baldknobbers seemed/looked bad at first but were actually good. Then, once they seemed good, it turns out they had gone bad. Loved ones in the beginning stages of this terrible disease will often either hide the extent of the problem or will lie about it. Nobody wants to lose freedoms (like driving…the big one), and those struggling are no exception. Denial factors in too in some cases. Loved ones that know a little about dementia know the stinking stigmas associated with the disease and they know that it is a death sentence. Ask your loved one questions if you see them struggling and never hesitate to talk to a doctor.
- Just like there were probably instances of people committing a crime and blaming it on the Baldknobbers, and just like the later Baldknobbers blamed “crime” for running people out of town so they could steal their stuff, there are many other conditions that copycat/look like dementia. Just because something looks similar (for example, Baldknobbers & the KKK) doesn’t mean there are any further similarities or that they are the same. The Alzheimer’s Association symptom checklist does a good job reminding us that some symptoms of the disease are just a worse form of something that happens as we age. Forgetting your car keys isn’t necessarily a sign that you have Alzheimer’s. Forgetting which side of the road you drive on is a b ig red flag. A good doctor can help you separate normal aging from illness.
- Catching it early is a much better plan than waiting until it gets worse. Don’t wait to talk to your doctor and to get a support and treatment plan. Talk about it. Here is my little memory tool to help you remember some of the symptoms. The Baldknobbers were formed because there was utter lawlessness including dozens of unsolved murders in Taney County (Mo.) alone. If they governor would have dispatched a militia or at least funded more law enforcement, the growth of the Baldknobbers would have been unnecessary. Don’t let things get out of hand before addressing the problem!
- Stigma can be downright slanderous. My mom had people in her age cohort, who, also in their 60s-80s should know better, tease her about her forgetfulness and speech problems. One absolute mule’s rump, who happens to be a friend’s dad and who would have been ran out of town by the Baldknobbers for being a drunk slob, said “All of her family has mental problems”. Worthless stigmas. People with dementia are made in the image and likeness of God like the rest. We wouldn’t stigmatize a cancer patient by laughing at their hairlessness caused by chemo. How could we laugh when Alzheimer’spatients completely forget nearly everything??
- It took a team to put out a fire that the Baldknobbers may or may not have set. 😉 It takes a team to care for your relative with dementia. You need family, friends, church family, civic groups, your Area Agency on Aging, the Alzheimer’s Association, hospice and a host of medical professionals. Start planning and gathering knowledge, skills and resources now.
- Sometimes the medicine is worse than the cure. The Baldknobbers were not the illness…they were just a symptom of the illness and, in the end, they turned out to be bad medicine. The illness, if you will, was the rampant lawlessness happening all around at the time. Guns were plentiful, times were very hard, and, in some cases, people were still bitter about the war. In treating a patient with dementia, you will be introduced to dozens of treatments from your medical team, all of which are attempting to fight the symptoms. Anti-Anxiety meds are huge because patients, rightly so, are scared and confused. Every Tom, Dick and Harry out there will also, usually with good intentions, offer you potential cures “that they read about”. I love to hear about symptom fighters because I want mom and the Sweet 17 to be happy and finish stronger. But what I really want is a cure. The Alzheimer’s Association and many (countless) researchers are working day and night and they need our support, whether financial, prayer, or by being a Guinea pig as needed. (I am investigating several clinical trials and longitudinal studies that I can join to further this aspect…more details later.)
- The Baldknobbers are gone…a relic of times past. Pictures, murals, plaques, a country music show in Branson, the venerable book/movie The Shepherd of the Hills and my beloved Fire in the Hole roller coaster point to the group in remembrance of the good and (mostly) the bad…. Oh how I yearn to look back with reverence and esteem, seeing the horrors and the heroes of this disease, after the first person cured appears. The first two lines of the old song “The Ballad of the Bald Knobbers” perhaps say it best: “Adieu to old Kirbyville (or Alzheimer’s), I (you) can no longer stay, Hard times and Bald Knobbers has driven me (you) away…. ” —–Now come on, reader, let’s grab a torch or a pail of water! One way or another, this crook needs to go!
Update on mom: All was pretty good yesterday. She still has some tremors which could be anxiety, could be the progression of the disease or it could be nothing at all.
Mom would totally approve of this article! She loved Silver Dollar City…loved it! I am sure we rode Fire in the Hole many times in the 1980s. 🙂