SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - Calhoun Klan Funeral Causes 1924 Stir, Hate Group Still Loitering

(06/11/2017)

By Bob Weaver

The mourners overflowed the Walnut Grove Church near the mouth of Barnes Run beside the West Fork of the Little Kanawha.

There were few cars able to plow through the muddy ruts in 1924, so most arrived on foot and horse from Hur, Buckhorn, Joker and the Husk to join the Adam to Richardson "forkers."

It was funeral day for Jim and Rebecca Starcher Riggs' son, Bruce E. Riggs, brought back from Harrison County to be buried among his family. He was 40 years old.

Bruce E. Riggs

Twenty-six-year-old Lizzie Fritz, the daughter of German immigrants Godfrey and Bertha Fritz, came from out on the Husk. She had just married Hess Reynolds.

Lizzie, who was embarking on a lifelong teaching career and rode a horse with her new husband to the funeral. She would become a horse riding teacher to one-room schools in Calhoun County for the next 35 years.

Lizzie will be remembered for her son Eugene, teacher, principal, farmer and longtime resident of Hur.

She and Hess managed to get in the middle seats, but most of the mourners stood outside on the steep banks around the church.

Walnut Grove was among the first established churches in the county, the land and material officially donated in the 1850's by William "Billy Blue Head" Starcher, son of one of Calhoun's first permanent settlers, Phillip.

Walnut Grove Church

After marrying Eva Nutter in 1909, the daughter of Charley and Nancy Mitchell Nutter, it was obvious Bruce Riggs had aspirations beyond Calhoun farm life.

Most of his siblings toiled in the soil, but Bruce dashed off to Clarksburg and Richwood seeking factory work and working in timber mills.

He managed to purchase a car and maintain a prosperous life-style, often having photographers take pictures of his family and surroundings to send back home.

The Riggs, Starcher and Nutter families filed into the church as the funeral service began, the preacher preaching and the congregation singing.

The casket remained open for viewing. During a lengthy prayer, Lizzie Reynolds heard rumbling voices outside the church, rising in volume to disturb the solemnity. A few curious mourners rose from their seats to stare out the window.

The preacher began to stammer as he too looked out the window.

Dozens of white-sheeted figures with pointed hoods were marching double-file down the muddy road toward the church. The congregation and those outside got agitated and the service came to a screeching halt.

The whispered secret was out, Bruce Riggs was a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and a multitude of fellow Klansmen, about fifty, came to pay their respects.

A hooded figure entered the church, going down the aisle to whisper in the preacher's ear.

Lizzie was frightened by the KKK members who then surrounded the church, clasping hands, as the service continued.

The pall bearers took the casket to the doorway where the Klan took over, moving their comrade down the steep hillside.

Family and friends slowly fell into the procession which went up the West Fork road toward the Winner-Ball Cemetery, about one-half mile from the church.

There was hymn singing as they went along.

Klan members crowded around the grave site with family members to incant a special ritual and the preacher committed the body back to the earth.

A few months later, at the request of the deceased, the monument men came and placed a granite stone at the head of Bruce Rigg's grave.

Engraved across the top - KKK.

Some of Bruce Riggs nephews in the Village of Hur, my McCoy uncles, unfortunately carried on the KKK tradition for a few years.

Most notable was the large lettered inscription - "KKK."

The KKK was "alive and well" in Calhoun County during the early 1900's, more often than not directing vigilante efforts to improve the morality of community members, having few blacks or other minorities to inflict their prejudice.

There are no records of the KKK acting against the members of Calhoun's two black communities, although they were surely aware of the Klan's mission.

KKK Grand Dragon Bruce Riggs, sadly, was my great-uncle and other members of the Riggs-McCoy family were members of the Klan, in addition to many of their neighbors and numerous Calhoun citizens.

The KKK continues to portray a "Christian" image, while promoting hate and bigotry against blacks and many other minority groups, claiming they are the salvation of the "pure" white race.

Over 90 years later, the Klan continues to make an occasionally appearance in the community.


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