When I was a kid, Branson, Missouri, was just another small town slumbering in the hills. Only a handful of “opry'” families were singin’ and dancin’ for a living, pulling in a few people passing through on the highway. There were no national acts, no big music stars, just home-grown Ozark folks mixing corn pone humor with country music and dance acts. I didn’t care about that stuff. I visited Silver Dollar City theme park on a school trip and discovered the ride, “Fire in the Hole.” This in-the-dark roller coaster ride introduced me to the Baldknobbers. I was fourteen, and the ride lit me up. What a concept!
Masked, night-riding vigilantes torching and murdering across the Missouri countryside was easy to believe while on the ride. These nasty bastards were the afterbirth of the civil war reconstruction policies and formed to counter disgruntled rebel veterans who turned outlaw against the Union carpetbaggers.
And then, under the corrupting influence of power, the Baldknobbers went bad, murdering and lynching citizens for political and financial gain.
It is the distinctive horned mask that separates them from other vigilante groups. It is this mask that excites me as a Halloween/creature prop maker. It is a pity that so few photos of them exist.
They remind me of fat-headed demons, with the oval of the mask face emphasized by the white paint, and this circular design carried into the horns with the white rings. Still, it is the blank, emotionless expression that makes the mask truly frightening. This demon has no humanity and no remorse. That’s scary.
For more information on these rascals, visit the Legends of America blog. You will find good writing and research there.
If you’re ever in Branson, MO, drop by Silver Dollar City and check out the Fire in the hole ride. They have tamed the ride a bit since the ’70’s to accommodate the tender minds of small children and sensitive souls, but it is still a fun. You just won’t see lynched, hanging bodies and sucking chest wounds anymore. Okay, I’m joking about that last, but you get the idea.