Last in a 5-part series

When the Ku Klux Klan rose up in Fulton County in the early 1920s, the leaders of Rochester society reacted to it in various ways. Some became active members; others joined but kept their distance. Some refused to join yet tolerated its existence; others opposed it and kept a suspicious eye on its progress.

Among them was Harold Van Trump, known as Herd, a newspaperman who quickly anointed himself as the Klan's worst enemy and became its constant gadfly. He instantly recognized the Klan for what it was, an abomination, and he fought its progress in the columns of his newspaper with relentless vigor and journalistic cunning.

The Van Trumps were an old-line Rochester family. Herd and his brother Pete had been in the publishing and printing business here since their youths. By the time the Klan appeared, Herd was editor of one of the city's two newspapers, The Daily News, a Republican organ that then occupied the same Eighth Street building as does The Sentinel today.

Through his newspaper, Herd pounced upon the Klan as soon as it began to spread through Indiana. He denounced its evil premises, warned that it was coming to Fulton County and published the first accounts of its local organizing efforts. In regular editorials, Van Trump revealed that the Klan was nothing more than an elaborate scheme to enrich its leaders in Georgia and Indianapolis, condemned its opposition to Catholics and Jews "many of whom have dwelt long and honorably among us" and scoffed as absurd and unconstitutional its plans to supply citizens with better law enforcement than that being provided by legally elected officers.

Thus attacked, the Klan struck back. At the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve of 1923, a band of 41 robed and hooded Klansmen marched from the Courthouse square onto Eighth Street. They formed a circle around an 18-foot cross in front of the Daily News building, set the cross afire, sang "America," and offered a loud prayer that the editor would see the error of his ways.

It bothered Herd not at all. He published a story about it at the top of page one, noting that "few Rochester Kluxers took part . . . most came from the western (Kewanna) part of the county."

As the May 1924 primary elections approached, Van Trump advised his readers that the Klan was seeking to control both Republican and Democratic parties in the county. Men never before active in politics were filing for precinct committeemen and as state convention delegates, he announced.

Suddenly, a means to oppose this insidious plan fell into his hands: a copy of the Klan's secret local membership list.

It seems that an active member of the Klan, a man named Hiatt who recently had moved to Rochester, needed money. He offered the list of 583 members for sale at $1 per name. Herd raised the cash, bought the list and granted Hiatt his request for a three-hour head start out of town before the sale was made public. Hiatt, it was said, already had his household goods packed when he got the money.

With this weapon at hand, Editor Van Trump resumed his battle against the Klan in earnest. He published the primary election ballot and placed a star beside every candidate he now knew was NOT a Klan member. An unstarred candidate who wished to gain a star beside his name in subsequent publications had only to make a public disavowal of the Klan to the editor. A few did just that and were granted the distinctive emblem.

At this time also, a group calling itself the Citizens' Horse Thief Detective Association suddenly appeared. Its officers requested that county commissioners deputize 70 of its members, granting them police powers and the right to carry guns. Van Trump expressed his horror at the thought of officially arming these men as a kind of vigilante force. He declared almost all them were Klansmen and published their names. Commissioners never responded to the request.

In the May primaries the Klan scored impressive victories throughout

Indiana, but not in Fulton County. All Klan candidates for state delegates but one were defeated by decisive votes here; in every contest in which a Klan candidate sought to be a precinct committeeman, the anti-Klan candidate won.

For his strident opposition to their attempt at a political takeover, Klansmen paid Van Trump a second nocturnal visit. Knights of the Invisible Empire appeared at 9 o'clock the night after election and burned another fiery cross, this time in a vacant lot across from his residence at Pontiac and 13th streets, vanishing quickly afterward. Herd published an account of this event too, under the heading "Editor Signally Honored." Obviously, he was enjoying the attention.

Before the general election of November, 1924, Van Trump once more repeatedly published a copy of the ballot with anti-Klan candidates starred. And, once again, Fulton County voters showed they were not swayed by KKK propaganda. Klan candidates for treasurer, sheriff and surveyor all lost. In the race for coroner, where both hopefuls were identified with the Klan, 553 voters refused to vote for either man.

Even though the Klan elected its candidate, Ed Jackson, as governor of Indiana, Jackson could not carry Fulton County, losing here by 63 votes. The Klan and its racist philosophy had been declared persona non grata at the local polls.

Afterward, Van Trump wrote that he was sorry he did not support the entire Republican ticket but he believed "the constitutional rights of the people were more important than party solidarity." He congratulated the people of Fulton County "on the intelligence and honesty which directed their votes."

Congratulations also were due Harold Van Trump, along with some admiration. His was the only newspaper voice raised publicly against the Klan's threat to Fulton County life and to its government. The Sentinel in general had been content to cover Klan activities only as ongoing news events. While Herd's editorial voice sometimes reached fever pitch, it never lost its wisdom, persistence nor courage. The county's people were well served by his words and obviously agreed with their fact and logic.

The 1924 election was Herd's valedictory to Rochester. On December 1, 1924, The Daily News merged with The Sentinel to form The News-Sentinel. Not being a part of the consolidation he moved on to newspapers in Marion, Wabash, LaPorte and Florida before returning to Rochester, where he died in 1932 at age 56.

When D. C. Stephenson, Grand Dragon of the Indiana Klan, entered prison in 1925 as a convicted murderer and when afterward some of the officials he had elected were convicted of bribery and corruption, the Indiana Klan he had created was disgraced, and fell into gradual decline. It existed awhile as a novelty but its reach for acceptance and political power was ended.

By the close of the 1920s this second incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan had disappeared almost everywhere in Indiana, remaining only as a bad memory most everyone would prefer to forget.

Published Dec. 14, 1999