"The Klan constituted an alternate civic authority, parallel to the legal
state, which, in the eyes of the Klan’s founders, no longer defended
their community’s legitimate interests. By adopting a uniform (white
robe and hood), as well as by their techniques of intimidation and their
conviction that violence was justified in the cause of their group’s
destiny, 88 the first version of the Klan in the defeated American South
was arguably a remarkable preview of the way fascist movements were to
function in inter-war Europe. It should not be surprising, after all,
that the most precocious democracies—the United States and France—should
have generated precocious backlashes against democracy.”
Klan present as a force against McPhee
By Rob Carrigan, email@example.com
It can be difficult to talk about — but what had been one the biggest towns and the largest industries in Montezuma County — also suffered from rising fascism in the form of local Ku Klux Klan ascendancy. The effect of a Klan boycott of mill
products should not be underestimated as a contributing factor to the demise of the town of McPhee, according to area historians.
company town of McPhee, Colorado, owned and operated by the New Mexico
Lumber Company, lasted from 1924-1948, serving as an important economic
and cultural town of the Dolores River Valley. During the industrial
town's peak of operations in 1927, it was Colorado's largest and most
productive mill town, producing more than half the State's annual
lumber. The town featured a lumber mill, housing for approximately 1,500
employees and the last logging railroad in Southwestern Colorado," says historian Lisa Mausolf, in her field notes at the Library of Congress, August, in 1981.
In one of the more embarrassing chapters of Colorado conservative history, Clarence Morley, the Ku Klux Klan-picked Republican candidate, became Governor of Colorado in 1925.
“In the spring of 1924, Klan members packed the precinct caucuses of both the Democratic and Republican parties , then supported Klan candidates in the primary and general elections.” according to a 2003 article by Ed Quillen. “In Colorado, the Klan captured few Democratic nominations, but had its most success infecting the Republicans.”
Jason Brockman and Erin McDanal, staff archivists for the Colorado State Archive, said Morley’s “political ascent paralleled the anti-minority, anti-foreign, anti-Jewish, and anti-Catholic sentiment that existed throughout the country during the 1920s.”
Under the charismatic and persuasive tutelage of Grand Dragon John Galen Locke, the Klan was able to create one of strongest political machines in state history. Locke, the short, extremely overweight Denver physician, ran the Klan and much of the state from his office at 1345 Glenarm Place.
“Beyond any doubt the KKK is the largest and most cohesive, most efficiently organized political force in the state,” according to the Denver Post at the time. Locke, as Klan Grand Dragon controlled Morley as Governor, Ben Stapleton as mayor of Denver, obtained a majority in the House and Senate, elected the Secretary of State, and secured a Supreme Court Judgeship and seven benched in Denver District Court, according to state archivists.
Although, on cue Locke espoused the usual Klan nonsense messages of hate
and bigotry in public, but didn’t seem to live the life himself. “He
had been married to a Catholic and employed two Catholic secretaries,
paying their pew rents,” wrote Dark Cloud column author Richard L.
MacLeod of the Boulder Lout Forum.
"Despite all attempts to create a cohesive community at McPhee, the town remained a loose union of transients on their way to new lumber operations. Much of the local news in the Dolores Star related the immigration in and out of town. Many came to McPhee from neighboring lumber mills, numerous Mexican-Americans from Lumberton, Chama, Alamosa and El Vado," said Mausolf.
The period around 1925 marked a peak in Ku Klux Klan activity in Colorado as well as in Montezuma County. The power of the Klan and their prejudices against Black, Catholic and Jewish persons during this period has been generally underestimated. The year 1924 marked a wave of bigotry witnessing the election of all KKK candidates in Denver. The Klan's influence reached McPhee in the form of a boycott on McPhee and McGinnity and their subsidiaries. The Dolores Star hailed the alleged efforts of the Klan to root out bootleggers, gamblers and the like and went so far as to declare in 1925 that today the best Americans are Klansmen.
Religious worship in McPhee was influenced by the company. Because McPhee and McGinnity were both Roman Catholic, as were a large number of Hispanic workers, this denomination received special attention and support from the company.
In the early years a train was sent into the town by the company to take Catholic employees into Dolores for mass. Work began on a Catholic Church in 1928, to be located near the school/ on a hill to the west overlooking the town. A cemetery was planned and constructed on adjacent land serving all employees of the New Mexico Lumber Company Company carpenters were released from other work to build the church with lumber also donated by the company. Two dollars a month was withheld from the wages of all Mexican-American employees for the building. Apparently this met some dispute from non-Catholic Hispanic workers.
These funds were combined with a $2500 donation by McPhee and a $100 donation from the Catholic Extension Society. The church was dedicated in June, 1929 and merited a half holiday for services, work resuming at one o'clock so visitors could see the plant in operation.
The church, measuring 30' x 84' was labelled the "largest and finest edifice of the kind in Montezuma County."
"The initial parent company also owes its failure to
reasons quite removed from those which ended the town of McPhee. McPhee
and McGinnity filed bankruptcy in 1930 as an immediate result of the
panic of 1929 which severely shook building and lumber industries. A
hard winter in 1929 further worsened matters. The company had also
over-invested in government and private timber purchases which proved
too sparse for profits. Likewise, the effect of a Klan boycott of mill
products should not be underestimated as a contributing factor," wrote Mausolf.
McPhee and McGinnity's operations, as well as those which followed them
were all impeded by the quality of the lumber, which did not prove as
good as initially assumed. Much of the timber was overmature by grading
standards and was knocked down in grade to utility construction level,
resulting in losses and debts for the company, according to Lisa Mausolf in "The River of Sorrows: The History of the Lower Dolores River Valley," a publication put together by National Parks Service using much of the information gathered in her field notes.