The Stephenson Trial: Internal Klan Conflicts Linked to Downfall of Second 
Klan in Indiana

by Lindsay Dunn
Spring 2000


Posing the Problem:


In the early 1920’s, D. C. Stephenson was one of the most powerful men in the United States. He was the Grand Dragon of Indiana’s Ku Klux Klan, the most active branch of the organization in history. With the help of evangelist Daisy Douglas Barr, Stephenson ruled the Queens of the Golden Mask, the active women’s counterpart to the Ku Klux Klan in the Midwest. Stephenson also controlled the Fiery Cross, the influential Klan newspaper, and led a private police force, the National Horse Thief Detective Organization. Because of Stephenson’s political influence, his close friends, like Governor Ed Jackson, held the highest offices in Indiana

In 1925, his reign ended. On Monday, November 16, 1925, a judge in NoblesvilleIndiana, sentenced the Indiana Grand Dragon to lifetime imprisonment for the murder of Madge Oberholtzer.  Following Stephenson’s conviction, the Indiana Ku Klux Klan movement, and later the entire Second Klan movement in the Midwest, ended. Most scholars primarily attribute the downfall of the Second Klan in Indiana to Stephenson’s actions. Stephenson’s crime contradicted the Klan platform: the protection of white women and the preservation of Protestant family values. This caused families to leave the organization.

However, this simplistic interpretation of the events neglects much evidence. Interviews show that many Klan members, especially women, doubted the victim and supported Stephenson. Except for the anti-Klan Indianapolis Times, newspaper reports attacked Olberholtzer’s character rather than Stephenson’s character.

Although a number of Klan members supported Stephenson, officials in the Klan did not. A year before the conviction, Imperial Wizard Hiram Evans and other Klan leaders caused Stephenson’s dismissal from his home klavern in Evansville, Indiana by spreading rumors of Stephenson’s immoral behavior. Stephenson later accused Evans of engineering the lawsuit of Ms. Hamilton, Stephenson’s estranged wife, for child support during the murder trial. Klansmen officials reportedly threatened Stephenson while he was in jail.

I propose that the fall of the Klan in Indiana was not caused solely by Stephenson’s conviction. The fall of the Second Klan in Indiana was in part the 
result of feuding between Klan leaders. Evans, and other Klan officials, attempted to gain more power by turning the public against Stephenson.  However, instead of gaining more power, these leaders destroyed the Klan. 


Primary Sources:

The Indiana Historical Society owns a private collection entitled the D.C. Stephenson Collection. The Collection includes numerous journals maintained by Stephenson before and after the trial. The collection also includes articles of correspondence between Stephenson, Evans, and other Klan officials. I plan to use this information to interpret Stephenson’s relationship with other Klan leaders and better understand his rise to power in Indiana

My primary resources also include a speech by Evans entitled “The Klan’s Fight for Americanism,” found in North American Review, and the Journal of the National Horse Thief Detective Association, Stephenson’s private police group journal. These resources provide insight on Klan ideology and activity. The records for the murder trial are missing, but reports from local newspapers such as the Indianapolis News, Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis Times, and Kokomo Dispatch describe Klan activity before, after, and during the trial and also provide numerous editorials and interviews of Klan and city officials, common Klansmen and Klanswomen, and the public.

Pulitzer Prize winning My Indiana, by Indianapolis Times writer Irving Leibowitz, contains reproductions of parts of the missing trial transcripts.


Historiography:

Traditionally, scholars linked the fall of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana solely to the conviction of Stephenson. In books such as Irving Leibowitz’s My Indiana, David Horowitz’s Inside the Klavern, William Katz’s The Invisible Empire, and Kathleen Blee’s Women of the Klan, authors assume Stephenson’s guilt. These authors discuss problems between Klan leaders, but fail to establish the link between Stephenson’s case and internal Klan corruption.

In newer texts and articles, such as Leonard Moore’s Citizen Klansmen and Rory McVeigh’s “Power Devaluation and Defensive Mobilization: The Rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the Fall of the Political Left,” scholars discuss the activities of the typical Klansmen and voting trends of the 1920’s. These arguments also fail to discuss in detail the links between Stephenson’s conviction, internal Klan corruption and the decline of Klan activity.

Other scholars argue in support of Stephenson. William Lutholtz’s Grand Dragon and Robert Butler’s So they Framed Stephenson primarily address the trial and Stephenson’s (believed) innocence. Butler implicates non-Klan political leaders as participants in the supposed framing. Still, these texts hardly link internal Klan conflict and the fall of the Indiana Klan.

My argument will not dispute Stephenson’s effect on the Indiana Klan. By establishing links between internal Klan conflict, Stephenson’s downfall, and 
the decline of the Indiana Klan, I will better explain the causes and effects of the events.


Outline:

Section One: Brief overview of events in the nation and Indiana in the 1920’s leading to the rise and fall of the Second Klan

Section Two: Presentation of thesis: The fall of Klan activity linked to internal conflict

Section Three: Discussion of Stephenson’s background as a Socialist leader and rise to power in Indiana

Section Four: Discussion of the Indiana Klan and the appeal of Klan ideology

Section Five: Discussion of power struggles within the Klan (Evans, Simmons and Stephenson)

Section Six: Discussion of Klan activity during Stephenson’s trial

Section Seven: Conclusion: The causes and effects of internal conflict within the Klan


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Bibliography

Primary Sources:

Evans, Hiram Wesley. “The Klan’s Fight for Americanism.” North American Review. March 1926.

D.C. Stephenson Collection, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, IN.

Journal of National Horse Thief Detective Association

Indianapolis News.
16 January 1924 - 28 November 1927

Indianapolis Star.
26 May 1924 - 5 July 1925

Indianapolis Times. 4 June 1923 - 24 June 1925

Kokomo Dispatch.
26 May 1924 - 5 June 1925

Leibowitz, Irving. My Indiana. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1964.


Secondary Sources: 

Blee, Kathleen M. Women of the Klan. Berkley: University of California Press, 1991.

Butler, Robert A. So They Framed Stephenson. Huntington, Indiana: Privately Published

Horowitz, David. Inside the Klavern: The Secret History of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920’s. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Jessup, Micheal Morris. “The Decline of the 1920’s Ku Klux Klan: A Sociological Analysis.” Ph.D. diss., Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, 1992.

Katz, William Loren. The Invisible Empire. Washington, D.C.: Open Hand Publishing Inc., 1986.

Lutholtz, William M. Grand Dragon: D.C. Stephenson and the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana. West Lafeyette: Purdue University Press, 1991.

McVeigh, Rory . “Power Devaluation and Defensive Mobilization: The Rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the Fall of the Political Left.” Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1996.

Moore, Leonard Joseph. Citizen Klansmen:The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1996.

Moore, Leonard Joseph. “White Protestant Nationalism in the 1920’s: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana.” Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles
1985.


Weaver, Norman F. “The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.” Ph.D. diss., Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin, 1954.