THE BLACK PATCH TOBACCO WARS AND THE NIGHT RIDERS
The black patch tobacco war dated from 1904 to 1909. The conflict took place in southwestern Kentucky and northern Tennessee, between Paducah and Nashville. This was the longest and most violent conflict between the end of the Civil War and the civil rights struggles of the mid 1960's. Originally known as The Silent Brigade, the Night Riders were a vigilante force opposed to the American Tobacco Company because it priced tobacco so low that farmers could not make any profit from their work. Often times families went hungry.
The Night Riders attacked individual farms and crops, eventually occupying towns and destroying the Trust warehouses, and attacking individuals who supported the Trust.
Galloping through the tobacco fields of Western Kentucky, and leaving terror in their wake, burning barns, and destroying plant beds of young seedlings, the Night Ridders donned masks to commit their acts of terror against their neighbors. Screams were heard through the night as men were beaten by torchlight and families watched, helpless against the mob formed by large numbers of men. Yet some felt the Night Riders were heroes, fighting for survival against the big tobacco trusts of the East.
The Night Riders had the most control in 1908 when they nearly had complete control of the Dark Leaf Tobacco crop. In order to protect themselves from the government, the Night Riders took membership into the government elite of the affected Dark Patch regions, which allowed them to control the courts and officers of the counties and judicial districts.
The state's newly elected Republican governor, August Wilson, made good of his promise to reform, placing Calloway Count under martial law and placing
a $500 bounty on the heads of Night Riders. He then promised to pardon anyone who killed a Night Rider; making it an "open season" on them. Estimates say that 16 Night Riders and 30 non-members were killed during the Black Patch Tobacco War in Western Kentucky and Tennessee.