Wednesday, May 11, 2016

County officials went on trial in 1915 for buying votes


"Large groups of strangers showed up in Corpus Christi in late 1860. They came by ship from New Orleans and they left town on foot, walking south and west. Who were they? Where were they going? No one seemed to know. The Ranchero, Corpus Christi's newspaper, solved the mystery. The men belonged to the Knights of the Golden Circle, a secret society.

The Knights of the Golden Circle, or KGC, was founded in Lexington, Kentucky, on July 4, 1856, by George Bickley. It spread across the South and into Texas. Local units were called castles and members were formed into three orders, a military corps, a financial contingent, and a leadership cadre.

The KGC advocated the creation of an empire of slavery that would extend to Central America, include Mexico and the West Indies, and the southern half of the United States, from Kansas to Maryland and from Texas to Florida. As the KGC envisioned it, this slave empire would control a monopoly on tobacco, cotton, sugar, rice, and coffee and become a world power to rival ancient Rome. The North would be free to go its abolitionist way.

The KGC had an influential following in Texas, including legislators and other state leaders. There were 30 so-called castles in the state, including one in Corpus Christi.

In the fall of 1860, the mysterious movement of men toward the border was part of the KGC plan to conquer Mexico, which would be divided up and great tracts of land bestowed on loyal followers of the KGC. They had it worked out exactly how many acres each man would receive, with peons assigned as slaves to till the land.

In September 1860, the Knights began to arrive in Corpus Christi and left on foot, some heading for Brownsville and some for Laredo. The countryside filled with Knights and their campfires increased every night by new parties arriving during the day, a Galveston paper reported. One detachment of Knights passed through Corpus Christi and a week later another group arrived, the Ranchero reported on Sept. 15, 1860.

"Those who passed through last week are at Banquete," the Ranchero stated, "and it appears they are bound to suffer disappointment, as they expect to meet a large force subsequent to a march on Matamoros."

The KGC's plan to invade Mexico was badly organized and just fell apart. George Bickley, leader of the Knights, arrived in Texas and cited difficulties in raising money, buying weapons, and organizing such a large undertaking. He postponed the Mexican invasion to await the outcome of the U.S. presidential election coming in November. The dispirited Knights who had come to Texas to conquer Mexico turned tail and headed home.

Corpus Christi's own "castle" held a birthday party for the KGC on July 4, 1861. Local Knights marched to Ziegler's Hall where there were speeches, toasts, and tables filled with good things to eat. It was their last hurrah.

Some Confederate militia units were formed from ranks of the Knights and several Confederate leaders were high in the order. But the Knights of the Golden Circle's dream of creating a proslavery empire to rival ancient Rome became one of the first casualties of the Civil War."

The Knights of the Golden Circle Research and Historical Archives