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Dawson Springs Invaded By Night Riders

Dawson Invaded By Night Riders, By J Harold Utley of the Hopkins County Historical Society in Downtown Madisonville Kentucky.

The American Tobacco Company completed its combination of companies between 1900 and 1904, and in alliance with the Imperial Tobacco Company and the Regie Contractors had cleared all opposition away.


The tobacco producers realized all of a sudden that it was costing about six cents per pound to produce the tobacco and the conglomerate was only paying four cents per pound.

The growers petitioned Congress for relief from the trust and the tax on natural leaf. R E Cooper, dealer from Hopkinsville, sought aid from A O Stanley, Henderson; Ollie James, Marion; John Gaines, Nashville; Congressmen from the areas most affected. Mr Stanley focused attention on the Tobacco Trust. He stated at a rally in Hopkinsville that the American Tobacco Company, Imperial Tobacco Company and the Regie Contractors had entered into a conspiracy to rob the tobacco producers, unless controlled by the Federal Government, would reduce the tobacco producers to commercial servitude.

As a result of no relief from the government, on Saturday September 24, 1904, five thousand tobacco growers gathered at the fairgrounds at Guthrie. As a result the Dark Tobacco District Planters Protective Association of Kentucky and Tennessee was formed.

The second annual meeting was held at Guthrie on Saturday September 23, 1905. This meeting was attended by 18,000 people. At this meeting the association realized that their goal were not being met. In October 1905 32 members of the Stainback School District, Robertson County, Tennessee, met and from this meeting the “Possum Hunters” organization was formed. Later this group was referred to as the “Night Riders”.

Thus began the raids on Princeton, December 1, 1906; Hopkinsville, December 7, 1907 and Dawson Springs January 25, 1908. The “Weekly Kentucky New Era” newspaper carried the following story in their January 31, 1908 edition:

DAWSON, Ky, Jan 25—This town was visited last night by Night Riders who committed a series of crimes, captured one man, whipped another, fired on a third citizen, invaded and shot up a hotel and the only opposition they met with came from a plucky young woman, Mrs Neville Holeman, who refused to do their bidding even under dire threats.

At Midnight

The raid occurred at midnight and there were forty men, masked and disguised, in the party and all were heavily armed. The first thing they did after entering the town was to surround the Illinois Central rail road station.


Overpowered Operator

The operator in the employ of the road was at the telegraph key. He was prevented from giving any alarm by being overpowered by the outlaws who forced him at the points of guns to accompany them. As soon as the operator was in their custody, the gang hurried across the rail track to the Arcadia Hotel.


Mrs Holeman Resists

Then they discovered Mrs Holeman, wife of the proprietor, in the office on duty. They demanded that she show them to the room of John Heath, formerly of Hopkinsville, a well known tobacco buyer and a prizer for the association.

Refused To Obey

Mr Holeman, with remarkable courage and coolness, positively declined to obey their orders. The scoundrels roughly insisted, and threatened to apply a torch and burn down the hotel unless she complied with their demands, but Mrs Holeman could not be coerced.

Shooting in Hotel

The outlaws, thus temporarily frustrated, rushed through the hotel, looking in rooms for Heath and shooting pistols as they went. They finally discovered the room of the tobacco man and quickly made him their prisoner.

Accused Heath

They compelled Heath to go with them out of the hotel and accused him of not being faithful to the association, and, in violation of his agreement with the organization, of buying tobacco that had been pooled.

Used Switches

They carried Heath half a mile away to the bank of the river where they beat him with hickory switches. His injuries, while painful, are not serious.



Threatened the Rope

The raiders threatened Heath with death at the end of the rope if he ever again repeated the offence with which they had charged him. While the outlaws were in town they shot out transoms and window lights at the hotel and elsewhere and citizens were terrorized.

Fired at Physician

Dr A W Brashear looked out his door and was fire upon, but was not hurt.

© 2009 by the Historical Society of Hopkins County and J Harold Utley, Official Hopkins County Historian. The Society is located at 107 S Union St in Madisonville KY. The Library/Museum is open daily Mon-Fri 1pm-5pm. The phone number is 270.821.3986.


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