Editor’s note: This Hidden History first ran Aug. 8, 2013.
BUHL — For 50 years after the federal government told it to disband, the local Ku Klux Klan laid low — until its resurgence in the 1920s, when the Klan came to town to recruit members.
By 1922, the KKK had become a minor political power in the West, with a focus on white Protestant dominance over blacks, Catholics and Jews. The movement got a foothold in California, then spread to Oregon and Washington.
The Klan pushed to increase its membership that year, claiming 35,000 members in Oregon alone, wrote Eckard V. Toy in “The Invisible Empire in the West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s.”
In January 1923, the Rev. Lew Burger, a KKK leader and motivational speaker from New York, spoke at the IOOF Hall in Buhl.
The Buhl Herald praised Burger’s speaking style and said a dozen hooded Klansmen handed out membership forms at two of his lectures. Klan dues were $3.50 a year, plus a $10 joining fee. The newspaper did not report whether a Buhl branch — or klavern — was formed.
The next month, Burger spoke to a group in Idaho Falls and claimed that 38 members of Congress were Klan members.
Curiously, H.W. Evans, imperial wizard of the Klan, declared that he had never heard of Burger and that no member of the Klan was allowed to discuss Klan membership, says a Feb. 15, 1923, Associated Press news article.
Later that year, the KKK came close to taking control of the Twin Falls city election; Klan candidates were narrowly defeated.
In 1924, about 150 men and women in full Klan regalia held a day-long rally at the Twin Falls County Fairgrounds.
A year later, Buhl’s only black resident received a threat from the Klan. Henry Field had run a shoeshine parlor in town since 1915.
Field discussed the state of local banks after the post-WWI agricultural depression. Apparently, the Klan didn’t approve of the discussion and threatened him in a letter. Although others had joined in the conversation, Field was the only one threatened.