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Literature

Faces Like Devils: Old West Vigilantes

Old West Vigilantes

In the nineteenth century, vigilantes roamed the country, dispensing their own justice, flaunting societies laws and morals. In Faces Like Devils, Matthew J. Hernando closely examines one of the most famous of these old west vigilantes—the Bald Knobbers.

Old West VigilantesHernando sifts through the folklore and myth surrounding the Bald Knobbers to produce an authentic history of the rise and fall of Missouri’s most famous vigilantes.

The Bald Knobbers were practitioners of personal and political killings and assaults who terrorized southwestern Missouri in the 1880s. Numbering in the hundreds, these vigilantes punished wrongdoing as they saw it and inspired an opposition group (with the appropriate sobriquet, the ‘Anti-Bald Knobbers’) before being suppressed at the end of the decade.

Hernando details the differences between the modernizing Bald Knobbers of Taney County and the anti-progressive Bald Knobbers of Christian County, while also stressing the importance of Civil War-era violence with respect to the foundation of these vigilante groups.

old west vigilantes Despite being one of America’s largest and most famous vigilante groups during the nineteenth century, the Bald Knobbers have not previously been examined in depth. Hernando’s exhaustive research, which includes a plethora of state and federal court records, newspaper articles, and firsthand accounts, remedies that lack. This account of the Bald Knobbers is vital to anyone not wanting to miss out on a major part of Missouri’s history.

“Matthew J. Hernando has produced what is probably their first critical history and also a commensurate contribution to the history of extralegal violence in an area of the country that might be termed a liminal portal between the New South and the Wild West.”

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