Monday, October 19, 2015

Anniversary of 'Night Riders' Attack in Lake County

Night Rider Trials, 1909
From a composite photograph in Harper's Weekly
Archives Photograph Collection

West Tennessee's Reelfoot Lake is a peaceful spot for outdoor excursions, but life along the lakefront hasn't always been so tranquil. In 1908, the West Tennessee Land Company bought all the land along Reelfoot's shoreline, angering nearby residents who relied on the lake for fish. The company planned to drain part of the lake to grow cotton on it, but local residents had other ideas. 

The residents formed a mob known as the 'Night Riders,' who on this date in 1908 set out to murder two of the land company's stakeholders. The Night Riders abducted Quentin Rankin and Robert Z. Taylor from their rooms at the Walnut Log Hotel and took them into the woods. The mob shot and hung Rankin, but Taylor managed to escape by jumping into the lake and hiding under a log while the mob riddled the water with bullets. More than a day later, Taylor was found wandering in a bewildered state.

"The man seated between the two women is Judge Harris, Tiptonville, Tennessee, principal owner of the West Tennessee Land Company, which owns the major portion of Reelfoot Lake"
THS Photograph Collection

The governor called out the Tennessee National Guard to restore order in the community. The governor also offered a $10,000 reward for bringing in the people responsible for the killing, dead or alive. More than 300 people were eventually indicted in the case. However, only six were found guilty of murder - and their convictions were overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court the following year.

"Camp Nemo, Reelfoot Lake. Colonel W. C. Tatum, of Nashville, Commander First Tennessee Regiment, with staff and line officers. The troops and the prisoners get on together famously, with no ill-feeling"
Archives Photograph Collection

To learn more about other calamitous events in Tennessee's history, visit our online Disasters in Tennessee exhibit at

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

No comments:

Post a Comment