Profiles In OC Pioneers Who Were Klan Members: Henry W. Head, OC Founding Father
If it weren't for Google, this series wouldn't exist. And if it weren't for bad historians, there'd be no reason for my write-ups. But there is, and there are--thus, ars gratia artis, or some high-falutin' Latin phrase to justify its existence.
Actually, blame the biographers of Henry W. Head for my interest in OC's pioneer Klukkers. I wrote about Head back in 2008, but I discovered him only in doing research for my book on the history of Orange County that involved random Google images. And I would've let sleeping dogs lie if it weren't for Paul Gillette, a local historian who did a write-up about Head for a book about the Civil War veterans who eventually moved to Orange County. Gillette got so pissy about me noting his omission of Head's Klan membership (under Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest, no less) that he demanded an apology from us for exposing his shoddy work; instead, we showed how he couldn't even write an original bio of Head. BUSTED! The episode just showed me how juvenile Orange County history buffs still are (just check out some of the inevitable comments written under digital hoods whining about the very existence of this series), and thus: ars gratia artis.
Where were we? Oh, a new wrinkle to the Head case.
A source (gracias, source!) forwarded me an 1896 Los Angeles Times piece showing how odious Head was. Apparently, Orange County was suffering from a rash of horse thieves at the time, and a Santa Ana committee was created to try to stave off the crime wave. Head was running for a state senate seat, to follow the state assembly seat he held in the 1880s. At the meeting, Head suggested they all dress in uniform, specifically a "certain kind of uniform that had proved in his old home in Tennessee to be very effective in subduing the people and especially the criminal element."
His fellow committee members had no idea what Head was talking about and asked him to bring that uniform to the following meeting and make some for all of them. And he did: the original KKK outfit, which you can see Head model below in a 1916 photo.
"The moment he stepped into the room, I recognized the uniform," a committee member told the Times. "I had seen them in Tennessee myself, and I had reason not soon to forget them." Head's suggestion proved so vile the committee disbanded on the spot, as no one wanted to lynch or murder.
Mind you, the Klan wasn't even supposed to exist at this time, with Bedford having officially told the Klan to disband and burn all belongings--but that meant nothing. Head, in fact, even provided secret Klan documents to Annie Cooper Burton, whose 1916 The Ku Klux Klan was the literary counterpart to D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation and who, even when trying to offer an apologia on the Klan, revealed its true purpose: "to scare into submission the unruly free negroes and the troublemaking carpetbaggers."
Head, of course, was the father of an Orange County district attorney, Horace Head, who went on to be one of the original settler's in Sant Ana's ritzy Floral Park (whose inhabitants threatened any Mexicans who walked in front of their homes with shotguns when not burning crosses on front lawns), who defended his dad's membership in the Klan, just like many OC historians nowadays defend the 1920s Klan as harmless despite members' white-power beliefs that translated into political actions. The more things change . . .
Tune in every Monday at 5 p.m. for the latest entry exposing Orange County city fathers who were Klan members!