At first glance, there is nothing particularly remarkable about this nighttime picture of downtown Durango with Smelter Mountain in the background. The downtown streets are barely discernible and there isn’t enough light to recognize any of the structures. But what this photo documents on April 22, 1925, gives this picture a special disturbing significance. The burning 125-foot cross on Smelter Mountain was lit by the Ku Klux Klan as part of their “festivities” surrounding the speech given by National Klan secretary and Berwind, Colorado, Presbyterian minister Herbert Markley to a standing-room-only crowd at Durango’s Gem Theater. Though almost eradicated in the 1870s by the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, the Klan made a comeback around 1915 due in part to increased immigration in the previous decade. In Colorado, the Klan dominated politics through much of the 1920s. Though the state had a small Black population, the Klan mainly targeted Jews, Hispanics and Catholics. Durango and Bayfield had sizeable Klan memberships, but there is apparently no record of local violence, only of intimidation, threats and harassment. Peak membership in Colorado was reached in 1925, and by the early 1930s, the Klan had lost most of its membership and with it, its political influence.
Ed Horvat for Animas Museum, email@example.com