Degree Name

MA (Master of Arts)



Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Tommy D. Lee II

Committee Members

Steven Nash, Emmett M. Essin III


On October 19, 1908, night riders at Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee kidnapped and murdered Captain Quentin Rankin, an attorney and shareholder in the West Tennessee Land Company. The murder made national news, with coverage emphasizing the night riders' demand for fishing rights. In response, Governor Malcolm Patterson called out the militia to suppress the uprising and advocated for state acquisition of the lake as a means to prevent further violence. In the accepted historical narrative, the uprising at Reelfoot Lake represents an example of rural resistance to the threat that modernization posed to traditional access rights but ignores much of the violence that proceeded Rankin's murder. When contextualized within local conditions and Tennessee's political climate, the night riders' crimes reveal a targeted attack on the exploding cotton economy in which the lake became the arena where farmers contested the agricultural, social, and political changes that accompanied this new economic system.

Document Type

Thesis - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.