The Curious Case of the Bowers Museum KKK Tree
Courtesy of the Santa Ana History Room United Daughters of Confederacy in all their apologist glory
Outside the Bowers Museum (the original part, not the multimillion-dollar addition) stands a beautiful, still growing crape myrtle tree. It blooms every spring, adding a bit of genteel, colorful charm to the already-purty facility. You've seen this tree if you ever drive or walk past the Bowers on Main Street in SanTana.
What you probably haven't seen, however, is the plaque right below it. It commemorates the tree's planting in 1969 to commemorate SanTana's centennial. The sponsors? The Emma Sansom chapter of the United Daughters of Confederacy, which was based in SanTana at the time. There are the ladies above, standing except for one gal. Remember that gal, as she's important to this post.
But full disclosure at this point: maybe it's because I'm an unassimilated Mexican, but I've never understood the love affair so many Americans have with the Confederacy. I understand respecting Stonewall Jackson, General Lee and others for their military acumen, the type of admiration Patton had for Rommel and the Romans reserved for Hannibal, but to take pride in Dixie? Um, wasn't the Confederacy traitorous? Didn't they kill Americans? Why would anyone want to say with pride their ancestors were Gray unless they're at ease with racism? Again, I'm just a dumb Mexican, but I'm just sayin'.
So SanTana residents should find it bothersome enough that a group professing pride in their Confederate roots should have a plaque at the Bowers. But where they should be demanding its removal lies in the original Emma Sansom and her connections to SanTana's Ku Klux Klan past.
Emma Sansom plays a small-but-beloved role in Confederate lore. In 1863, the Union Army tore through the then-15-year-old's hometown of Gadsden, Georgia, in what was later called Streight's Raid. The Federals harassed the Sansoms and even stole some horses. They then burnt a bridge that spanned Black Creek to stave off the coming Confederate army led by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. When Forrest asked the Sansoms if they knew how to ford the swollen creek, Emma offered to show them the way (dramatized in a massively overblown painting below). Having successfully crossed Black Creek, Forrest went on to defeat the damn Yankees.
What does this tale have to do with SanTana and the Klan? Everything.
Forrest, of course, would go on to become the first Grand Wizard of the Invisible Empire. Henry W. Head, one of Orange County's founding fathers and a proud Klucker, served under Forrest. And Forrest's scout was Victor Montgomery, the first president of the Orange County Bar Association and the man who originally drafted OC's secession plan from evil, evil Los Angeles. The elderly lady sitting in the United Daughters of Confederacy shot above is his daughter, Gertrude.
There exists almost no information on the Emma Sansom chapter's history--the Santa Ana History Room only has the above picture, while former SanTana mayor Gordon Bricken's partially plagiarized booklet, The Civil War Legacy of Santa Ana features its 1899 founding and a picture of the Bowers Museum plaque but--surprise, surpise!--gives no context to the name. This website states the Emma Sansom chapter still exists in South County, but I couldn't find any further info. But it's telling of SanTana's past and present that no one has ever flinched about the Bowers maintaining a tree planted by ladies who named themselves after the savior of the KKK's first leader, the same man whom two key OC figures swore allegiance to and for whom they killed to suppress the rights of blacks. Others call it heritage; I call it sick. Then again, I'm just an ignorant Mexican.
Three final SanTana KKK points:
*Everyone remembers Klanaheim, but the Klan set up shop in SanTana first.
*Orange County's Klan chapter is in SanTana.
* One of my favorite local blogs, The Sunken Road, write a lot about SanTana issues and refers to a famous battle of the Civil War.
Revisionist history class is over--discuss below!