Updated: Apr 12
Some are born to leadership. Some have leadership thrust upon them. And some just hang around long enough it falls into their lap. That was much the case with James Colescott of Terre Haute.
Born in 1897, Colescott (known as Tubby) graduated from the Terre Haute Veterinary College at nineteen. He immediately opened a practice at 3rd & Poplar with Vern Ramsey, an instructor at the college. After US entrance into WW I he joined the Army and was sent to France as an Army veterinarian. While there, he shipped a “Police Dog” back home to his father, with a note saying the dog was a wounded war hero.
Colescott returned to Terre Haute after his discharge, but was recalled to service in 1919 and assigned to Ft. Gorden, a fateful posting. The fort was located in Atlanta, GA, the birthplace of the revived KKK. It was there that Colescott became inculcated in the “new Klan.”
He appears to have been a full-fledged believer by his return to Terre Haute in 1923. That same year he was one of the leaders who petitioned the state of Indiana to charter a branch of the Volunteer Protective Association (VPA) in Vigo County. Closely associated with both the Horse Thief Detective Association and the KKK, VPAs were given arrest powers by the state. Purportedly they were to aid police in fighting bootleggers, prostitution and thieves. In many instances they reveled in one particular part of their “job.” VPA members loved to haunt lover’s lane to spy on and accost lovers found “spooning.”
Colescott and his VPA crew also provided “security” for local Klan gatherings. He led the VPA detail at the huge KKK rally in Terre Haute that drew over 50,000 participants in June 1924. Newspapers reported that, among other things, Colescott, Howard Derry and Homer Hendricks captured two pickpockets intent on fleecing the crowd.
It was at that rally that Colescott likely met with Hiram Evans, the Grand Imperial Wizard of the national Klan, who was the big drawing card for the event. He soon proved an asset for Evans. Colescott was blessed with great organizational skills and soon made himself valuable to Evans as a successful recruiter in Indiana and the Midwest. He thus allied himself with Evan’s national faction of the Klan instead of D.C. Stephenson’s notoriously corrupt personal Indiana Klan fiefdom. This was important after Stephenson’s 1925 murder conviction led many thousands to desert the KKK.
“Tubby” Colescott did his best to restore order to the shattered, shrinking Klan. He worked relentlessly to recruit new members or entice some Klan apostates back into the donning of the white robe. By 1930 he was the official “Grand Wizard” of the Hoosier Klan. He worked closely with the Klan “home office” in Atlanta and took on an increasingly important role in the national KKK, serving as Grand Imperial Wizard Hiram Evans’ chief of staff.
Thus, he was in the perfect position when Evans rather unwillingly gave up his seventeen-year reign as Wizard in 1939. Evans had angered many followers when, in a decidedly un-Klan-like move, he announced that he was disavowing the Klan’s virulently anti-Catholic stance. Hatred of Catholics had always been a central theme of the KKK.
And so the mantle of Imperial Grand Wizard fell upon the shoulders of James “Tubby” Colescott from Terre Haute, Indiana. Unconfirmed rumors circulated saying Colescott had actually bought the Klan from Evans for several hundred thousand dollars, but that is unlikely.
Colescott’s tenure as Wizard was fraught with problems. In 1940 he had to intervene when the New Jersey KKK sought an alliance with the Hitler-supporting German American Bund. The KKK, Evans announced, would no more join with the Hitlerites than it would “communists or negroes.” In 1941 the placing of an 185-foot burning cross atop Stone Mountain, Georgia ignited anti-Klan sentiment. He voluntarily testified before the House Un-American Affairs Committee 1942, vowing wholehearted support for the war effort.
WWII further depleted the Klan’s rolls. Debts piled up. By 1944 Colescott’s KKK faced major tax evasion charges. A lien of nearly $700,000 was facing the organization. It was all too much. Colescott disbanded the KKK at the April 23, 1944 Klonvocation. Ironically, Colescott sold the Klan’s grand headquarters building to the Atlanta Catholic Archdiocese. The revived KKK was officially dead, 29 years after its ugly rebirth.
Colescott then moved to Miami, Florida, where he reunited with his veterinary college mentor Vern Ramsey and opened a private vet practice. He died there in 1950.