Scotland: something for the nationalists

Michael Keaney michael.keaney at
Thu Jul 3 02:00:59 MDT 2003

Whisper it - KKK roots are Scottish

The Scotsman, 3 July 2003

A SECRET society of "horse whisperers" formed by ploughmen in the rolling
farmlands of Buchan spawned the notorious Ku Klux Klan in the Southern
states of the United States.

That is the astonishing claim made by a Scottish veterinary surgeon in a
book to be published later this month, detailing the rise and fall of the
mysterious societies of horsemen that spread from the farms of the
north-east of Scotland throughout Britain and then across the Atlantic.

Russell Lyon, the son of a Lanarkshire farmer who now works as a vet in
Cambridge, spent almost five years tracing the history of the secret
societies which originated in that corner of Scotland in the 18th century.

They claimed to have a "magic word" which, when whispered in a horse's ear,
seemed to give ploughmen immediate and total control over the animal - 200
years before the modern day "horse whisperers" of the US prairies,
celebrated in Robert Redford's eponymous film.

But Mr Lyon has discovered that far from using their voices to control their
horses, the members of the secret societies of Buchan, whose practices were
shrouded in pagan ritual and devil worship, used ancient herbal concoctions
to give them their apparently mysterious power over the animals.

He has also revealed that while some of the ploughmen's societies in Britain
forged links with the Masonic movement, six horsemen, recruited by the
Confederate army after emigrating to the US, went on to form the secret
society which was to become the hated and feared Ku Klux Klan.

Mr Lyon said: "The methods which the horsemen of Buchan used were totally
different from the modern horse whisperers. They told the public they had
this magic word to control their animals, but what the secret societies of
Buchan ploughmen were actually doing was to use different sorts of smells to
condition their animal to behave.

"They used powerful aromatic oils, made from herbs like rosemary, which they
would smear on their foreheads or incorporate into oatcakes to make the
horses respond to them. And they also had 'reisting' smells which they would
use to make a horse freeze."

The secrets of the "horse whisperers" were passed from one generation of
ploughmen to the next at meetings of the societies. Young farmhands would be
taken into a darkened byre to shake hands with the "auld chiel" - the
devil - after swearing the oath of secrecy.

One of the members, dressed in a shaggy coat and with horns on his head,
would use the foot of a dead calf, heated and covered in phosphorus to make
it glow in the dark, as the devil's hand, striking fear into the hearts of
the new recruits. "They were warned that if they divulged the secrets, they
were liable to be disembowelled and their bodies buried on the sea shore,"
said Mr Lyon.

According to the book, the secret societies of the Buchan ploughmen spread
to the large farms of East Lothian and Midlothian, then into the Borders and
as far south as East Anglia. But the societies' legacy took an even more
sinister turn in the US.

Mr Lyon said he had received information from sources in Canada, the US and
Australia that six young men from Buchan, who had emigrated to the US, were
recruited during the American Civil War by the Confederate army's cavalry.

He explained: "They became cavalry officers and, at the end of the war,
these six young men were bored and decided to set up a secret society using
their knowledge of the whisperers' traditions and oaths as the basis.

"It started as just another hellfire club and then it just got out of hand
and led directly on to the Ku Klux Klan."

According to Mr Lyon's detailed research, most of the secret societies in
Britain died out when the heavy horses were replaced by tractors. But he
claimed: "There are one or two still around, and at least one society still
meets in Orkney."

Meanwhile, a recently published history of the Ku Klux Klan has claimed that
General John Gordon, the descendant of an Aberdeen emigrant who became one
of the most celebrated commanders in the Confederate army, was appointed
Grand Dragon in Georgia of the Klan's "Invisible Empire" following the Civil

General Gordon rose through the ranks during the conflict from a captain of
Alabama volunteers to major general in charge of the Confederate army's 2nd
Corps. He fought at Bull Run, Appomattox and Gettysburg, then entered
politics after the war and served Georgia as both governor and senator. He
was a direct descendant of John George Gordon, one of seven Aberdeen
brothers who emigrated to Charleston in South Carolina in 1724.

A recent history of the Ku Klux Klan, The Fiery Cross, claims General Gordon
was one of a number of prominent southern figures who were actively involved
in the Klan, leading their activities in Georgia as Grand Dragon".

The Quest for the Original Horse Whisperers is published by Luath Press on
17 July, priced at £16.99.

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