Commentary by Robert Bowling
The nation continues to be divided on the national anthem, with some athletes kneeling during events, most notably at the Olympics. There has even been discussion of replacing the Stars and Stripes. Protests about the flag and anthem are nothing new, and in 1891, Fall Creek Township found itself embroiled in a flag controversy. The very next year, Clay Township had a similar encounter that almost ended in bloodshed.
In February 1891, a flag-raising ceremony was held at Schoolhouse No. 2 in Fall Creek Township. It was the first school to have an American flag flying from the top of the building within the township. According to the teacher, it had nothing to do with politics but rather to instill patriotism in the students. Soon, flags began to appear at other schools.
A few weeks after the flag ceremony, an act of vandalism occurred at Schoolhouse No. 6. The flagpole had been sawed off and the flag had been taken. There were no suspects, and the prosecuting attorney was investigating it.
There was no clear motive, but even 25 years after the Civil War, emotions ran high. Democrats were still bitter about the defeat while Republicans basked in the glory. Newspapers were highly partisan. There were two papers, the Hamilton County Democrat and the Hamilton County Ledger, which was a Republican paper.
Shortly after the vandalism at Schoolhouse No. 6, an article appeared in the Ledger from an anonymous citizen that Samuel Ham, a teacher at No. 2 school, refused to allow the flag to fly. Fall Creek Township started to gain a reputation for being treasonous rebels. A response by Cora Morgan, a teacher at No. 6, was published in the Democrat, alleging that it was a slanderous lie made because Democrats refused to take up arms against the people who tore down the flag. Ham was an honorable teacher and no such act alleged by the Ledger ever occurred.
It was the assumption that the theft of the flag was a result of a personal matter and not because of anti-American sentiment. Shortly after the flag was raised, a picture of a rooster was posted on the front door. In 1840, in Greenfield, the rooster had become the symbol of the Democratic Party. The picture was removed, and someone was heard saying that if the rooster comes down, so does the flag. Sometime after midnight, the suspects made good on their statement and the flag was removed.
Ham defended himself as the newspapers got into a war of words. The Ledger printed Ham’s article, which was a shock to many. It was alleged that it was a setup to make the Democrats look bad. Someone showed up to donate a flag, but instead of presenting it, hid it underneath a bush, and then retrieved it later. Then the person was able to make the accusation that Ham refused the donation. But he couldn’t refuse something that he didn’t know anything about.
The Democrat demanded the Ledger reveal its source, but it refused. By the end of April, the matter had been dropped and Fall Creek had been “redeemed”.