During the 1920s immorality and crime ran rife and efforts to curb both were mostly unsuccessful (think “Prohibition” and “Chicago Mob”).  The Knot-Hole Gang was a notable exception.
For the most part gangs evoke scenes of violence and are associated with criminal or immoral activities, but one gang in Marshall was anything but fearsome or immoral.  It was called the “Knot-Hole Gang”.
Patterned after a program in St. Louis, the Knot-Hole Club in Marshall was organized in 1923, by the Marshall Rotary Club.  Pastor W. T. Renfro, pastor of the First Methodist Church, was chairman of the Rotary Club’s Knot-Hole Club committee and Frank Davis funded the club with a $50 per month donation, for the first year.  Early in 1923, the Knot-Hole Gang had a membership of 300.
The Rotary club also arranged for window stickers to identify cars that provided free transportation for the gang members.  The concept quickly gained acceptance and other clubs and churches sponsored their own clubs.
Ok, let me back up and explain.  Professional baseball (Minor League, Simi-Pro) had just come to Marshall in 1923, with the establishment of the East Texas League (a sub-league of the Texas League), consisting of six clubs, one of which was Marshall, owned by Ike Hochwald, founder of the Rotary Club of Marshall Texas.
Marshall was a class “D” team.  Like most other minor league teams, it played on a field surrounded by a high board fence.  Convenient eye-holes situated in the fence, some natural and others suspiciously un-natural, eventually appeared around the outfield fences, and kids and adults availed themselves of the convenient orifices to watch the game.
The first purpose of the club was to make it no longer necessary or boys to peep through holes to see the games.  To be a member in the Knot-hole Gang, a boy had to still be in knee-pants and meet certain other qualifications.  In return the Club would give him a free, or reduced-price ticket (ten cents) to any week-day game, and a free ride to the game by a participating Rotarian or associate.
Ike Hochwald and Frank Davis were avid baseball fans, but they were also savvy businessmen, keenly aware that if a child wanted to go, an adult would want to go as well.  But, they were also Rotarians and had a keen interest in the welfare of children as well, so this was a somewhat noble way to “pack the stands”.
W. T. Renfro was the pastor of the First Methodist Church and he immediately recognized a huge benefit for his church also by supporting such gangs, so the second purpose of the Knot-Hole Club was to encourage gang members to attend Sunday School every week.  They had to get a note signed from the Sunday School teacher and the Rotary Club Secretary to receive a ticket.
In addition, the stipulation read “I will not use curse words and I will live a clean life. I will always be a  rooter for the home baseball team.”
The program, was embraced by many other civic clubs and several other churches, and  thrived for all five seasons of the East Texas Baseball League’s existence, ultimately reaching over 500 kids each of the last two seasons.
 The Knot-Hole Gang, and the men and women who sponsored it will be fondly remembered when we Celebrate A Century of Changing Lives In Marshall – And Beyond, at the Marshall Convention Center, August 24, 2019.