Here’s an excerpt from David C. Keehn’s new book Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War that sheds light on the KGC and their activities in Northern Mexico:
“U.S. filibusters had long been lusting after Mexico’s four northern-tier provinces – Nuevo León, Coahuila, Chihuahua, and Sonora. These provinces were barren and sparsely populated, but Sonora, as well as Guanajuato Province to the immediate south, were rich in silver, gold, and other minerals. In 1840, Texans had backed an attempt by Mexican Federalist Party leaders, including northern strongman Vidaurri, to declare independence from Mexico’s central government and create an independent “Republic of the Rio Grande” to include the four provinces. This was nipped in the bud by Mexico’s central army, but between 1849 and 1859, five separate U.S.-based filibuster expeditions had been launched to try to wrest portions of Mexico’s northern provinces. Participants in each risked the outcome of the 1857 expedition into Sonora led by California state senator Henry Crabb. In Crabb’s unfortunate case, the Mexican army captured and systematically executed him and his company of one thousand men.
Bickley and the KGC sought to use the shaky position of the Liberals to advance their goal of expansion southward. Northern Mexican stongman Santiago Vidaurri was a committed KGC supporter and actively cooperated with its leaders. Manuel Doblado, second in command of the Liberal army and governor of Guanajuato Province, also had reportedly reached an understanding with the KGC’s emissaries. “We have the invitation of four [Mexican] State Governors to come and shall receive their cooperation if only we take care of the people of those States.”
The Knights of the Golden Circle grew out of an older established group based in Texas called the Order of the Lone Star:
“To continue the mission of freeing Cuba from Spanish rule and eventually annexing it to the United States as a slaveholding territory, Cuban ex-patriots and southern adventurers formed the Order of the Lone Star in 1851 at the offices of the pro-expansionist Lafayette (La.) True Delta newspaper. John Henderson, a Mississippi cotton planter and U.S. senator, formulated the OLS ritual, and Pierre Soule, another U.S. senator from Louisiana, served as its president.
The OLS, like its KGC successor, was organized in a hierarchical fashion with three degrees, including the military degree at the bottom and a fund-raising benevolent degree above that. At the apex was the political degree, with the goal of supporting U.S. political candidates who would advance the society’s filibustering and proslavery objectives. A supreme council governed the group’s overall policy. …
Ford described the OLS’s secret initiation ceremony as highly ritualistic, with candidates passing through a succession of increasingly solemn steps incorporating cabalistic passwords. The final step was a dramatic conclusion that Ford said ended with something the initiate would never forget. An observer of a Lone Star encampment at Richmond, Virginia, similarly described the initiation ceremony as a “magnificent spectacle” that pantomimed with López expedition.”
The Knights of the Golden Circle became a mass membership organization by merging with the Order of the Lone Star:
“During his sojourn across the South, George was somehow able to convince the leaders of a preexisting southern society called the “Order of the Lone Star” (OLS) to merge with his Knights. This had truly an exponential impact since the OLS already had more than fifteen thousand members and at least fifty chapters spread across ten southern states with large concentrations in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Alabama. It also had chapters in northern port cities including Baltimore and New York, where it operated out of Tammany Hall and the Empire Club. This merger with the OLS suddenly transformed Bickley’s nascent KGC into a truly powerful force with far-flung members and prestige.”