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By Jim Potter
In an age long before the internet, immediately after a crime, one-cent REWARD postcards were regularly printed and sent to law enforcement agencies across the country describing the stolen property &/or suspect(s). Often, the cards were sent by the sheriff of the county where the crime was committed.
This REWARD card was sent by John E. Robinson, the victim and owner of a livery stable in Parsons, Kansas, announcing the theft of his buggy. He was an active member of the Anti-Horse Thief Association (AHTA) and would have expected and received widespread support in catching the thief and finding his property, even though the property was not a horse. Henry F. Hall (1860-1920) was the president of the local branch, or sub-order, of the AHTA. He also ran a local livery business for many years.
John (1852-1939) and, Isabel (or Isabell) King (1856-1939), both born in Ohio, married there in 1873. They came to Kansas in 1882 and settled on a farm southwest of Altamont (9 miles south of Parsons), Labette County.
Robinson was a constable in Parsons (1890), a member of the hose company (1892), alternate delegate for the Republican county convention at Oswego (1894), and elected guard for Parson’s suborder of the Anti-Horse Thief Association (1896).
Robinson advertised his livery barn in the Parsons newspapers from 1898 through 1908. He boarded horses and purchased horses and mules. In 1911 he sold his entire stock as he and his wife, “Belle,” prepared to move to Oswego where he served as Labette County treasurer from Fall 1911 to Fall 1913.
John and Isabel Robinson both died in 1939 and are buried in Mound Valley Cemetery, Mound Valley, Labette County, Kansas. Their gravestones identify them with the surname of Robison.
On the frontier and early settlements, settlers had to enforce standards on their own or with a group, until organized governments and law enforcement were well established. One crime, the theft of horses, was an easy and lucrative practice that was countered by vigilante groups that took justice into their own hands. Sometimes, when a horse thief was caught, he was turned into the sheriff, but other times he was lynched from the nearest tree.
The Anti-Horse Thief Association was a volunteer organization that was successful in detecting and apprehending offenders over a wide area. The AHTA worked with law enforcement, gathered evidence, and testified in court to punish the criminals. Its motto was: “Protect the Innocent: Bring the Guilty to Justice.”
When members caught a horse thief, they upheld the law by turning him over to law enforcement so that the courts could decide his fate.
Adult males in good standing were eligible to become AHTA members. If members had a horse, or other property stolen, they would report it to the president of the sub-order, including a description of the property, and suspects, if known. The president would then organize a local group of members to hunt for the thief while also notifying authorities and branches of the AHTA to be on the lookout.
One big reason the AHTA was so effective was due to its widespread membership across the Mid-West. Unlike law enforcement, state lines and multiple jurisdictions didn’t slow them down.
Until the Oklahoma Territory became the State of Oklahoma in 1907, it was a popular place for outlaws to take their stolen horses and livestock. Even US deputy marshals recognized the danger of entering The Territory.
Since Labette County, Kansas, borders Oklahoma, a horse or cattle thief understood his chances of making a clean getaway were in his favor due to the political boundaries.
I haven’t discovered if Robinson—or Robison—ever recovered his surrey or if the thief was ever identified or captured.
Until next time, happy writing,
Notes: Judi Daly’s undated article titled, “The Anti-Horse Thief Association: Protect the Innocent; Bring the Guilty to Justice,” was helpful in my understanding the workings of the AHTA. It was available online from The Long Riders Guild Academic Foundation. Another fascinating read is John K. Burchill’s book titled Bullets, Badges, and Bridles: Horse Thieves and the Societies That Purseued Them, Pelican Publishing Co., 2014.
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