Sunday, March 27, 2016


Horse theft was a major problem in antebellum Illinois, with organized theft rings using all the terror and intimidation tactics of modern crime families. Law enforcement agencies were small, and officers were ill-equipped to deal with such highly sophisticated crime rings. Into the breach stepped local "horse theft detection societies," sometimes called horse companies. These vigilante groups sometimes played just as rough as the outlaws they sought to combat. Typical of their activities is the following notice that was published in several Midwestern papers in October of 1860:


There was a meeting of the members of different Horse Thief Detecting Societies of Indiana and Illinois at Marshfield, Indiana, on the 1st day of October, 1860.

On motion, Thomas McKbben, Esq., was Chosen President and J.U. Johnson Secretary.

On motion of Esqr. Poole, of Attica, the following resolutions were offered and adopted:

Resolved. That from the number of depredations committed in our country by murderers, thieves, counterfeiters and dishonest men in various shapes, that we are satisfied our country is infested with an organized band of scoundrels and villains, ready at any moment to commit any crime when an opportunity occurs.

Resolved. That in making the large number of arrests by the Horse Thief detecting Companies of various persons within a very short period of time that it has been done with a positive knowledge of their guilt and that all such persons must be punished or leave our country.

Resolved. That Whereas, various threats and insinuations of threats have been made against persons instrumental in ferreting out and detecting crime in various forms, by persons arrested and them abetting and countenancing their villainies, That we hereby firmly, positively and solemnly pledge each of our companies and ourselves individually and personally, that should any such threats be put inforce or attempted that we will spare no human effort, and stop at no expense or sacrifice until the guilty wretch or wretches are brought to justice.

Resolved. That we oppose mob violence and altho the enemy that we contend against take the law in their own hands and are constantly engaged in mob violence and violation of all law, yet we will never resort to such means unless it becomes positively and absolutely necessary to fight the enemy with their own weapons and the circumstance clearly justifies the means to be used when it will be done, asking no favors and fearing no responsibilities

Resolved. That although to our certain knowledge there is a number of thieving and swindling scoundrels yet running at large in our community who have escaped our vigilance on account of the want of positive evidence against them. Yet we are determined to be at our post, following and hunting their guilty trails and watching every act and motion on all occasions and at all possible times and places until they are brought to justice or quit their nefarious and vilaneus acts and become honest men.

The meeting was ably addressed by the most prominent and influencial men of the country with a determination to put a stop to the wholesale practice of horse stealing, counterfeiting and swindling upon the honest and unsuspecting community.

On motion it was ordered that a copy of the above proceedings be published in the following newspapers: Danville papers, Covington papers, Williamsport and Attica papers, also the Iroquois Republican, Middleport, Ill.


J.H. Johnson, Sec’y.
Williamsport Warren Republican, November 1, 1860, page 3,
Lincoln had dealings with a horse company when he defended a gentleman named George High on a charge of--horse theft. As a matter of fact, one of the witnesses against High was Thomas "McKibbin" (really McKibben), who signed the above proclamation as president of the horse theft detective association.

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