In the summer of 1856 the pioneers were annoyed and vexed by a systematic plan of horse stealing carries on by some means that puzzled the officers and kept uneasy everybody who owned a good horse. Many lost their horses, and for a good many months no trace of a stolen animal could be found. The success of the thieves made them bold and careless, to the extent that the officers got a line on the way the business was carried on. It was noticed that the territory from Wilson’s Grove in the northeastern part of the county on a line diagonally across to the southwestern corner was the most dangerous zone for a good horse to be left on the picket line or outside of a locked stable. Not only so, but more strangers were seen passing over this route than any other one, and yet no direct road led in that way. Frequently a man would pass on horseback leading one or more horses.

Finally the officers of Clayton, Fayette, Bremer, Blackhawk and Grundy counties got into co-operation, and soon important arrests were made. I recollect well when Joe Ellis and Ezra Williams captured a pair of men with a bunch of horses over on Crane Creek, headed in a southwest direction. The men gave their names as Gard and Willey. The officers brought them to Waverly and kept them a day or so under guard, but at that time Bremer County had no court house, or jail, or any sort of a lock-up. The sheriff of Fayette county (who in war times was Capt. Jack Welch) was in pursuit of them and Ellis turned them over to Welch, who took them back to West Union, where they were convicted and sent to the penitentiary for stealing Fayette county horses. The sheriff had to do some diplomatic work to keep the farmers from hanging them, when he got back to West Union. This quick action in arresting them and Judge Murdock’s prompt trial and a conviction of them by a farmers’ jury put an end to that sort of industry, which evidently had been hatched out as a rich mine to be worked. Not for many years was a horse stolen in the county. It was a long step toward high civilization. The rugged honesty of the pioneers did not stand much upon ceremony, the facts were all they wanted to know, and the penalty was certain to be inflicted without much delay.

Though many horses were stolen and parties frequently went in search of the thief or the thieves, when the parties came home they always reported they had been unable to find the thieves, except in the case above mentioned.
It was thought by some people that in some cases they might have found the right parties and had made short shift with them. Whether this surmise was true or not will never be known.



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Bremer County, Iowa
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Pioneer Days of Bremer County -- Chapter I