Fremont County, Iowa

Horse Thieves, In His Own Words- Part II
by E.A. Shirley
View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of March 9, 2015

Editor’s Note: This Attic continues with the Shirley Family Story about living in the Waubonsie Area in the 1800’s as told by E. A. Shirley in the 1930’s. The last Attic promised stories about Indians, which will be part III, but first a newspaper account about interviewing Mr. Shirley.

This newspaper article was written at the time of building the road through Waubonsie area:

“Monster road building machines were chewing their way through the high bluffs near the Waubonsie State Park in the great engineering feat that will allow travelers going west to thread their way through the bluffs and drop gently to the Missouri River valley. To the youth today, there was nothing unusual in this action. But to one of the group who watched the operations, it was evident that his thoughts were not so much on the work at hand.

In this man of slightly built stature, gray and thinning hair there was something to command attention for a certain tenseness of body and fire of eye told of some deep emotion. I opened the conversation, “Some great work going on.” It seemed a fitting remark to open a conversation that might stir memories.

As if aroused from deep study the gentlemen slowly turned and with a faraway look in his eye said “Yes, I never believed it would happen.” The speaker was E.A. Shirley, a pioneer settler. ‘I tramped these hills more than seventy years and know every foot of ground and little did I think that someday I would see development. In these hills, I have been attacked by a band of wolves, played with Indian children, chased horse thieves and saw an Indian chief buried.

“The contact I speak of with the horse thieves was here in these hills. Since that event, the gulch has been named Horse Thief Gulch. One morning before daylight on a hunt for wild turkeys, my father and I entered the mouth of the gulch when Father crouched down and of course I did the same. Father realized he had seen the whites of the eye of several horses. He right away knew they were some of the animals that had been stolen the last few weeks in the community.

Hurrying back down the valley, we stopped at the Ashel Mann home. The word was quickly passed around that the thieves had been found. We reentered the gulch and found a rude fenced corral. Farther on we found a dugout and the embers of a fire. All speed was made to the head of the gulch and some of the party went the other way to catch the thieves as they came out on the Missouri bottom. The thieves made good their escape with fifty horses. Only one was found close to Council Bluffs. It was an old horse named John, the white charger ridden by Captain Milton Holtgringer during the Civil War. John was a great favorite in the country. He would dance to music and do many tricks. Old John was worn out by the tortured drive and was of little value after it. There was possibly more feeling against the thieves for stealing John then all the other horses together.


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Page updated on May 10, 2017 by Karyn Techau