VOL. VI, NO. 2, APRIL 1903
SLAVES IN IOWA.
The echoes of what was termed in the old days,
"the peculiar institution of the south," have well nigh died out; but
in a folio volume entitled "Compendium of the Enumeration of the
Inhabitants and Statistics of the United States, as obtained at the Department
of State, from the Returns of the Sixth Census (1840) by Counties and Principal
Towns," we find a brief and very interesting record. This volume was
published by the government at Washington, D. C., in 1841. From this we learn
that sixteen slaves, old and young, were owned by parties in Dubuque county.
Whether the owners were permanent residents, or temporary sojourners, we have
been unable to ascertain. But the fact is thus officially published in the Sixth
U. S. Census, that slavery existed in Iowa territory. In early times
slaves who had escaped from their masters in the south were also in the habit of
passing through the territory or State en route for Canada. As a very natural
consequence several fugitive slave cases of more or less importance arose within
our boundaries, the most of which have long been forgotten. Recently, however,
the Historical Department came into possession of a 40-page pamphlet which
contains quite a full report of one of these cases. We copy this report in full
in the present number of THE ANNALS. It was made by George Frazee, a member of
the bar, who still (January, 1903) lives in the city of Burlington. In justice
to Mr. Frazee it should be stated that the original notes in this case were
taken solely for private use, but upon the solicitation of the counsel engaged,
as well as others, he consented to their publication. He wrote an account of
another fugitive slave case in which he figured as "the court," which
was published in this series of THE ANNALS (Vol. IV, pp. 118-137). As stated at
the close of the trial judgment was rendered against the defendants for the sum
of $2900. The latter filed a motion for a new trial, and also took the
preliminary steps to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of the United States,
by writ of error. But it never reached the Supreme Court. Why it did not we are
unable to state. It transpired, however, that prior to the trial the defendants
had put their property out of their hands, thus rendering the judgment
worthless. In Yankee parlance, every preparation was made to "beat 'em on
the execution." Such would have been the inevitable result had an execution
While there were
other trials in Iowa for the recovery of fugitive slaves, we cannot learn that
they were productive of any benefit to those who sought to recover either their
"property," or compensation for its loss.
PIONEER PROTECTION FROM HORSE
BY JAMES E. PARKER.
At a meeting of the citizens of Douglas township, at
the Red School House, Clay county, Iowa, on the 15th day of November, A. D.
1870, for the purpose of organizing a society for the mutual protection of its
members from the depredations of horse thieves, the following business was done,
to-wit: On motion Samuel Mills was chosen temporary president, and J. J. Duroe
The above words quoted from the minutes of the
society, as kept by its secretary, J. J. Duroe, illustrate the spirit with which
the Sioux Rapids Vigilance Committee was formed. At this time the country about
Sioux Rapids in the southern part of Clay and northern part of Buena Vista
counties was sparsely settled. Communication was very slow, and it was seldom
that the stolen property was ever recovered, and still less often that the thief
was apprehended. The settlers who were, with but few exceptions, poor, could ill
afford to bear the loss of a horse.
In the fall of 1870 several horses were stolen in the
community, of which no trace could be found. The people were thoroughly aroused,
and for their own protection, decided to take matters into their own hands.
After discussing the question among themselves a call was issued for a meeting
at the Red School House, November 15,1870. J. J. Duroe and Samuel Mills were two
of the prime leaders of this movement. At this meeting Samuel Mills was elected
president of the society, David Watts, vice president, Peter Dubois, treasurer,
and J. J. Duroe, secretary. A committee consisting of Samuel Mills, J. J. Duroe,
and David Watts was chosen to draft a constitution and by-laws and report at the
next meeting, after which the society adjourned. On November 29th, at 6 p. m.,
the society met pursuant to adjournment, and the committee on by-laws made the
following report, which was unanimously adopted:
WHEREAS, Several horses have been stolen in this
vicinity; and, whereas, it is very difficult to reclaim the stolen property or
to arrest the thief; therefore we, the undersigned citizens of Clay and Buena
Vista counties do hereby agree to unite in a mutual society to protect ourselves
from the depredations of horse thieves; and we do further agree to be governed
by the following laws, with such amendments as may be hereafter made by the
ARTICLE 1. The officers of this society shall be a
president, whose duty shall be to preside at the meetings of the society, call
special meetings whenever he may think best, and give all orders for the
reclaiming of any stolen horse or the capture of the thief. A vice president who
shall perform the duties of the president whenever that officer shall be absent
or unable to serve. A treasurer who shall hold, account for, and pay out on the
order of the president, countersigned by the secretary, all the funds of the
society. A secretary whose duty it shall be to record all the proceedings of the
society and countersign the president's orders on the treasurer.
ARTICLE 2. The terms of each officer shall expire
whenever the majority of the society shall require a change of officers.
ARTICLE 3. No person shall be admitted a member without
first paying one dollar to the treasurer.
ARTICLE 4. Each member shall obey all orders of the
ARTICLE 5. It shall be the duty of every one, as
ordered by the president, to go at any distance not exceeding fifty miles, at
his own expense, in search of a stolen horse or to catch a thief.
ARTICLE 6. If any person shall go more than fifty miles
in search of a stolen horse or to catch a thief he shall be allowed a reasonable
compensation for his extra service.
ARTICLE 7. The officers shall be elected by the members
of the society and shall be elected by the majority.
ARTICLE 8. It shall be the duty of each member to keep
a written description of all his horses, and he shall deliver to the president
as soon as any horse shall be stolen a minute description of such horse.
ARTICLE 9. The word horse shall be construed to mean
horse, mule or ass.
ARTICLE 10. If the owner does not within ninety days
receive his stolen horse the society shall pay him two-thirds of the value of
ARTICLE 11. The president shall appoint three
disinterested persons to appraise the value of the lost horse, whose duty it
shall be to report the true value of such horse to the society.
ARTICLE 12. The president shall not offer as reward for
the recovery of any stolen horse and capture of any thief more than fifty
ARTICLE 13. The constitution may be amended at any
regular meeting by a majority vote of the society.
ARTICLE 14. If a stolen horse is recovered at any time
after ninety days it shall be the property of the society unless the owner shall
within ten days after the recovery, pay to the treasurer all money he may have
received from the society in accordance with Article 10.
ARTICLE 15. Any member refusing or neglecting to obey
the orders of the president, or refusing or neglecting to pay the treasurer the
amounts that shall be assessed to him by the society, shall be expelled and not
ARTICLE 16. Annual meetings shall be held on the last
Saturday of October of each year. Those who signed their names to the by-laws as
charter members were Samuel Mills, Ephriam Sands, J. P. Mills, W. J. Cinzier,
Samuel M. Mills, David Watts, Peter Dubois, Jesse E. Mills, John Jones, Robert
Jones, J. J. Duroe.
There being a large number living in Buena Vista county
who wished to join, the next meeting was held at Sioux Rapids, November 5th, at
which time the following were received as members: Abner Bell, T. G. Thomas,
John Fancher, David Halkney, David Evens, W. R. Thomas, Gilbert, Halverson &
Co., Thomas Evens, Francis Kidman, Stephen Dubois, John Watts, J. E. Francis.
At this meeting a rule was adopted that "every
horse of this society shall be branded on the left shoulder with a figure
As soon as the society was organized hundreds of
handbills were printed and scattered broadcast over the country. On these bills
were printed in large letters "'Horse Thieves, Beware!" Then
followed a short statement to the effect that a society had been organized with
the avowed purpose of ridding the country of horse thieves, which was signed by
the officers and members of the committee. The notices had the desired effect.
The horse thieves took warning, and for several years not a single horse was
stolen in the community. The society continued to hold meetings and publish
notices from time to time to let every one know that it was in working order;
but as the years went by and no horses were stolen, and the community became
more settled, interest began to wane. No notices or bills had been published for
some time when suddenly in the fall of 1879 two or three horses became missing,
among the losers being O. G. Tabor who never discovered a trace of his lost
Immediately all was excitement again. In response to a
call from the president a meeting was held at the post office in Sioux Rapids,
October 4, 1879, at one o'clock p. m. G. W. Struble was elected vice president,
and John Halverson, treasurer, to fill vacancies. David Tillet, O. G. Tabor, G.
W. Struble, and Knudt Stennison were admitted as members; and for the benefit of
those who wished to join before the next meeting, "The treasurer was
instructed to receive members into the society on their payment to him of the
required admission fee of one dollar; provided persons so admitted shall be
subject to a majority vote of the society for confirmation or rejection." A
motion was carried that the society be known and called the "Sioux Rapids
Vigilance Committee," with its headquarters located at G. W. Struble's
hotel at Sioux Rapids. A hundred handbills were ordered printed and the country
again posted with notices. At the next meeting J. M. Hoskins, Chas. Cuthbert and
S. Olney, Sr., were received into membership.
These were the last members admitted to the society,
and although its organization was kept up for some time afterward, its history
as an active force may well be said to have ended with the winter of 1879-80.
The object for which it had been organized had been accomplished. During its
whole history not one of its members lost a horse, nor was it ever called upon
to bring a thief to justice. And what justice the captured thief would have been
brought to is well expressed by the words of one of its members: "We never
had occasion to hunt down a thief after we organized, but if we had captured one
we all knew what would have happened to him. He would never have stolen another