Anti-Horse Thief Association

Anti-Horse Thief AssociationHistory of Craig County  Its People and Places
Vol. 1 - O. B. Campbell

The association started in Luray, Missouri, as a local organization in 1854 when a group of residents of that area banded together to form a vigilante group to help combat the ever-increasing tempo of thievery in their midst.  It spread into Kansas and Indian Territory as well as other places.

Membership in the organization was open to any man 18 years of age or over whose application was vouched for by another member and who was able to stand the rigid test of investigation conducted by a special committee named by the president of the lodge.  Black balls were frequent to reject the application of proposed members.

A lodge could be formed with a minimum of 12 members which permitted organizations in scores of small communities.  The lodge charter fee was $5 with annual national per capita fees ranging from 5 cents to 20 cents.  There was usually an initiation fee of $1. One lodge set its dues on a monthly basis-10 cents per month.

One writer described the organization as a "detective, protective, patriotic, cooperative, secret and fraternal association."

The official pin was a horseshoe across which were the letters A.H.T.A. and a horse symbol inset in the horseshoe.  Later an arrow was substituted for the horse.  Some members wore pins and others didn't.  But they were all able to identify themselves in the lodge room or while on a case by the secret signs and words of the order.

Under the masthead of the official newspaper started in 1901 was the admonition "Thou Shalt Not Steal." It was called the A.H.T.A. Weekly News and circulated throughout Indian Territory.

It was no wonder that the word "horse" found a place in the association's name and on their emblem.  For more than half-a-century after the founding of the organization the horse was a most vital part of man's property.  The horse provided transportation and was the source of power for the wagons and farm machinery as well as for the buggy and the surrey.  Loss of a horse was a heavy blow.  Missouri, Kansas and the Territories abounded in horse thieves during the period of the frontier growth.

When an A.H.T.A. member sustained the loss of property by theft he immediately notified the head of his lodge and the machinery for recovery of the property and capture of the thief was set in motion.  Two riders were frequently sent out on the trail, of the criminal.  Lodges usually paid a nominal fee for this service.  Telephone and telegraph facilities were used if available.  Mail and railroad services were also placed in use.  Postcards were sent to secretaries of lodges in a wide radius of the place where the theft occurred asking members to be on the alert for the animal stolen, with a detailed description given of the animal and often the suspected thief.

In the year of 1903 losses [to] A.H.T.A. members in Indian Territory were estimated at $12,000 but a recovery of $9,800 of this amount of property was reported.  A total of 161 thieves were captured, 96 convicted and trials were pending for 27.  Losses included horses, mules, cattle, saddles and other goods.

Mrs. Daisy Ross ROMANS, now living in Tulsa, wrote me (O. B. Campbell) that her grandfather Ellis STARR told the story about a young Cherokee Indian, who had worked for Starr, disappearing about the same time that a neighbor boy lost a fine mare.  He was found several miles away by an A.H.T.A. team, riding the mare.  He was hanged, although he denied he had stolen the animal.

How many lodges there were in what is now Craig County is not known but there were several, dating back to the 1890s.

Kinnison lodge in northern part of the county was organized in 1898 and was No. 112 in the Indian Territory.  Vinita Lodge was No. 176.  Welch had a lodge as early as 1894.  Russell Creek A.H.T.A. was formed in 1903.  Eagle, Cleora, Bluejacket and other communities also had lodges.

Welch had one of the best in the territory so it was no wonder that in 1901 C.G. (Charles Gideon) HORN was elected president of the Kansas-Indian Territory district.

Once in a while a member of a pursuing committee was killed in the line of duty and such was the case in October, 1900 when J. I. POOLE of Welch, was slain by a thief traced to Arkansas.  Pool's widow was presented a certificate of consolation.  The lodge probably did more.

Pat McNelis' father was secretary of the Kinnison lodge and has the old minutes book of the organization.  It covers the year of 1898-1899 and reveals a wide range of activities of the order in that later Craig County community.  Efforts were directed in recovering stolen turkeys, cattie and mules.  Members were asked to furnish a complete list of horses and mules owned by each with a full description in order to speed recovery in case of theft.  A committee was named to "look after the sick."

One report of a meeting in 1899 told of a trial held on whether to expel a member for disclosing secrets of the order.  The member had reportedly revealed to an applicant for membership why he was rejected.  The member was expelled but a year later was reinstated.

From the beginning a black book was kept by each lodge in strictest confidence.  The lodge listed the known criminals of the area, also the name and description of anyone who seemed suspicious to A.H.T.A. members -- a man who spent money but didn't work, people with past shady reputations.

Initiation of members, often "a bit rough," admits an early member, provided fun at lodge meetings.  Fourth of July picnics, annual roping events and horse races were frequently sponsored by the lodges for their families and the public.

I (O. B. Campbell) received a letter recently from a man living in Calumet who reported that the Horse was dropped from the name in 1928.  There are still 3,000 members, most of them in Illinois, he reported.  Only about 50 members remain in Oklahoma.

But before its death it had at one time 40,000 members in 1300 lodges in 11 Midwestern and north central states.

Not all of the Anti-Horse Thief lodges dropped the name in 1928, some continuing with that name for years and were principally social groups.  I (O. B. Campbell) remember[s] that Craig GOODPASTER and Francis Goodpaster belonged to the Cleora lodge.

Francis told me (O. B. Campbell) one time about the time that he was initiated.  He said there was a sudden interruption in the serious procedure when Buster CARVER and Elmer WHITESELL got in an argument, struck a few blows and then were ordered from the lodge hall, which was the old Cleora school building.  After an interval the doorkeeper came in excitedly and said that Buster and Elmer were coming back into the hall and had guns.

They entered, took a few shots at each other and as the guns boomed Francis said he hid under a table.  Others tried to find a place of safety.  But the guns were loaded with blanks.  It was all in fun just a part of the initiation.  He said that he heard later that at an earlier initiation Floyd KAPP had jumped out a window.  But they all kept the secret, awaiting the next time they held initiation.

Citing the contribution that the A.H.T.A. had made and was making on the Western frontier 80 years ago, one of the Indian Territory division officials wrote:
"The A.H.T.A. has provided the means by which people could band together for the common good.  Before its existence if a man reported the theft of a horse and sought to recover it or accused someone, he would draw the enmity of a gang and would suffer from his individual act.  The association removed this handicap.  It was all for one and one for all."


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10-27-99 mgc

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