Posts Tagged ‘Horse Thieves’

Running Fire: A Race for Liberty

July 26, 2012

Shortly after 1 o’clock this morning John Riedmiller’s valuable pacing horse, with a mark of 2:20, was standing, hitched to a post at the corner of Wayne and Calhoun streets. Officer Bower saw the animal there and had been watching it for some time. A few minutes after 1 o’clock the policeman saw a negro step into the buggy quietly and drive away without any evidence of being in a hurry or any movement to conceal his identity. The officer watched the colored man drive the horse east on Wayne street.

Image from WHDH 7News

The carriage was about a block east of Calhoun street, when in an excited manner Mr. Reidmiller made inquiries concerning his horse.

Officer Bower informed him that a colored man whom he supposed was a stable boy taking care of the animal, had driven it east. After a hasty exchange of explanations in regard to the disappearance of the horse, both men concluded that the animal had been stolen.

The patrol wagon was called out in a few minutes and sent east over the East Wayne street pavement at a wild run, manned by Capt. Borgman, Sergt. Dasler and Officer Gallmeier.

The officers flew down the thoroughfare with the horses at breakneck speed. Near the Concordia college they met a farmer driving into the city. He have the officers a clew and the panting patrol steeds were turned south on Walton avenue. Through the drizzling rain, with mud flying in all direction, the steeds galloped in a maddened run.

Fresh tracks were noticed on the Wayne ?ace going east, and the officers turned in that direction. In the darkness a few hundred feet away they saw the outlines of a carriage. The speed of the patrol wagon never faltered, and the policemen yelled “halt.”

The vehicle in front forged ahead with unchecked speed. Several shots were fired into the air to frighten the driver of the horse in front of the patrol wagon. The running fire had no effect. After a hot chase for a quarter of a mile, with neither the police nor the fleeing horse-thief gaining or losing any ground, there was a sudden halt.

The carriage in front of the patrol wagon stopped and almost instantly the patrol wagon wheeled up beside the foaming horse.

The drive had escaped, and only a few seconds before, as the lines were warm where he had held them in his grasp.

The ditch, culvert and fences in the vicinity were searched in vain. Not a trace of the horse-thief could be found. He successfully eluded the officers and escaped. The horse and carriage were brought back to the city.

This is the wildest ride the Fort Wayne officers have experienced since the patrol wagon has been in the police service.

The thief’s daring was bold in the extreme, and his escape was miraculous.

Fort Wayne News (Fort Wayne, Indiana) Oct 5, 1894

End of Mike Young, Desperado and Horse Thief

April 19, 2012

Image from the South Fork Companion


McPHERSON, KAN., April 24. — Mike Young, a noted desperado and horse thief from Montana, was wanted for a long time by the authorities of Mitchell, Rice, Ellsworth and Reno Counties, for numerous crimes. Finally a reward of $100 was offered by the authorities, and Sheriff Frank McGrath, of Mitchell County, took the case in hand.

He followed the desperado for two weeks till he had located him near the farm of Frank Wauth, a respectable farmer, to whose daughter the young outlaw was engaged. The Sheriff succeded in getting a letter addressed to the young lady in question, announcing the desperado’s arrival and making arrangements for an elopement. Mr. McGrath then entered the house of Mr. Wauth under an assumed name, pretending to be a Missouri farmer looking for land, and waited two days for his game.

On the evening of the second day April 18, between six and seven p.m., a boy entered the house bringing a message from Young that he wished to see the girl. The Sheriff remarked:

“Why don’t he come himsef like a gentleman.”

The messenger departed and a few minutes later the desperado rode up to the house on one of his stolen horses. As soon as the desperado entered the house, Sheriff McGrath covered him, holding in his left hand a 44-caliber Colt’s and in his right an American bulldog revolver.

As he exclaimed: “Mike Young I have a warrant for you, hold up your hands!” the desperado tried to reach his pistol pocket. The Sheriff called once more to him to hold up his hands, and as he did not obey the second time he fired with his left hand, hitting the outlaw on his forehead right above the eyebrows. As the man fell he dropped a 44 caliber Colt’s revolver.

The dead outlaw stood six feet two in his boots. His last crimes were the theft of five horses stolen inside of two weeks; amongst them were a fine pair of mares belonging to the father of his sweetheart.

The Atchison Globe (Atchison, Kansas) Apr 24, 1885

Horse Thief Was a Thief-ette

July 22, 2010





“Burt” Martin Convicted as a Man Turns Out to Be Lean Martin — Had a Male Cellmate.

For eleven months a woman has been imprisoned in the Nebraska penitentiary garbed as a man. She was tried, convicted and sentenced in Keya Paha county on a charge of horse stealing all the time dressed in man’s garb, and she passed the scrutiny of the guards at the entrance to the prison eleven months ago with the secret of her sex preserved. Now she is once more garbed in woman’s clothing and in this dress, she will spend the remainder of her three year sentence.

Discovery Made.

That such an unusual occurrence could happen considering the gauntlet every person admitted to the penitentiary must run seems incredible. Yet the discovery of the sex was not made till two days ago, by the prison authorities. The woman’s real name is Lena Martin but she has been known as Burt Martin and under this name she has gone for many years. Her father is dead but her mother resides not far from Springview. she was sentenced for rustling horses and when she came down to Lincoln, she had the reputation of being good at “borrowing” animals. The convict Martin was always regarded as of rather delicate constitution. He had small feet and small hands. His face was like that of a young boy as he was only nineteen years old when admitted. He was five feet, eight inches in height and weighed 140 pounds. He was employed in the broom factory and performed his duties well as the ordinary prisoner.

Were the Guards Napping.

When a prisoner is admitted to the penitentiary, he is thoroughly examined for identifying marks and one of the first duties of the guards is to give a bath in a large open bath room where any peculiarity or deformity would be noticed and made note of as a means of identification in case of escape. Nothing is now known of the incidents surrounding the admission of the young woman as this occurred eleven months ago under the previous administration. The guards might have been napping when she entered or the girl may have been more than usually clever at concealment. She was passed through and given a suit of stripes and since that time has not given the authorities any cause for suspicion until recently.

Whispers of a Mystery.

It was whispered about the prison among the convicts that a mystery surrounded the personality of young Martin. Some of the prisoners talked much of Martin’s cell mate and gave a gentle hint to the guards that an investigation would result in a revelation. At this time the prison physician was called upon to tend the cell mate and the secret was revealed by degrees.

As soon as discovered, the young woman wanted to be garbed in woman’s dress but the penitentiary authorities did not have a stock on hand and the steward was compelled to come to Lincoln and get a complete lady’s outfit. So not till yesterday was the lady horsethief once more dressed in woman’s clothes. She took the discovery of her sex without much chagrin and appeared to regard the matter as a rather comical incident.

The prison authorities know little about the history of the case before it came to them. The young woman lived in a county where the stock interests are large and where there are many cases of cattle rustling. When she gave her name to be entered on the records, she told the officers that she was a married man.

The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) Oct 4, 1901

Convict a Woman.

Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 1 — For 11 months the officials at the Nebraska state penitentiary have supposed that a prisoner known as Burt Martin was a man. The discovery that the convict is a woman and that her real name is Lena Martin was made two days ago by the prison physician. She was arrested, tried and convicted at Spring View, Keya Paha county, as a man, a year ago, for horse stealing. She seemed to take it as a joke when the discovery was made. Her mother lives near Springview. She is 20 years of age, large and coarsely built.

Lima Times Democrat ( Lima, Ohio) Oct 4, 1901


Her Sex Discovered Only After She Had Remained in the Penitentiary Eleven Months.

For For 11 months the officials at the Nebraska state penitentiary have supposed that a prisoner known as Burt Martin was a man. The discovery that the convict is a woman and that her real name is Lena Martin was made two days ago by the prison physician. She was arrested, tried and convicted at Spring View, Keya Paha county, as a man, a year ago, for horse stealing. Recently her cell mate intimated to the guards that an investigation would not be barren of developments. This was made when the prison physician was called to attend her.

She has donned woman’s clothes and will serve out the remainder of her three-year sentence. She seemed to take it as a joke when the discovery was made. Her mother lives near Springview. She is 20 years of age, large, and coarsely built for a woman. She comes from a ranch country, and was not known by her nearest neighbors, 20 miles away.

Daily Iowa State Press (Iowa City, Iowa) Nov 1, 1901

Governor Savage


OMAHA, Neb., June 23. — Governor Savage has released from the state penitentiary the convict who was sentenced under the name of Bert Martin, but who after a year was found to be a woman named Lena Martin. The woman had masqueraded for years as a man and was convicted of cattle-stealing. Recently her sex was discovered and on the promise that she would return to the home of her mother in Springview, Neb., and live an honest life she was pardoned yesterday.

Fort Wayne News (Fort Wayne, Indiana) Jun 23, 1902


LINCOLN, Neb., June 24. — Lena Martin, a woman convict in the Nebraska penitentiary, recovered while disguised as a man, was released from prison by Governor Savage on her pledge to reform. Lena carried on a deception for several years in northern Nebraska, but finally was arrested for cattle stealing and was sentenced to the penitentiary for three years. The prosecution was against “Bert” Martin, a man, and to the eye of the laws  he was still a man for a full year after entering the penitentiary for the prison authorities did not until that time discover her sex.

New Castle News (New Castle, Pennsylvania) Jun 25, 1902

Rustler Round-up

July 15, 2010

Springview Courthouse (Image from

On Monday, I posted about a woman who was raped and lynched by cattle rustlers from this same town, in this same time frame. I never found any articles about them catching and trying anyone for those heinous crimes. I think it is entirely possible that these men or some of their associates could have been responsible, but, if so, were never charged or tried. ( Link to the post.)


Forced to Surrender to Keya Paha Vigilantes.


Men Who Were Outspoken Against the Lynching of Barrett Scott Express the Hope That the Prisoners Will Be Lynched — One Hundred Stolen Cattle Were Found In Their Possession.

BUTTE, Neb., July 16. — The vigilantes made their raid on the rustlers’ camp Sunday. They found the rustlers in camp in the stockade at Fort Randall ready to protect their stolen property. The fort was quickly surrounded and the men, realizing the futility of resistance, surrendered to the vigilantes. They were quickly disarmed, bound hand and foot and placed on their horse and started west, presumably for Keya Paha county.

The men captured are Louis Zoadland, a resident of Spencer, Neb.; S.C. Clark, C.S. Murphy and C.H. Jackson, who live west of Springview.

Nearly 100 head of cattle were found, and over 40 head were identified by R. Austager, a resident living 16 miles west of Springview, as his property.

Charles White and his children, who were with the rustling party, were left in charge of the balance of the cattle until further investigation could be made, but as soon as the vigilantes left they took the stock and followed the men, driving the cattle before them.

N. Keeler of Spencer, one of the men suspected, could not be found, but a number of the regulators stayed behind to look him up, as well as some other parties who are thought to be connected with the stealing.

The vigilantes who conducted the captured men back to Keya Paha county are N. Taylor, captain; Fred Shattuck, William Charmas, John Wright, R. Austager, Mark Harvey, Stillman Lewis, Jack Woods and Carl Chiede. Young Murphy, one of the captured men, became frightened and told all he knew, implicating several parties. One of Clark’s daughters, a girl of 18 years, is engaged to Zoadland and was to be married in a few days, and when informed that Zoadland was a married man and had several children she was greatly distressed.

But few here think the rustlers reached Spring View, as the vigilantes are old ranchers and seldom bring a rustler back when they have a good chance to make away with him. Others believe that because of the publicity given to the affair the men in charge will not dare to make away with them, but will turn them over to the authorities at Spring View, when other parties will take them from the officers, and they will likely share the usual fate of rustlers.

Deputy United States Marshal Cogle of Springview arrived in town in search of the stolen cattle, but came too late to get them. One peculiar circumstance in this connection is the change of sentiment noticed in Butte since the report of the stealing. Men who were outspoken against the Holt county vigilantes during the Scott trial were heard to express the hope that the men captured would by hung by the vigilantes.

The Evening News (Lincoln, Nebraska) Jul 16, 1895

Springview (Image from


Cattle Thieves Thought to Have Been Lynched.


Captured by Nebraska Vigilants and May Have Been Strung Up to Save the County the Expense of a Trial.

Butte, Neb., July 16. — There is a general belief here that the rustlers captured by the vigilantes Sunday have been lynched. The vigilantes found the rustlers in camp in the stockade at Fair, prepared to protect their stolen property. The fort was quickly surrounded and the men, realizing the futility of resistance, surrendered to the vigilantes. They were quickly disarmed, bound hand and foot, and placed on their horses and started west, presumably for Keya Paha county. The men captured were: Louis Zouadland, a resident of Spencer, Neb.; S.C. Clark, C.S. Murphy, and C.H. Jackson, who lived west of Spring View.

Nearly 100 head of cattle were found.

But few here think the rustlers reached Spring View, as the vigilantes are old ranchers and seldom bring a rustler back when they have a good chance to make away with him. Others believe that because of the publicity given to the affair the men in charge will not dare to make away with them, but will turn them over to the authorities at Spring View, when other parties will take them from the officers, and they will likely share the usual fate of rustlers.

Davenport Daily Tribune (Davenport, Iowa) Jul 17, 1895

“Rustlers” Plead Guilty.

Omaha, Neb., July 19. — A special from Springview, Neb., says J. Voegel, S.T. Clark and C.H. Jackson pleaded guilty to cattle stealing and will go before the District court at Bassett Monday and receive their sentences. This will make six rustlers Keya Paha county has sent to Lincoln in four months.

Davenport Daily Tribune ( Davenport, Iowa) Jul 20, 1895

Fort Randall (#14)

Convicts Who Claim They Were Hurried Into the Pen Under Threats and False Pretenses.

Convicts Want Liberty.

Three penitentiary convicts, Salem Clark, Charles H. Jackson and Lewis Vogland, who are serving a six-year sentence for cattle stealing, are making an effort to regain their liberty through the medium of a writ of habeas corpus. The petition for a writ was filed in the supreme court yesterday afternoon by Judge J.H. Broady of this city. The petitioners assert that they pleaded guilty to Judge Kinkaid out of court in order to avoid being lynched and that the judge then upon sentenced them to a term of six years imprisonment. They claim that they were captured in South Dakota in March, 1895, by a band of vigilantes and brought to Springview. They were given a preliminary hearing and were intimidated by threats of mob violence into pleading guilty to stealing thirty-two head of cattle. They were then taken to Bassett, Rock county, and although no court was in session Judge Kinkaid imposed sentence upon them. The claim is made that these proceedings were all contrary to law and that the defendants are being unlawfully deprived of their liberty. The court made the writ returnable on March 2.

The Evening News (Lincoln, Nebraska) Feb 19, 1896


Men Who Had Plead Guilty Get Out On Habeas Corpus.

LINCOLN, Neb., April 11. — In the supreme court in re the application of Louis Vogeland, Salem T. Clark and Charles H. Jackson for a writ of habeas corpus, the writ was granted and the prisoners ordered discharged. This case excited considerable interest at the time application for the writ was made, and the facts brought to light. Then men have been in the penitentiary for several months, having pleaded guilty of cattle stealing in Keya Paha county, in January, 1895.

They claimed that they had been arrested in South Dakota without a warrant by a Nebraska officer, and brought down to the county judge of Keya Paha county and by him committed to await a hearing at the succeeding term of the district court of that county to be held at Springview, Neb. Subsequently they were brought before Judge Kincaid, sitting in chambers and advised by some one to plead guilty to cattle stealing. This, they claimed in their application was under duress, since a mob of vigilantes were standing outside the court to hang them if they did not. They, however, did so, and Judge Kincaid sentenced them to five and six years in the penitentiary.

The supreme court, in the syllabus, holds that “under the provisions of chapter CVIII of the Laws of Nebraska, passed 1885, the requirements that all informations shall be filed during the term of the court having jurisdiction of the offenses specified therein, is mandatory, and an information upon which the accused is to be tried for felony is void if filed in vacation.”

The prisoners were released, but immediately taken into custody again. They are likely to be taken back for a new trial.

Eau Claire Leader (Eau Claire, Wisconsin) Apr 12, 1896

Lynch Law From the Bench

May 6, 2010

Image from Wikimedia

Lynch Law from the Bench.

The Chicago Tribune narrates the particulars of a great excitement at Oregon, Ogle county, Illinois. Several men belonging to a gang of horse thieves in the neighborhood had been arrested. During the session of the court, and, probably with a view to the rescue of the prisoners, fire was communicated to the court house near which stood the jail. The court house was consumed; the jail with some difficulty was preserved from the flames, and the prisoners were kept secure.

The town was in great excitement, rumors being circulated that the confederates of the prisoners were resolved to assail the persons and property of all concerned in prosecuting the accused felons.

Judge Ford who presided at the trial, having disposed of the case of the prisoners, took occasion to say — ‘that hitherto he had acted as a magistrate upon the bench, as impartially and justly to all, as he could, but would take that opportunity to allude to threats which had been made out of doors. It had been threatened that violence would be visited upon the persons or property of all concerned in prosecuting the prisoners, including the Judge who had presided at their trials.

If any persons concerned in uttering such threats were there present, he would take that opportunity of admonishing them, that the moral portion of the community was at least well organized to protect themselves and the laws, and that no such demonstrations of vengeance of the fate of the convicted felons should pass without condign punishment. For himself, his official station would now compel him to leave his home in order to discharge his duties on the Circuit; and he would be obliged to leave his family and his property in their midst, without the presence of their natural protector.

But he then gave notice, that  — if in his absence, his family or property should be assailed in pursuance of the threats already made — he would, upon his return, place himself at the head of his friends, pursue the offenders wherever they might retreat, and — judge or no judge, law or no law — hang them summarily upon the nearest tree.’

The Tribune, with great propriety, comments upon the foregoing singular address as follows:

We should greatly lament such a declaration from any source; we can find no words to express our mortification and indignation at hearing them from the bench. We can well appreciate the excitement of feeling, which under the circumstances led so discreet a man as Judge Ford to utter a threat so sacrilegious, but excitement can, in an case, furnish only an excuse, not a justification.

The Adams Sentinel (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) May 3, 1841


You can read more about Judge Ford HERE:

The Regulators and the Prairie Bandits:
Vigilante Justice in the Rock River Valley

Herbert S. Channick


And in the following book:

Papers in Illinois History and Transactions
Illinois State Historical Society, 1913
Governor Thomas Ford in Ogle County
By Mrs. Rebecca H. Kauffman, Oregon Ill. (Google book LINK)

At the beginning of the essay on page 107 (one paragraph) is a tribute to Thomas Ford by Theodore Roosevelt, given at the Minnesota State Fair in 1901.

Out West: Justice – Old and New

March 3, 2010

Image from Wiki

Out West.

Firm in our belief in justice in the wild and woolly west,
Though opinions sometimes differ as to what plan serves it best,
Bill Green stole a horse in times past; then some fellows took a rope
And rode off in Bill’s direction at a rather rapid lope.
Later, the recording angel took a pen and, writing, read:
“Bill Green stole a horse this morning.”
Ten p.m. “Bill Green is dead.”

Times have changed. Out here last summer a chap known as “Half-breed Dan”
Was seen leading a black broncho from the barn of William Van.
He was tried by judge and jury — there were lawyers, half a score —
From sixteen to eighteen people took the stand and thusly swore:
“That beyond all doubting, truly, their friend Daniel was insane;
“That his father had an uncle who was ‘Dippy,’ back in Maine.”

Then to make the case more solid, someone took another tack;
Swore his mother’s second cousin was a kleptomaniac.
Then they proved by half a dozen that friend Dan was nowhere nigh,
They’d established in ten minutes a strong, first-class alibi.
Then, that of Dan’s perfect virture no one could have any doubt,
Proved the horse was never stolen; that the beast somehow “got out.”
While the tired recording angel — writing swiftly, with a frown
Tried to give the proper credit for the lies he jotted down,
Sneered some at our so-called justice, “All this trouble and expense
To adjust what once was settled with a rope that cost then cents.”
For the most distressing feature is that this new-fangled plan
Settles absolutely nothing — we still have the same old Dan.

— Minnie C.D. Smith, in the National Magazine.

The Carroll Herald – Sep 10, 1913

The Bedell Brothers: Convicted, Then Pardoned

March 26, 2009



Frank and Dick Bedell of Baraboo have been sentenced to three years in prison for horse stealing.

The Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin) Nov 2, 1899


Were Two Men Now Pardoned Convicted and Imprisoned.

(Special to The Northwestern.)

Madison, Wis., Nove. 26. — The Bedell brothers, Frank and Dick, sent to prison from Sauk county in 1899 under conviction of horse stealing, have been granted absolute and unconditional pardon by Governor LaFollette, after a special investigation into the case, the governor being satisfied of their innocence of the charge.

Their conviction was based mainly on the evidence of William Good, Good himself was sentenced to a term in the state reformatory later, and since his confinement there has made a sworn statement that his evidence at the trial was false.

The Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin) Nov 26, 1901


Gov. LaFollette Grants Absolute and Unconditional Pardon.

Frank and Dick Bedell of Sauk County Convicted Through False Testimony of an Enemy.

Madison, Wis., Nov. 26. — [Special.] — Gov. LaFollette has granted absolute and unconditional pardon to Frank and Dick Bedell, the two brothers sent to state prison from Sauk county under conviction of stealing a team of horses June 30, 1899. The governor has made a special investigation of the case, and is satisfied that the Bedells are innocent of the charge of which they were convicted.

The conviction was mainly upon the testimony of William Good, who claimed to have met the Bedell brothers, by previous arrangement, a short distance from the barn from which the horses were stolen, received them from the Bedells, drove them to another county and sold them, and on the night of June 24 met Frank Bedell and divided the money with him.

After the conviction of the Bedells, Good was sentenced to a term in the state reformatory, and since his confinement there has made a sworn statement that the Bedells were not implicated in stealing the horses, and that his evidence at their trial was false.

The Grand Rapids Tribune (Grand Rapids, Wisconsin) Dec 7, 1901

If you have more information on the Bedell brothers, please leave a comment. I am trying to prove/disprove that their parents were William and Emaline (McConnell) Bedell.

On The Hunt for a Horse Thief

March 12, 2009




SPOKANE FALLS, Washington, May 17. — A body of Indians belonging to the almost-extinct Lower Sanpuell tribe are scouring the Palouse country now, the best agricultural region of Washington, in search of Paul Harri, a former member of that band, but now ostracized on account of worthlessness. Harry murdered Mrs. Peavy in Coeur d’ Alene country two years ago, and since that time has applied his energies to horse stealing.

The farmers of the Palouse, as well as those of Colville and Big Bend Counties, have suffered great losses on account of his marauding proclivities, but they preferred not to deal harshly with him on account of the assurance received that the Indians themselves would check his career of crime. Recently he stole a cayuse from his own brother, who caught him in the act and shot him through the foot, but he escaped.

The Indian agents are powerless in their efforts to control them and the chiefs have taken the case in hand. Several chiefs have given pledges that Harri will be brought to justice. The party of Indians now searching for him in the Palouse country have privately asserted that if they catch him they will amputate both of his arms close to the shoulders. Then if he still persists in stealing horses they will cut off his legs. Even Chief "Sko Las Kin," the Prophet, who for a long time resented the encroachments of civilization, has sent out a squad of his young men to look for the notorious Harri.

The New York Times (New York, New York) May 18,  1890

“Flopping Bill,” Unusual Character, Drove Out Montana Desperadoes

March 5, 2009


‘Flopping Bill’ Led In War on Lawless

Unusual Character, Who Won His Name as a Woodchopper, Was Chieftain of Men Who Drove Out Montana Desperadoes.

The settlement of Clarks Fork valley and this section of the Yellowstone is an interesting chapter of the claiming of the northwest to civilization, according to accounts of the early happening, as told by pioneers of this region.

Within a scant two years after the founding of Billings in 1882, it was found necessary as in the case of Virginia City to organize the vigilantes for dealing in summary manner with horse thieves, operating along the Musselshell and in the country as far north as the Missouri.

In this movement, “Flopping Bill,” a character now all but forgotten, was in the forefront.

Where “Flopping Bill” came from none can say; probably he was one of many attracted to Montana from the middle west during the gold excitement. It has been written that his real name was “Quantrell” and that he participated with the famous “Quantrell” guerrillas in war times. But this is probably a yarn, and his true name is believed to have been William Cantrell.

How He Got His Name.

The nickname “Flopping Bill” was given to him when he was a woodchopper on the Missouri river. Bill was a hard worker and chopped and piled many hundreds of cords of wood for the river boats. When asked how he succeeded in getting out so much wood he once replied, “The trees is froze and I just strike ’em once and they flop open.” So he was named “Flopping Bill.”

Bill lived along the Missouri river for many years and knew every one of the desperate characters who crossed and recrossed the river with stolen horses and made its banks their rendezvous. He lived down there as long as it was considered healthful for one, not a member of the gang and after that he went to Maiden and became a cowboy with the “D.H.S.” outfit. He was chosen leader and guide of the fearless men who undertook to rid this country of some of the worst thieves and desperadoes who ever drove off a bunch of stock.

Two Rustlers Killed.

The first appearance of the vigilantes was at Claggett, now Judith, on the Missouri, June 28, 1884. There one breed was shot and another hanged. The name of the breed who was captured and hanged was Narcisse Laverdure; his uncle was wounded but got away. A man by the name of William T. Thompson came upon this pair with 60 head of stolen horses. He was taking Laverdure to Claggett when over taken by a posse, who relieved him of his prisoner, and after securing the breed’s confession, hanged him to a convenient tree.

Here are transcriptions of two news articles for the incident above:

A horsethief named Narcisse Laverdure was lynched at Judith Landing on the Missouri on the night of the 26th of June.

Helena Independent, The (Helena, Montana) Jul 10, 1884

Near Judith Landing, on the Missouri river, on the 26th of June last, two half-breeds stole five head of horses from A.J. Wells’s band. As they were driving them off they were met by William Thompson, who knew the horses and ordered them to stop. This they refused to do, but separated and started off at full speed. Thompson gave chase to one of them and captured his man. He was brought back to Judith Landing, and the same night, fourteen hours after the horses were stolen, was hanged to a cottonwood tree and placarded “Horsethief.” His name was Narcisse Laverdure, and his companion who escaped was his uncle.

Helena Independent, The (Helena, Montana) Jul 13, 1884

Back to the original article:

July 3 another breed, Sam McKenzie, was taken on the Fort Maginnis reservation and hanged, his body being left suspended with a placard attached reading “Horse Thief.” The soldiers cut down the body and interred the remains.

Organization of the vigilantes had not then been fully perfected, but a start had been made.

Fourth of July Battle.

On July 4 a party of men passed through Maiden en route to Spring creek in quest of Charles Owens and Charles Fallon, much desired had men. Arriving at Lewistown that night they found that the good people of the new town had already taken good care of these two, for both had been killed the same afternoon in a pitched battle with the citizens.

It was then arranged that one party should leave the following morning for the mouth of the Musselshell, where they were to be joined by another party, which, taking a different route, was to meet them at the rendezvous across the Musselshell, but on this side of the Missouri. The main party stalked their game to the cabin of one, Downs, which had been looked upon as a meeting place of the horse thieves, and, taking Downs by surprise, secured information from him which greatly assisted them in locating some of the characters most desired and incidentally ascertaining where there were cached a bunch of horses which had recently been stolen from stockmen of the basin. One story is to the effect that Downs was anchored to a grindstone in the river, but be that as it may, he was disposed of and at the same time a fellow known as California Ed met his just deserts.

But the smaller party had failed to make a junction with the rest of the vigilantes and to ascertain their whereabouts a wait occurred. Two days later the parties were united and a start was made down the river. Crossing 12 miles below the mouth of the Musselshell, the men continued down the river, traveling light and only at night, in order not to flush their game.

Fight Around Blockhouse.

Late in the evening of July 19 they came upon old man James and his gang. The thieves had guards out to note the approach of intruders, but the vigilantes succeeded in creeping in and not until about sun-up were they discovered. Here there was a blockhouse, or log cabin provided with port holes, an improvised tent made of a wagon sheet hung, over a pole, a corral and stables. One of the guards, abandoning his mount, when he saw the vigilantes had the camp surrounded, succeeded in creeping in through the brush and reaching the tent, where a part of the 13 of the gang were sleeping. Some made a dash for the blockhouse, 300 feet distant, while others took to the brush. Of the latter was Dixie Burroughs, a nephew of Granville Stuart, but one of the worst of the rustlers. He received a shot which crippled him, but he found a cottonwood well which gave him shelter and he afterward escaped to meet his fate within a month later. Old man James attempted to reach the blockhouse, but hit being made too hot for him he was forced to let down the bars of the corral and turn loose six head of fine horses, nearly all of which had been stolen from the mounted police of Canada. The old man, however, succeeded in reaching the house and participated in the battle, which lasted from soon after sunrise to 11 o’clock. In this fight two of the James boys were killed, also a fellow known as “Dutch,” and four were crippled, including Burroughs and old man James whose given name was never known.

Stolen Horses Recovered.

Hundreds of shots were exchanged between the vigilantes, protected by the brush, and the men in the house. The stable and corral, were fired but the house did not catch fire, as some stories of this fight have stated. Seeing that they were baffled and that the situation was such that some of their own men might be injured or killed, it was decided to withdraw and wait a better opportunity to deal out justice to the remnants of the gang.

In this fight there were 16 vigilantes engaged and there were supposed to be 13 of the gang of thieves. Seventy head of horses were captured, sent back to Fort Maginnis and restored to their owners as far as possible.

The party then went down the Missouri to the mouth of Hell creek, crossing the Big Muddy at the same point chosen by Chief Joseph when at the head of his Nez Perce warriors he crossed to the north side to meet General Miles in battle. On the ride up Hell creek to its head two more bad half-breeds were overtaken, but both were turned loose, after being relieved of some information and the horses they were riding.

Cattle Turned Back to Range.

From Walter & Donovan’s point 120 head of cattle were driven out and turned back toward their range. These had been stolen from stockmen on the Musselshell and driven in there for butchering.

This completed the biggest job of that summer and the vigilantes returned to their ordinary vocations.

About the middle of August word was received at Fort Maginnis that soldiers from Fort Shaw, camped on Poplar river, had captured five of the desperadoes who had successfully stood off the vigilantes at the James stockade and the authorities were advised that if a United States marshal was sent the captives would be turned over to him.

Prisoners Taken From Posse.

Sam Fishel, a deputy then stationed at Fort Maginnis, was started accompanied by a posse. He received the prisoners on Poplar river and turned back, but about 3 a.m. of August 20 he was relieved of his charges by four men who had their plans well laid, and had secured a leave of absence of two or three days from the Judith round-up and the next morning five bodies, including that of Dixie Burroughs, were laid in a shallow trench alongside the waters of the Missouri — and there weren’t any nooses left dangling from the trees either, for these five were suspended from a single rope, thrown over a branch, with a sufficient force at one end to lift the burden tied to the other end for the brief time required. These five went across the great divide in one, two, three order.

Float Down to St. Louis.

This was the last of the vigilantes in this part of Montana, for during the six or eight weeks preceding this last episode raft building had been popular and many a man had saved his neck by floating away toward St. Louis.

“Flopping Bill” afterwards acted as a guide for a party of stockmen which made a similar clean-up on the lower Yellowstone and crossing its mouth, followed up Mouse creek to the Canadian line, having occasion to dig several long and narrow graves while en route. It was reported that 60 were summarily disposed of on this expedition.

Cantrell continued to be identified with the stockmen of this section for a number of years. Leaving Fergus county he located in the southwestern part of the state and upon an expedition to Kansas City several years later he was run over by a train, his feet catching in the rails as he attempted to cross the track ahead of a locomotive.

The Billings Gazette (Montana) Saturday, July 9, 1927

For more, see previous post, “Flopping Bill” Cleans the Ranges of Desperados.

“Flopping Bill” Cleans the Ranges of Desperados

February 26, 2009


Thirty Horse Thieves and Cattle Rustlers, in Two Months, Were Hanged and Shot by the Determined Vigilantes of the Northern Montana Plains. Prominent Men Were Involved in the Raid That Cleaned the Ranges of Desperados. Death Was Quick and Sure. Prisoners Were Taken From United States Troops and Lynched. The Story Told for the First Time. The Law Called a Halt.

It is a story of which little has been told. Most of those who rode with “Flopping Bill’s” vigilantes have left the state or crossed the Great Divide. Those who have remained are reticent. As to the 30 or more desperate horse thieves and cattle rustlers who operated in Northern Montana in the early eighties — well, bleaching bones on wind-swept prairies tell no tales.

In 1885 the cattle and horse business in Northern Montana was becoming more and more unprofitable, for the reason that there were organized bands of horse thieves who had stopping places from the Canadian line to Mexico, and who made more money in the business of stealing horses and live stock than the real owners could in raising them. Of course more horses than cattle were stolen, because they were easier to get away with, and in those days were worth a great deal more money.

The stealing became so serious that the cattlemen of Northern Montana were forced to do something, and in the fall of 1885 they did it. When the cattlemen start to do anything they do it up brown, and it was so in this case.

The tale of the hanging of the road agents of 1863-4 by the vigilantes of Alder gulch has been told so often that it became known from one end of the world to the other, and it is looked upon as the biggest thing of its kind which was ever pulled off in Montana. This is a mistake and the cowboys of Northern Montana during the year of 1885, from September to November, hanged and shot more men than the vigilantes of Alder gulch ever dreamed of. This may seem like a fairy tale at this time, but it is a fact, and there are men in Northern Montana at the present day who have the papers to prove the assertion.

During the fall round-up of the Judith in the fall of 1885 it was decided to do some hanging. Who proposed the matter, or by whom meetings were held, it is not necessary to state, as on of the leaders of the cowboy vigilantes in now a prosperous stockman within a few miles of old Fort Maginnis, another is a prosperous sheepman living near Ubet, and another lives in Butte, after having spent a number of years abroad. And there are others, but the matter of the real extermination of the rustler was carried on under the direction of “Flopping Bill” Cantrell.

“Flopping Bill” was a desperate character himself and worked against the rustlers because it paid better than to work with them. From September, 1885 until the weather became too cold to ride, “Flopping Bill” and his band of cowboy exterminators worked, and when they had finished there was no count of the men whose candles had been snuffed, but there are men in Great Falls today who can name at least 26 of them, and it has always been estimated that about 30 people were hanged or shot by “Flopping Bill’s” band during that fall.

The first performer in the bloody drama of extermination as carried on by “Flopping Bill” was a half-breed near Fort Maginnis. Some one believed that he had stolen a steer and butchered it, and one night during August, 1885, he was taken near the ranch of Reese Anderson and strung up to a cottonwood tree without a chance to say his prayers, if he knew any.

That was the beginning, and shortly after “Flopping Bill” called for volunteers to search for horses which had been stolen from the herds of several well known stockmen. The requisition was made upon the round-up, which was camped on the Musselshell about 60 miles above the mouth, and reckless riders and desperate men only were chosen.

The posse made a hard ride that day, and by night they came to the cabin of a man named Downs, near the mouth of the Musselshell. Downs kept a sort of trading post, and was suspected of being in league with the thieves. It was early daylight when the posse arrived and they at once surrounded the cabin, and when Downs came out it was “hands up.”


A search of the corral and vicinity discovered 22 D.H.S. horses, and Downs was asked to explain. He saw that he was up against it, and gave a full list of all the men connected with the “rustling” business, and indicated where they had their rendezvous. The Missouri runs swift and deep where the waters of the Musselshell enter it, and the banks are high and steep. A rope was placed about the neck of Downs, and a convenient tree was looked for. Some one spied a large grindstone which stood alongside of the cabin.

“Tie it to his neck and drop him in the river,” was the suggestion, and it was carried out literally. To-day the big round grindstone, with the hole in the center, lies in the bottom of the Missouri near the mouth of the Musselshell, and if time and water have not proven too much for the hempen rope the neck bones, at least, of Jim Downs are the grindstone’s companion.

Armed with the information derived from Downs the posse rode south to the mouth of Lodge Pole creek, where there were several “rustlers” located, and in the early morning light three of them were captured and strung up on some cottonwood trees which surrounded the cabin where they had lived. One of the hempen ropes with which the hanging was done swung in the breeze for many years, and perhaps is there yet — it was up to five years ago.

Some of the cowboys in the posse began to get more than they had bargained for, and wanted to quit the business, but “Flopping Bill” pointed out to them that they would be hanged by the civil law if their share in the impromptu hanging was known, and that together with other cogent reasons prompted them to remain.

The next bunch of rustlers was located along the Missouri. They passed as woodchoppers, and a large number of them had rendezvous at Long John’s Bottom on the Missouri, a short ways below the mouth of the Musselshell.

“Flopping Bill’s” posse came upon the camp early one morning, and was discovered by the horse herder, whom they promptly shot, and charged upon the camp. There was a block house with a stable attached, belonging to the rustlers, but most of them were sleeping in tents, and when they shooting began one of them was shot while getting to the block house. Once there they defied the posse, and it was only by strategy that they were dislodged. While the posse kept a hail of bullets against the house, one of the cowboys sneaked up there through the grass and set fire to the stable, and it in turn fired the block house. Just how many rustlers were killed will never be known, but there were at least 11 in the house and six were taken prisoners, while one escaped.

The one who got away was Dixey Burroughs, a half breed, and well known in Northern Montana. Burroughs managed to get away from the house, and was stopped by one of the outer guards, bu dropped behind a log and at the fourth shot managed to get his man, and escaped. Who the cowboy was that was shot has never been divulged. He was buried where he fill and a hint given that nothing was to be said about it.

That night “Flopping Bill” went away and during the night a number of men rode up to the camp of the cowboys, and after a sham battle, took six prisoners, and in the morning their bodies were decorating the Cottonwoods, on the east end of Long John’s Bottom. “Flopping Bill” came back and said the men who had taken the prisoners were a posse from Miles City — and nobody inquired further.

When Dixey Burroughs escaped he crossed the Missouri on a raft, and met old man James and his two sons, Dick and Jim, together with two others. This part of the gang had not been home when the cowboys called, and when Dixey told his story they saw that there was death in the air, and started down the river on a raft. They knew the cowboys were after them and that they would be shown no mercy, and so when near Poplar, they surrendered to a sergeant and a detail of seven United States soldiers, and asked to be taken to Fort Maginnis for trial. The sergeant and his detail started with the prisoners for Maginnis, and early the third morning they awoke to find themselves in the hands of a dozen masked men.

“Hitch up your outfit and drive straight on,” said the leader of the party, “and we will not injure you at all; refuse and we will kill you all. The prisoners are ours.”

The sergeant, whose name is not recalled — the whole affair appears in the records of the post during this year — hitched up and drove on as requested, and the dozen masked were left behind. The prisoners were never seen again, except that a couple of years ago an old-timer told a story of meeting Dixey Burroughs over the Canadian line, and he said he had been spared his life by promising to leave the country.

After these the hangings were desultory, but the aggregate for the two months of September and October is believed to have amounted to about 30. The cowboys would be riding the round-up, and some night word would go around and in the morning 20 of them would be gone for a day or a week, and no questions asked.

That winter, it is related, a crowd of men rode up to the place where the cowboy vigilante crew were quartered, and served notice that everyone of them must leave the country or die. The majority of them left, and have met death in one way or another, but there are still two or three of the posse remaining in Northern Montana, but they do not boast of having belonged to “Flopping Bill’s avengers” in ’85. “Flopping Bill” also found it advisable to leave the country many years ago, and less than two months ago his death was recorded in old Missouri — for Bill was a Missourian and had ridden with Quantrell.

The 1885 episode of the rope and gun has not been written about very much, but the advertising it got was such as to discourage “rustling” in Northern Montana for many years, so that it is only the pilgrim of recent years who has been reviving the business — the real old-times of the bad lands would not take any one’s stock as a gift — but “Flopping Bill,” the man of nerve, without human feeling, has gone over the divide, and perhaps the stock inspectors may be given more work in consequence.

The Anaconda Standard: Sunday Morning, Aug 11, 1901.


AS IT WAS In Billing 45 YEARS Ago Today
(From the Billings Gazette, May 28, 1885)

William Cantrell, one of the stock inspectors of the territorial association, and known in the Maiden country as “Flopping Bill,” is attending court, as a witness. (Cantrell was an important figure in the cleaning out of the rustlers along the Musselshell by Granville Stuart and his cowboys in 1884.)

Billings Gazette (Billings, Montana) May 28, 1930