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Horse Thieves at Work!

Horse Thieves at Work! image Horse Thieves at Work! image Horse Thieves at Work! image
James Mann
Rights Held By
Ypsilanti Historical Society
OCR Text

Horses were the target of thieves in the early 1900s

On the evening of Tuesday, June 4, 1901, Milo Hammond, the son of George H. Hammond who owned a farm south of Ypsilanti, heard a noise from the barn. Milo decided he had best take a look. At the barn Milo found two men hooking a horse to a buggy. The men had run the buggy out of the barn, harnessed the horse, and were about to make it fast to the buggy when Milo found them. He had never seen the men before, but the horse and buggy were the property of his family. These men were horse thieves at work.

The surprised men turned and began to run away, with Milo running after them. The two men separated, each running in a different direction, with Milo running after one of the men. Milo continued the chase until near the residence of George Moore, when the man turned and fired a gun at Milo. “Hammond,” noted The Ypsilanti Sentinel-Commercial of Thursday, June 6, 1901, “being unarmed, concluded it was time to quit the chase.” This was one of three attempts to steal horses in the area that week. The Friday before, a horse, carriage, harness and robes, were stolen from the farm of George Jarvis, which was just east of the George Hammond farm. “The horse stolen is a large bay, weighing 1300 pounds,” noted The Ypsilanti Sentinel-Commercial of Thursday, June 6, 1901. “The animal has a white spot on its nose. There is also a slight enlargement on one of its hind legs.” The horse was traced by officers to about two miles south of Willis, where all trace of it was lost.

A horse belonging to a John L. Hunter, was stolen the following Sunday. The horse was traced to Toledo but again the trail was lost. At about this time in Toledo, two police detectives, Nichter and Hassenzahl, were in a residence section of the city when they saw a man known as Frederick Shoemaker driving a horse. For some reason the appearance of the horse struck them, so they closely examined the horse. The two knew nothing of the horses stolen at Ypsilanti, so no further action was taken. Then, about two weeks later, officers from Ann Arbor arrived in Toledo, and handed out a description of two stolen horses. The description of one matched that of the horse Shoemaker had. Officers made a search of the city, but failed to find Shoemaker.

One morning soon after, Detective Nichter was walking on Erie Street, when he saw Shoemaker. Nichter waited as Shoemaker approached, and then arrested him. Shoemaker resisted and Nichter dragged him into a grocery store where he telephoned for the patrol wagon. Shoemaker tried to escape but was handcuffed and placed in the wagon when it arrived.

“When searched at the station a bank book from a Cleveland savings bank was found on his person, with nearly $400 credited to him. The deposit of $55 was made on Wednesday, and the officers believe that this money was secured from the sale of the stolen horse. To Nichter, Shoemaker admitted that he had stolen the horse, but he said that it had died with the colic. Later he was taken before Chief Raitz and Judge Wachenheimer, and he refused to talk about the affair. He was forced to admit that both of the horses stolen in Michigan were taken by him, but he would not tell where they were or how he had disposed of them,” reported a story published by The Ypsilanti Sentinel-Commercial on Thursday, June 27, 1901.

Shoemaker was taken to the jail at Ann Arbor, where he refused to answer any questions. Deputy Sheriff Fred Gillen visited Cleveland on Wednesday, July 3, 1900, to search Shoemaker’s place of business. There, with Cleveland officers, Gillen found five horses, several buggies and wagons, harnesses and a high stack of blankets. Gillen returned to Ann Arbor, where he questioned Shoemaker, an account of the session was published by The Ypsilanti Sentinel-Commercial on Thursday, July 4, 1901. “Where did you get all that truck?” asked Gillen.

“They are the accumulations of thirty years,” answered Shoemaker. “I bought them.” “Who from?” “Different people.” “Those last two horses you got. How did you get them there?” “I bought them off a horse jockey and drove them to Cleveland from Toledo.” “Did they come in at the same time?” “Yes.” “Now what’s the use of your lying?” demanded Gillen. “You know that you got into Cleveland the night before and the horses came by boat. Your man asked you where the horses were and you told him they were coming.” Shoemaker said he was not lying. “The fact is,” said Deputy Gillen, “that everything in your place of business was stolen except your broom stuff. Every single thing.” “Didn’t you find a bill there for a new wagon I bought?” Responded an indignant Shoemaker. “No, I didn’t,” said Gillen. “Well, it’s there. I bought that wagon.” Gillen laughed at this, pointing out this was the only item Shoemaker could say he purchased. “How did you come by this electric car fare receipt that was found on you?” asked Gillen. This was in regard to the interurban service running at the time. “It registers that you came from Springwells to Ypsilanti on the day that horse was stolen.” “I never saw it before,” said Shoemaker. “Well,” said Gillen, “we will have the conductor up here to identify you.” “If I could only get bail bonds,” said Shoemaker, “I could fix up all these matters.” “Nobody in this county would go on your bonds. The best place for you is right here in jail, for if these farmers get hold of you they will sling you up to a telephone pole,” said Gillen. To this, Shoemaker said nothing. Two of the horses found in Shoemaker’s barn were identified as those stolen from Mr. Jarvis and Mr. Hunter.

“B. D. Kelly, George Seaver and Burt Moorman went to Cleveland Saturday night to examine the stock of things found on the premises of the supposed horse thief, Shoemaker, who is now in the jail at Ann Arbor, to see if they could not find among the articles something stolen from them,” reported The Ypsilanti Sentinel-Commercial of Thursday, July 11, 1901. “They returned Monday, having been successful, so far as the articles stolen from Kelly and Seaver were concerned. Each found and positively identified his lost horse blankets and Kelly in addition found his neck yoke. While in the city they also found the horses stolen about a year and a half or two years ago from Fount Watling and Horace Laflin. They fully recognized the horses, but of course the owners will have to go to Cleveland and identify their property before they can be brought back. The horses were sold to parties in Cleveland, who are now in possession of them.”

On Wednesday, July 17, 1901, Lenawee County Sheriff Shepherd arrived in Ann Arbor accompanied by a Mr. H. Stretch of Tecumseh who identified a horse brought from Cleveland as belonging to him. Sheriff Shapherd was asked, “How many horses has Shoemaker stolen from your neighborhood?” “One anyway,” replied Sheriff Shepherd. “Probably two—and possibly ten. We have been missing them for the past three or four years and we think he is the man who has done the job.”

Washtenaw County Deputy Sheriff Kelsey was asked, “How many from Washtenaw County?” “At least six and possibly ten.” He answered, reported The Ypsilanti Sentinel-Commercial of Thursday, July 18, 1901.

“Shoemaker,” noted The Ypsilanti Sentinel-Commercial of Thursday, July 25, 1901, “it would appear, had been doing a land office business for the last two years, stealing horses by the wholesale. He ran a broom factory in Cleveland and would start out with a load of brooms, telling folks there he was going to take a trip through Michigan. After securing a bunch of horses he would take them to Toledo and send them by boat to Cleveland, where they were disposed of.”

Shoemaker faced examination for the theft of a horse and buggy belonging to a Dr. D. W. Nolan on Wednesday, July 31, 1901. The Ypsilanti Sentinel-Commercial of Thursday, August 1, 1901 reported Dr. Nolan’s testimony substantially as follows: “On December 19 last, I was out in the country on a professional call and as I was coming in I recognized this man as a driver of one of the horses. The horse was known as Nell. When I reached the stable I asked one of the boys who had Nellie. They said a gentleman came and got her to go to Saline to get a girl. Said he gave his name as Hogan. When I returned the next day the horse had not come back. I became alarmed. I have not seen the mare since. Her value was about $100.”

Under cross-examination Dr. Nolan testified: “It was about half past one that I saw him, as I was coming in. It was within that hour. He was coming toward me and I had a good chance to recognize him. It was quite a cold day—not real cold, but the man had on an overcoat and the side curtains were up. He had no whiskers, but a mustache. I recognize him by his appearance. He had a peculiar stoop and I saw him here and in the jail and recognized him as the man. I am positive he is the man. This man did not have on a stiff hat, it was a faded brown.”

“When the adjournment at noon was taken,” reported the account, “Dr. Nolan declared if they would let him in a room with Shoemaker for about ten minutes there would be no more need of any justices, prosecutors or lawyers to tend to the matter.” The next witness was Frank Healey who testified as follows: “I was in the employ of Dr. D. W. Nolan. On or about December 19, I saw the defendant under these circumstances. He came to the barn and wanted to get a rig to go to Saline to get a girl. It was about 12 or 1 o’clock. I gave him a rig. I have never seen the rig since. I had a good opportunity to see him at the barn. I am positive he is the same man. He had no beard then, but he has one now. I recognize his voice. I would recognize it through the phone.”

Under cross examination Healy said: “He had a cheap ulster and brown Fedora hat. I never talked over the identity of Shoemaker to Dr. Nolan.” Shoemaker took the stand in his own defense: “I never saw this man Healy. I was not in Ann Arbor in December 1900. I was at 45 Abbey Street, Cleveland, Ohio. I did not hire a rig in my life either at Ann Arbor or any other place. I have never had an ulster coat in my life.” Under cross examination Shoemaker said: “I drove through Ann Arbor about six years ago, while living in the city of Toledo and put up at a barn below the jail. That was the only time I ever was in the county for 25 or 30 years. I went to school here in Ann Arbor about two months. I do not know when it was or who my teacher was, but it was in the high school. I don’t know who were in the class. I was living at Hickory Ridge. I do not know the house where I lived. All I remember was it was in Ann Arbor. I was arrested in Cleveland last spring for assault and battery by some stranger. I got bail. I appeared in court but did not hear my case called and was taken on an attachment. I paid $25 and costs amounting to $43. Aside from that I was never arrested before. I now own and wear a brown hat, but never owned or wore one before.”

Shoemaker was bound over for trial during the next term of the court, with date set as October 6, 1901. At the end of the trial the jury considered the evidence from 11:40 a.m. until 2:50 p.m., with time out for dinner. The jury returned a verdict of guilty as charged. Judge Kinne spoke: “Shoemaker, stand up. Have you anything to say why sentence should not be passed upon you?” Shoemaker answered: “Only that I never did steal anything. I never needed to steal anything. I suppose the jury brought in a verdict according to the evidence, but people have sworn to things here in which they are mistaken.”

“I don’t see how the jury could reach any other verdict. There are no mitigating circumstances about your case. You have no family, you had money and you had a business. Yet you left Ohio and came into Michigan and committed a bad crime. It demands a severe punishment that will be a lesson to you and to all who are disposed to commit such crimes. There are some localities that do not wait for courts and juries to act, but take it in their own hands. I speak of this to show you how people view the nature of your crime. The sentence is that you be confined in the state prison at Jackson for a period of ten years from and including this day.”

[James Mann is a local author and historian, a regular contributor to the GLEANINGS, and a volunteer in the YHS Archives.]

Photo captions:

1. Horse clip art (no caption)

2. Horse clip art (no caption)

3. Horse clip art (no caption)

4. Prisoner cartoon (no caption)


Ypsilanti Gleanings