Shortly after the commencement of the
lawless men in the border states -- that is the states lying between
the loyal and seceded states -- banded themselves together for the
purpose of plundering honest citizens.
especially was subject to the depredations of these gangs, and in
time, the conditions became so bad that the law-abiding people found
it necessary to take some action for defense. The
first organization was proposed at a meeting held at Luray, Missouri
in September, 1863. At a second meeting, held at Millport, Missouri
about a month later, a constitution and by-laws were adopted, and as
horses seemed to be the principal objects of theft, the society took
the name of the "Anti Horse Thief Association."
The effectiveness of such an organization quickly
became apparent, the order spread to other states, and in time covered a large
expanse of territory.
After the war
was over, when the conditions that called the association into existence no
longer existed, its scope was widened to include all kinds of thefts and a
national organization was incorporated under the laws of Kansas. This national
order was composed of officers and delegates from the state associations and met
annually. Next in importance was the state division, which was made up of
representatives of local organizations. The sub-orders or local associations are
composed of individual members and usually met monthly. Any reputable citizen
over the age of 21 was eligible for membership, widows of members received all
the protection to which their husbands were entitled while living, and other
women could become "protective members" by payment of the regular fees and dues.
Wall and McCarty, in their history of the association, said:
"The A.H.T A. uses only strictly honorable, legal methods. It opposes
lawlessness in any and all forms, yet does its work so systematically and
efficiently that few criminals are able to escape when it takes the trail. . . .
The centralization of 'Many in One' has many advantages not possessed by even an
independent association, for while it might encompass a neighborhood, the A.H.T.A. covers many states. . . . The value of an article stolen is rarely taken
The order decrees that the laws of the land must be obeyed,
though it costs many times the value of the property to capture the thief. An
individual could not spend $50 to $100 to recover a $25 horse and capture the
thief. The A.H.T A. would, because of the effect it would have in the future
. . . . Thieves have learned these facts and do less stealing from our members,
hence the preventative protection." This was written in 1906. At that time the national
organization numbered over 30,000 members, arranged in divisions as follows:
Ohio Division, which embraced the State of Ohio; Illinois Division, which
included the states of Illinois, Indiana and Michigan and all territory east of
the Mississippi and south of the Ohio river not otherwise districted;
Division, including the states of
Arkansas and Louisiana;
Division, which consisted of the states of Kansas and
Nebraska, and all
territory to the north, west and south of those states not included in other
Oklahoma Division, including the State of
Oklahoma; Indian Territory
Division, which embraced the Indian Territory and
The Anti Horse Thief Association was in no sense a vigilance
committee, and the organization never found it necessary to adopt the
mysterious methods of "Regulators," "White Caps" or kindred organizations. Its
deeds were done in the broad open light of the day. When a theft or robbery was
committed in any portion of the vast territory covered by the association and
the direction taken by the offender was ascertained, local associations were
notified to be on the lookout for the fugitive, and his capture was almost a
certainty. Although the original name was retained, bankers, merchants and
manufacturers were to be found among the members, courts recognized its value,
criminals feared it, and press and pulpit endorsed and praised its work in
the apprehension of criminals.
Compiled and edited by
of Kansas, updated March, 2017.
the Article: The majority of this historic text was published in Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History,
Volume I; edited by Frank W. Blackmar, A.M. Ph. D.; Standard Publishing
Company, Chicago, IL 1912. However, the text that appears on these page is not verbatim,
as additions, updates, and editing have occurred.
From Legends' General Store
Lynchings, Hangings & Vigilante Groups - By
Legends of America
and Legends of Kansas, who
the most popular legal and extralegal form of putting criminals to death
in the United States from its beginning. Brought over to the states from our
English ancestors, hanging soon became the method of choice for most
countries, as it produced a highly visible deterrent by a simple method.
It also made a good public spectacle, considered important during those
times, as viewers looked above them to the gallows or tree to watch the
punishment. Legal hangings, practiced by the early American colonists,
were readily accepted by the public as a proper form of punishment for
serious crimes like theft, rape, and murder. It was also readily practiced
for activities that are not considered crimes at all today, such as
witchcraft, sodomy and concealing a birth.