Old West Justice.......

Hinkletown's Early Law Enforcement

The Union Horse Company

                                                                                            Photograph by Dave Jackson - Copyright 2008 Request Permission to Reuse

It was June, 1869. Cattle rustlers, horse thieves and other criminals were becoming common in the countryside. A group of men from the area around Hinkletown, including Green Valley, southeast Iowa County, northeast Keokuk County and Wassonville, Nira and Fairview of northwest Washington County, Iowa, decided "enough was enough." Thirty men, many from Hinkletown and a several-mile perimeter, mustered together to fight the outlaws. They created the following:

"Whereas, the stealing of horses, and the commission of other crimes, are becoming so frequent, so much so that no property of any kind is safe. Therefore, we the undersigned, in order to form a more perfect union, the better to protect ourselves against such outlaws and thieves, do ordain and establish the following constitution for our government: This organization shall be known and designated by the name of Union Horse Company of Lime Creek Township and its vicinity, for the detection and apprehension of horse thieves, and any person charged with any crime or misdemeanor whatsoever." Signed:

William Watkins Harmon Hinkle William McGahan
Martin Stapleton William Hull John Boyd
John Griffith John O. Duer Jonathan Duer
Josiah Duer Joseph Adams Ira Adams
Frank Adams J.R. Huffman Vic Carris
Isaac Carr William A. Davisson John Millhouse
J.H. McIlvain James Coffey William Griffith
William McDowell Joseph Wellman Martin Slocum
Martin Hoyt Walter Hoyt C.L. Wakelee
Ezra Squire Joshua Stinthcombe T.J. Taylor

The thirty men set forth their constitution, by laws and articles, which appointed officers and their duties, and addressed membership criteria, meeting times, dues and duties of the members, and behavior. The membership criteria states:

"No person shall be permitted to become a member of this company unless he is a free white male over the age of 18 years, and must be of good moral character."

Any member known to be breaking the laws of the State of Iowa was immediately expelled. Members were fined 20 cents for missing a meeting, and 10 cents for discussing anything other than the business at hand. Intoxication was not tolerated and any member who showed up with liquor on his breath was immediately expelled. Three offenses at profane language would result in the same.

"When the president is putting a question or addressing the meeting, no member shall entertain any private discourse, nor walk across the room, nor leave the room unnecessarily, or when any member is addressing the meeting shall any other member entertain any private discourse, or pass between the speaker and the president."

Talk of recent crimes, criminals and strategies comprised the meetings. Each member kept a full description of his horses and mules in the event of theft of his own or being ordered to look for and identify the property of others. Hand signals and passwords were used to identify each other in the dark, and to test dubious members.

The company did more than meet regularly and through its actions at fighting crime and bringing villains to trial, developed a tough image and respect from criminals who avoided the area. Oral accounts of area descendants have mentioned a jail at Hinkletown on the Keokuk County side of "Main Street," as well as a large oak tree where hangings were said to occur at the top of a hill on the Keokuk County side of Hinkletown. It is not known or documented, however, assumed that these were related to activities of the Union Horse Company.

The Union Horse Company accepted new members from its beginnings in 1869 and took in its last group of members about 1924. In the 1890s some of the inducted members were Bill Cox, John Herr, George Herr, Sam Shafer, Anthony Kelly, Pat Kelly, Tom McCann, John Corridan and James Hudson. In 1948, an aging Corridan, and Hudson spoke proudly of the time a large band of cattle rustlers were broken up, caught and punished.

The Union Horse Company minutes book from the 1890s through 1925 was located and is being preserved.   The book indicates that in the later years, the focus of members' efforts had transitioned from the theft of horses to automobiles.   

This advertisement for the Union Horse Company appeared in the Friday, February 14, 1893 edition of The Wellman Advance.  Local diaries kept by area residents beginning 1862 and area newspapers from 1889 - 1900 indicate that theft of horses, cattle, chickens and personal property was a rampant in this area during the second half of the 1800s.  

The Union Horse Company appears to have been based on a national model of organizing settlers in the effort to protect their property.  We know there were a couple strong groups or branches of the organization in this area of Iowa, and a strong group in Doylestown, PA.  If you have information of other groups like the Union Horse Company in areas of the US, please contact us.



Union Horse Company - May 2008

Hickory Ridge School - May 2008

Copperhead Lodge - September 2007

View Scenes from May 2008 Union Horse Company Reenactment

Harmon Hinkle - Charter Member

John Corridan - Admitted in 1890


NOTE: If you have additional information on the Union Horse Company or any of its members, please Contact Us!!

Early Hinkletown History Return to Hinkletown "Central"
Area Sightings of Jesse James Photographic Essay of Hinkletown