It would be singular, did it not illustrate the persistence in human nature of the primitive man's instinct to acquire property by plunder, how many men in a new country take to horse-stealing. It seems as if there must have been some fascination about it, aside from its possible profits, For, in a virgin country like Iowa, where it is difficult to avoid naturally a nd honestly accumulating wealth, one cannot now otherwise understand why so many sought to gain a little pelf at the cost of tranquil existence and at the hazard of losing liberty and even life at the hands of their justly incensed neighbors, Freebooters never became so troublesome in Clinton County as in the settlements above and below on the river and also further West. This was partly due to the prompt and severe repressive measures of the Regulators along the Mississippi and the "Wapsie Rangers" in the western part of Clinton and Scott counties.

In 1851, horse-thefts in the Camanche and De Witt settlements were brought to an abrupt termination. Previously they had been annoyed by losing good horses in a most mysterious and inexplicable manner. These thefts were cotemporaneous with the appearance of a family answering to the name of Jacques, who located on the edge of the bluff, about two miles from Camanche, toward De Witt. They seemed to be not at all anxious to improve their claim, and, at the same time, kept a sufficient number of horses and cattle to do considerable farming if they had so desired. Adjacent were the places of Robert Welsh. who held the office of Constable, and Capt. R. A. Lyons, now of Elvira, who, after many years plowing the seas, was now making furrows in the more stable prairie. Capt. L., having brought from Mexico a very swift horse that could not be caught except by a lasso, was, one day when sweeping the wide prairie with a powerful marine telescope, somewhat interested by seeing his precious neighbors in the distance endeavoring to catch the horse with a halter in which they naturally failed. This, together with the frequent absence of the male members of the family and clumsily-explained borrowings of saddles, aroused the suspicious of Messrs. Lyons and Welsh, so that they, it being before the days of detective bureaus, determined to see what they could accomplish themselves in the way of ascertaining the bottom facts as to whether the horse-trading done by the family came within the domain of legitimate transactions.

They concluded that by exciting the women, the latter might be led to involuntarily betray the " true inwardness" of their status as to honesty. Accordingly, Welsh repaired to the yard where the women were milking about sundown, and engaging then in conservation, adroity and casually introduced the subject of horse-stealing, mentioning, also, that the regulators were on the lookout, and, and that it would go hard with detected culprits. While this dialogue was going on, Lyons had, unperceived, approached through the tall grass, keeping on the other side of the house, entered it through a window, and snugly ensconced himself under the bed, in quarters, that to most landsmen would have been to contracted for comfort. but an old sailor, who had often slept in a narrow berth or hammock, could endure the position for a few hours without grumbling, though in some respects it was like Falstaff"s in the buck-basket. After Welsh had detained the women till dark by his alarming, but seemingly neighborly and friendly discourse, the agitated women sat down without a light in the cabin, and in conversation lasting till midnight, fully disclosed to the keen-eared amateur detective, the dark secrets if the gang, their method of working, accomplices, haunts and routes of travel. As soon as they were asleep, Lyons quietly slipped out, artistically replacing the bar at the door, and, at daybreak, awakening Welsh and telling him to watch the lair, harnessed up and drove toward De Witt. Beyond Brophy Creek, as he expected he met one of the Jacques, riding a remarkable fine steed, which, in response to Lyons' inquiry, he claimed to have bought at Dubuque. His rascally assurance so enraged the Captain as to attract Jacques' notice, and prompt the question: "What makes you so pale?" Lyons answered that he was not feeling very well that morning, and rode on to Brown's cabin on Ames Creek, where he quickly unharnessed and followed Jacques" trail toward the timber belt upon Brophy Creek. On the way, he noticed the Cannons--father and sons---who at once gave chase (the old man on horseback, and the boys out-stripping him on foot), joining in the pursuit of the common enemy. Lyons succeeded in keeping his quarry in sight, notwithstanding the latter's efforts to elude him as they traversed the timber, and once on the open prairie rode straight at the fugitive, and after a short headlong chase and desperate resistance, overhauled and, single-handed, overpowered and tied the desperado before the Cannons, the fleet-footed boys still leading their mounted sire, came up. The culprit was taken to Camanche, and soon after escorted by a numerous and distinguished delegation to Swan Island, just below the city. There, by an inquisitorial process in vogue during those days, in which a rope materially assisted the memory, but a process much less harmful than the Spanish inquisition, and also, less tedious than a Congressional investigation, the prisoner previously sullen and silent, suddenly concluded to expose all he knew of the gang. Subsequently, he was regularly tried and sent to the penitentiary. Acting on the information thus extorted, a posse at once set out for Dubuque, where another Jacques was found, enjoying himself in carnal company among wassailers of low degree. They politely waited for him to finish his dance, then brought him via Maquoketa to Clinton County, where in a convenient grove near Welton, was held a special meeting of the Holy Brotherhood, which also resulted in the noose procuring a satisfactory confession. That resulted in the trip of a still larger party to Farmersburg, Clayton County, where a regular robber's roost was surrounded and captured, together with a whole caballa of horses and arsenal of weapons. The rascals escaped, but the gang was effectually dispersed. When the Regulators returned to Dubuque, their formidable and disciplined appearance and numerous trophies attracted general attention and approval, and horses were thereafter safer along the lower Wapsie bottom.

SOURCE: Allen, L. P., History of Clinton County, Iowa, Containing A History of the County, it's Cities, Towns, Etc. and Biographical Sketches of Citizens, War Record of it's Volunteers in the late Rebellion, General and Local Statistics, Portraits of Early Settlers and Prominent Men, History of the Northwest, History of Iowa, Map of Clinton County, Constitution of the United States, Miscellaneous Matters, &c, &c., Illustrated. Chicago IL; Western Historical Company, 1879




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