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VOL. VI,  NO. 2, APRIL 1903




     The echoes of what was termed in the old days, "the peculiar institution of the south," have well nigh died out; but in a folio volume entitled "Compendium of the Enumeration of the Inhabitants and Statistics of the United States, as obtained at the Department of State, from the Returns of the Sixth Census (1840) by Counties and Principal Towns," we find a brief and very interesting record. This volume was published by the government at Washington, D. C., in 1841. From this we learn that sixteen slaves, old and young, were owned by parties in Dubuque county. Whether the owners were permanent residents, or temporary sojourners, we have been unable to ascertain. But the fact is thus officially published in the Sixth U. S. Census, that slavery existed in Iowa territory.
     In early times slaves who had escaped from their masters in the south were also in the habit of passing through the territory or State en route for Canada. As a very natural consequence several fugitive slave cases of more or less importance arose within our boundaries, the most of which have long been forgotten. Recently, however, the Historical Department came into possession of a 40-page pamphlet which contains quite a full report of one of these cases. We copy this report in full in the present number of THE ANNALS. It was made by George Frazee, a member of the bar, who still (January, 1903) lives in the city of Burlington. In justice to Mr. Frazee it should be stated that the original notes in this case were taken solely for private use, but upon the solicitation of the counsel engaged, as well as others, he consented to their publication. He wrote an account of another fugitive slave case in which he figured as "the court," which was published in this series of THE ANNALS (Vol. IV, pp. 118-137). As stated at the close of the trial judgment was rendered against the defendants for the sum of $2900. The latter filed a motion for a new trial, and also took the preliminary steps to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of the United States, by writ of error. But it never reached the Supreme Court. Why it did not we are unable to state. It transpired, however, that prior to the trial the defendants had put their property out of their hands, thus rendering the judgment worthless. In Yankee parlance, every preparation was made to "beat 'em on the execution." Such would have been the inevitable result had an execution been issued.
     While there were other trials in Iowa for the recovery of fugitive slaves, we cannot learn that they were productive of any benefit to those who sought to recover either their "property," or compensation for its loss.



     At a meeting of the citizens of Douglas township, at the Red School House, Clay county, Iowa, on the 15th day of November, A. D. 1870, for the purpose of organizing a society for the mutual protection of its members from the depredations of horse thieves, the following business was done, to-wit: On motion Samuel Mills was chosen temporary president, and J. J. Duroe temporary secretary.
      The above words quoted from the minutes of the society, as kept by its secretary, J. J. Duroe, illustrate the spirit with which the Sioux Rapids Vigilance Committee was formed. At this time the country about Sioux Rapids in the southern part of Clay and northern part of Buena Vista counties was sparsely settled. Communication was very slow, and it was seldom that the stolen property was ever recovered, and still less often that the thief was apprehended. The settlers who were, with but few exceptions, poor, could ill afford to bear the loss of a horse.
     In the fall of 1870 several horses were stolen in the community, of which no trace could be found. The people were thoroughly aroused, and for their own protection, decided to take matters into their own hands. After discussing the question among themselves a call was issued for a meeting at the Red School House, November 15,1870. J. J. Duroe and Samuel Mills were two of the prime leaders of this movement. At this meeting Samuel Mills was elected president of the society, David Watts, vice president, Peter Dubois, treasurer, and J. J. Duroe, secretary. A committee consisting of Samuel Mills, J. J. Duroe, and David Watts was chosen to draft a constitution and by-laws and report at the next meeting, after which the society adjourned. On November 29th, at 6 p. m., the society met pursuant to adjournment, and the committee on by-laws made the following report, which was unanimously adopted:
     WHEREAS, Several horses have been stolen in this vicinity; and, whereas, it is very difficult to reclaim the stolen property or to arrest the thief; therefore we, the undersigned citizens of Clay and Buena Vista counties do hereby agree to unite in a mutual society to protect ourselves from the depredations of horse thieves; and we do further agree to be governed by the following laws, with such amendments as may be hereafter made by the society.
     ARTICLE 1. The officers of this society shall be a president, whose duty shall be to preside at the meetings of the society, call special meetings whenever he may think best, and give all orders for the reclaiming of any stolen horse or the capture of the thief. A vice president who shall perform the duties of the president whenever that officer shall be absent or unable to serve. A treasurer who shall hold, account for, and pay out on the order of the president, countersigned by the secretary, all the funds of the society. A secretary whose duty it shall be to record all the proceedings of the society and countersign the president's orders on the treasurer.
     ARTICLE 2. The terms of each officer shall expire whenever the majority of the society shall require a change of officers.
     ARTICLE 3. No person shall be admitted a member without first paying one dollar to the treasurer.
     ARTICLE 4. Each member shall obey all orders of the president.
     ARTICLE 5. It shall be the duty of every one, as ordered by the president, to go at any distance not exceeding fifty miles, at his own expense, in search of a stolen horse or to catch a thief.
     ARTICLE 6. If any person shall go more than fifty miles in search of a stolen horse or to catch a thief he shall be allowed a reasonable compensation for his extra service.
     ARTICLE 7. The officers shall be elected by the members of the society and shall be elected by the majority.
     ARTICLE 8. It shall be the duty of each member to keep a written description of all his horses, and he shall deliver to the president as soon as any horse shall be stolen a minute description of such horse.
     ARTICLE 9. The word horse shall be construed to mean horse, mule or ass.
     ARTICLE 10. If the owner does not within ninety days receive his stolen horse the society shall pay him two-thirds of the value of his horse.
     ARTICLE 11. The president shall appoint three disinterested persons to appraise the value of the lost horse, whose duty it shall be to report the true value of such horse to the society.
     ARTICLE 12. The president shall not offer as reward for the recovery of any stolen horse and capture of any thief more than fifty dollars.
     ARTICLE 13. The constitution may be amended at any regular meeting by a majority vote of the society.
     ARTICLE 14. If a stolen horse is recovered at any time after ninety days it shall be the property of the society unless the owner shall within ten days after the recovery, pay to the treasurer all money he may have received from the society in accordance with Article 10.
     ARTICLE 15. Any member refusing or neglecting to obey the orders of the president, or refusing or neglecting to pay the treasurer the amounts that shall be assessed to him by the society, shall be expelled and not admitted thereafter.
     ARTICLE 16. Annual meetings shall be held on the last Saturday of October of each year. Those who signed their names to the by-laws as charter members were Samuel Mills, Ephriam Sands, J. P. Mills, W. J. Cinzier, Samuel M. Mills, David Watts, Peter Dubois, Jesse E. Mills, John Jones, Robert Jones, J. J. Duroe.
     There being a large number living in Buena Vista county who wished to join, the next meeting was held at Sioux Rapids, November 5th, at which time the following were received as members: Abner Bell, T. G. Thomas, John Fancher, David Halkney, David Evens, W. R. Thomas, Gilbert, Halverson & Co., Thomas Evens, Francis Kidman, Stephen Dubois, John Watts, J. E. Francis.
     At this meeting a rule was adopted that "every horse of this society shall be branded on the left shoulder with a figure 3."
     As soon as the society was organized hundreds of handbills were printed and scattered broadcast over the country. On these bills were printed in large letters "'Horse Thieves, Beware!" Then followed a short statement to the effect that a society had been organized with the avowed purpose of ridding the country of horse thieves, which was signed by the officers and members of the committee. The notices had the desired effect. The horse thieves took warning, and for several years not a single horse was stolen in the community. The society continued to hold meetings and publish notices from time to time to let every one know that it was in working order; but as the years went by and no horses were stolen, and the community became more settled, interest began to wane. No notices or bills had been published for some time when suddenly in the fall of 1879 two or three horses became missing, among the losers being O. G. Tabor who never discovered a trace of his lost property.
     Immediately all was excitement again. In response to a call from the president a meeting was held at the post office in Sioux Rapids, October 4, 1879, at one o'clock p. m. G. W. Struble was elected vice president, and John Halverson, treasurer, to fill vacancies. David Tillet, O. G. Tabor, G. W. Struble, and Knudt Stennison were admitted as members; and for the benefit of those who wished to join before the next meeting, "The treasurer was instructed to receive members into the society on their payment to him of the required admission fee of one dollar; provided persons so admitted shall be subject to a majority vote of the society for confirmation or rejection." A motion was carried that the society be known and called the "Sioux Rapids Vigilance Committee," with its headquarters located at G. W. Struble's hotel at Sioux Rapids. A hundred handbills were ordered printed and the country again posted with notices. At the next meeting J. M. Hoskins, Chas. Cuthbert and S. Olney, Sr., were received into membership.
     These were the last members admitted to the society, and although its organization was kept up for some time afterward, its history as an active force may well be said to have ended with the winter of 1879-80. The object for which it had been organized had been accomplished. During its whole history not one of its members lost a horse, nor was it ever called upon to bring a thief to justice. And what justice the captured thief would have been brought to is well expressed by the words of one of its members: "We never had occasion to hunt down a thief after we organized, but if we had captured one we all knew what would have happened to him. He would never have stolen another horse!"

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