Throwback Thursday: The National Horse Thief Detective Association

Willennar Genealogy Center’s collection is full of Throwback Thursday potential, so let’s get our #TBT on!

You may have heard of horse thieves, but what about horse thief detectives? Today, let’s take a look at these unusual law enforcers and their connection to Indiana.


In the 1800s, to steal a family’s horse was to steal their livelihood, a loss that could make surviving outside of a city incredibly difficult. Unfortunately, due to sparse rural populations and the fact that horses could be moved so quickly, catching horse thieves was difficult, too. In an effort to bring more of these criminals to justice, the nation’s first horse thief detective association was founded in 1845 near Wingate, Indiana, known as the Council Grove Minute Men.


Similar organizations sprang up across the nation, all of the Indiana groups eventually being brought under the umbrella organization of the National Horse Thief Detective Association (NHTDA). State laws concerning the NHTDA went on the books in 1848, laws which granted NHTDA members a surprising amount of power. For example, NHTDA constables were allowed to cross county lines to catch criminals, something which was denied to sheriffs and deputies.


As time went on, the NHDTA branched out, dealing with missing carriages, livestock, poultry, and even people. They were a powerful group until the 1920s, when their image was tainted by a growing association with the KKK. By 1933, Indiana lawmakers had taken away all their enforcement powers, although some chapters still met. In 1957, the Council Grove Minute Men finally disbanded, long after horse thieves has ceased being a problem.

Want to see more? Click here and search “National Horse Thief Detective Association.”

About Jenny

I am the Associate Director of Eckhart Public Library. My office is in the Administrative Annex, but I can often be found roaming the Eckhart Public Library Campus, performing acts of librarianship in every department! I love to read and learn about history. I'm also a huge fan of movies, TV and pop culture in general, and I love to read books of all types. Currently, I'm working my way around the romance section, with some historical fiction and graphic novels thrown in for variety! But you never know what I'm going to pick up next.
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