By John Oliver, President, Historical Society

As we continue our series on crime in Trousdale County we look at an animal that has changed in value – at least as far as robbers are concerned!

If you watch many Westerns, or movies about the wild and wooly West, you will know that nothing will get you in trouble faster than to be accused of “horse stealing.”

We will also point out that “horse stealing” was once a hanging offense!

Today, I have been told that if you showed up at a horse auction and left your horse trailer unattended, don’t be surprised to find an old nag there when you return. Horses are not the valued animals they once were. Many a fellow has bought his daughter a horse and a few years later can’t give the animal away.

Submitted photo
Back when people valued horses, you would see advertisements like this in the Vidette.

It seems that paying for riding lessons, buying hay and keeping fences up and horses in can wear away at the pocketbook, not to mention the farrier (the man who puts on the horseshoes) and the vet who demand to be paid in cash.

But when our county was being settled, a horse was a man’s most valuable possession.

Many men put a lot of money into buying a fine horse and saddle.

Horses were the “fast car” of their day and time and men being men, having a fine horse was a way of showing off.

You knew a man’s horse just like you might recognize a car in town today and know who is driving it. Which is an important fact to remember when we talk about horse stealing and getting caught!

In an article in a Nashville newspaper from 1895, we have an account of a man stealing a horse “while hitched to the courthouse fence at Hartsville.” But the thief didn’t get very far. The article points out that the thief was arrested in Portland the next day.

The criminal was charged with horse stealing and taken to the Portland jail. The article points out that “When arrested he had on his person two pistols, one dirk (a small knife), a razor and a pair of brass knuckles.”

Sounds like a desperate character to me!

Back when every man had a horse and used it to get around, you knew every man’s horse by sight. You could go into town and look at the horses tied up in front of the courthouse and could tell who was in town doing business.

That made it difficult to steal horses and get away with it.

In 1874, a thief stole a good horse from a man in Nashville and sold him to a fellow in Springfield. The man in Springfield then sold the horse to a relative in Hartsville.

Now by that time the thief was long gone. But the horse didn’t like his new home and at the first chance, walked out of the barn and headed down the road.

When the horse, walking by itself, got to Gallatin a young boy there recognized it and took it to Nashville to its original owner.

Now that says a lot about recognizing a horse!

The sheriff was called and he backtracked the events, finding the man in Hartsville and in Springfield who had each, for a short time, been the horse’s owner. The Springfield man described the man who had first sold it to him.

Now the sheriff did some recognizing of his own.

The sheriff recalled a man who was presently sitting in his jail – arrested for trying to steal a mule – and the crime was solved.

In 1877, a similar crime took place.

A man named Wright had his horse stolen. He lived in Hartsville and began to look around.

A good horse thief knew he had to leave the neighborhood if he wanted to get away with his crime, so Mr. Wright began to look further afield.

His search led him, a month later, to Franklin, Kentucky. The man evidently put a lot of value in this horse.

And once there, he spotted his missing animal.

The article in the newspaper described it as “…a fine large, grey horse.”

Now the man in Franklin was out a horse and the money he had paid for it. He contacted the sheriff and described the culprit as “a strange, odd looking man, with dark complexion, slender, slightly stoop shouldered…”

A reward was offered and that did the trick.

Someone recognized the description and turned the man into the sheriff.

It is not difficult to draw parallels to today’s thieves who steal a car and rush to sell it in another town, or take it to a chop shop and sell it for parts. Or afraid of getting caught, they quickly drive it into some lake or river and hope no one goes scuba diving!