The Era of the Horse Thieves
Clermont County criminal justice of that time had a “wild west” aura to it, as evidenced from these accounts of it published in 1880:
“This was the jail legally made so in February—4th Tuesday—of 1801, and so continued for some time, till the authorities built one-still of logs, but larger and stronger-on a site by itself; concerning which, the records and history are silent as to the precise time of its construction. It contained at various times many luckless debtors, but its chief offenders were horse-thieves, —the terror of the early settlers, and on whom the law had no mercy, and, like in all new countries, it was visited on them sternly and promptly, —with occasionally parties held for larceny, and sometimes for robbery or burglary.
In front of this jail stood the whipping-post, or, rather, posts. Two sticks of oak about six, inches square were planted about five feet apart, and projected the same distance from the earth. To the top of these the culprit was tied by the extended hands, while the “cat-o'’-nine-tails" was applied on his naked back with cruel vigor. There several unhappy offenders satisfied the majesty of the law for misdeeds of the body, principally horse-stealing, the most heinous of crimes in early days.
At the October term of Common Pleas Court, in 1808, John Clark, for stealing a horse of John Gaskins, was found guilty, and sentenced to be whipped twenty-five stripes on his naked back that afternoon at three o'clock and pay said Gaskins fifty dollars (the value of his horse), also a fine of ten dollars and costs; to be imprisoned three days in jail, and not to be let out till the restitution, fine, and costs were all paid. On the same day this same culprit, John Clark, for stealing a bell of Conrad Hersh, was sentenced to be whipped with five stripes, make restitution to said Hersh of the value of the bell (one dollar), pay a fine of one dollar, and be imprisoned twenty-four hours, and not to be released till restitution-money, fine, and costs were fully settled. On same day Mordecai S. Ford, who in 1801 bought, in Washington Township, some seventy-five acres of land from Philip Buckner, was up before the court for stealing a horse from James Johnson. He was found guilty, and sentenced to pay said Johnson, the owner of the stolen horse, twenty dollars as restitution, pay a fine of ten dollars and costs, be imprisoned three days, and not discharged till restitution-money, fine, and costs were all paid, and be whipped twenty-five stripes on his naked back that afternoon at three o’clock. A big day’s work in court, —three trials and three convictions, with two public whippings in the afternoon as early as three o’clock; but justice did not sleep on horse-thieves.
The hour came, and Sheriff Levi Rogers—or rather his deputy and court constable, the stout and quick William Stout—administered the two judicial whippings, to the complete satisfaction of the court, bar, public officials, townspeople, and, in short, all save the two downcast and back-sore offenders, John Clark took the other five stripes for purloining the bell the next week, and soon after Ford died between Felicity and Calvary meeting-house, in the graveyard of which he was the first person interred. Three men, Brown, Ferguson (both flogged by Sheriff Oliver Lindsey), and another man, name unknown, were tied to the whipping-post and whipped, being all non-residents and all guilty of the same then terrible crime of horse-stealing,
After Brown was whipped he said, in a spirit of'’ braggadocio, that he was a much better man than the sheriff or any of the spectators, and no one felt like disputing the assertion.
At one time two horse-thieves, named Killwell and Joseph Knott, were confined in this old log jail, when Killwell slipped off his handcuffs and fled. Pursuit being instituted, he changed his appearance as much as possible in a successful disguise, and joined in the effort to recapture him, asking the people, in his going through the sparsely-settled country, whether they had seen anything of or heard of the whereabouts of the notorious outlaw and horse-thief, Killwell, and succeeded, by his coolness and daring, in escaping for good, and excelling “Dick Turpin” for his bold effrontery.
Joseph Knott, tried for horse-stealing, escaped thus: When the jury returned their verdict, “Joseph Knott, guilty,” his attorney exclaimed, “Joseph, not guilty! Put, Joseph!” and before the court recovered itself or the sheriff had collected his wits, Joseph had ‘put’ for the woods, and escaped for that time, but was afterwards shot on Stonelick by the infuriated citizens in a posse who had suffered from his continual depredations.”
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