The Allen and East Pennsboro Society for the Recovery of Stolen Horses

Recently there has been increased interest in proposals to merge the several local police departments on the West Shore in order to improve efficiency and reduce crime. More than a century and half ago, when police forces were limited or non-existent, but a particular criminal act was not uncommon, citizens often banded together for their own defense. Thus on October 26, 1836, citizens of two Cumberland County townships formed an association they named The Allen & East Pennsboro Society for the Recovery of Stolen Horses and the Detection of Thieves. The name was later changed to include mules. (At this time there was a Cumberland County Society for the Detection of Horse Thieves, which seems to have covered the central and western parts of the county.)1

Horses and mules were not only valuable property in the nineteenth century but were essential, especially in rural communities, to travel and for hauling goods of all kinds to market. The loss of a horse, either because it strayed from its pasture or was stolen by a thief, was an acute embarrassment, especially to farmers and those who lived in small and scattered villages. Accordingly, on the insistence of Dr. J. F. Stadinger a number of citizens of the northern portion of the county met at the public house of Frederick Kuster in Shiremanstown on September 24, 1836 and there formed an association for "mutual defense and assistance" in the recovery of horses and the detection of thieves. Daniel Sherban was named temporary president, and Levi Merkel was chosen secretary. The president, secretary, and William R. Gorgas were named a committee to draft a constitution and by-laws. "Whereas," the preamble read, "the stealing of horses and mules having become more frequent and daring, and ordinary precautions for the security of other property found inefficient, impressed with these considerations," this society was organized.

The group met again at Kuster's on October 26, approved the by-laws that Dr. Stadiger presented, and elected their permanent officers: William R. Gorgas, president; Jacob Rupp, secretary; Levi Merkel, treasurer; with Robert Church and Christian Stayman a Committee on Accounts. This committee was changed in 1854 to a Board of Managers, who were then John C. Dunlap, Joseph Mosser, John Sherrick, and George H. Sherban. Gorgas, a resident of Lower Allen Township, was one of the best known citizens of the area; a representative in the Pennsylvania Assembly and first president of the Beneficial Society of Shiremanstown. He served the Society also as secretary and a member of every important committee for nearly half a century. At the Society's semi-centennial in 1886, he was one of the two surviving original members.

The historian of the Society in 1886 boasted that it differed from many other societies of the time "in that neither age nor sex, wealth nor poverty, religion nor politics will prevent a person from becoming a member.” In that year 12 women were members, although unmarried women members were not required to attend annual meetings.

The area over which the Society's protection extended was carefully defined: beginning at Goldsboro, thence along the Susquehanna River to the summit of the North Mountain, thence to Sterrett's Gap, thence to the County Poor House, thence to Sheaffer's Mill, thence to Arnold's Mill, thence to Dillsburg, thence to Rossville, thence to Newberry, thence to the point of beginning. Original members of the Society who moved not more than three miles beyond these limits, remained under its protection. In 1886 the Society's protection extended to 50 miles.

The by-laws, as amended in 1886, indicate how the Society worked. It provided its members with "good brands, containing the letters A.E. at least three-fourths of an inch long ... for branding on the [right front] hoof" and another brand, one and a half inches long, "for branding on the neck, under the mane." Any member whose horse was thus properly branded bur not recovered within three months, might be compensated at 75% of the value of the lost animal (but not to exceed $200) as determined by a disinterested committee of three, chosen by the Board of Managers and the owner. For each horse or mule branded its owner paid the Society 50 cents. Membership fee was $3, raised in 1856 to $5. Changes and amendments to the by-laws were made in 1854, 1865, 1873, and 1886.  

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