Started in early 1853 by the villagers of Bentonville, Ohio, the society was originally not a very friendly group. It was started by a group of property owners in the area by necessity. You see, in that era, transportation was mainly provided by horses. And, not everyone had a horse. So, some of the less fortunate, known as “Horse Thieves”, obtained their transportation by stealing other people’s horses.
Of course, horse stealing has always been a crime. Back in those days, you can imagine that it was a serious violation of the law, not to be taken lightly. But, since there was also a lack of law enforcement in the rural village of Bentonville during the mid 1800’s, there was no organized way to enforce the law and prevent the crimes. There was also no way to effectively bring the horse thieves to justice.
The problem became so widespread that the rural village of Bentonville decided to join together and organize their own brand of law enforcement. Hence, The Bentonville Anti-Horse Thief Society was born in March of 1853.
The rules of the society were simple: anytime a horse was stolen, the trustees of the group would choose a captain and a number of riders from the membership. The captain, in turn, was to take his men and go in search of the person who violated the law and stole the horse. Once they found the thief, he (or she as the case may have been), was hanged. The stolen property was returned to its rightful owner.
As for the captain and his crew of men, they received a ten dollar reward for their capture from the treasury of The Bentonville Anti-Horse Thief Society.
If, by chance, the captain or any of the riders who were chosen for the task refused to search for the horse thief, then that man was fined five dollars.
By the early 1900’s, horse stealing wasn’t the serious problem it had been in earlier years. (Especially in Bentonville, Ohio I can imagine!) The State of Ohio had granted the society a charter a couple of decades back in 1880. So, instead of disbanding, The Bentonville Anti-Horse Thief Society, which at one time was a necessary group of vigilantes, became a friendly social club. The club continued to get together and assist local communities with financial aid when they could.
Every year, on the last Saturday in April, the society holds a banquet in their southern Ohio village. The banquet is a casual affair that’s traditionally held in the cafeteria at the Burning Heart Campground. The Burning Heart Campground is a churchly camp that was built in the Adams County village. The cafeteria has the capacity to hold nearly two hundred hungry people.
Even if you don’t own a horse, or live in or around the village of Bentonville, Ohio, you can still become a lifetime member of The Bentonville Anti-Horse Thief Society. Thousands of people across the United States already have. The club allows “anyone, anywhere, to be members today.” Gaining membership couldn’t be easier. All you have to do is send one dollar (in US funds, of course), to:
Bentonville Anti- Horse Thief Society
c/o Mrs. Verna Naylor
Bentonville, Ohio 45105
No, the envelope doesn’t need a street address to reach Mrs. Naylor. Because, you see, Mrs. Naylor is the postmaster for the village. The Bentonville Post Office is headquartered inside her house. The spry eighty-nine year old is the postmaster- plus- she is the President of The Bentonville Anti-Horse Thief Society.
Be sure to include your name and complete address along with the dollar you send to the society. In return, you’ll receive a membership card that identifies you as being a life-long member.