Stealing Horses

Can you imagine a time when stealing a horse (or two) could earn you hard time in San Quentin?

Meet the men who accomplished that feat: Frank Adamson and James Carey. In October of 1912, Frank stole a horse and buggy in Turlock that belonged to Emil Johnson. He drove it to Fresno and on the way he picked up his buddy, Carey. When the pair got to Fresno they sold Johnson’s horse and buggy and stole another one that belonged to Albert Bowen. Then they drove Bowen’s “rig” to Coalinga, where the city marshal, Eddie Burns, apprehended them.

The law did not take stealing horses lightly: Johnson and Bowen were likely to have been put out of business when their transportation suddenly vanished.

It seems quaint now, but back in the day lawmen out west communicated about wanted men by sending out flyers or “circulars” to their fellow lawmen in other communities. Marshal Burns had gotten one of these communiqués from the sheriff of Ventura, E.G. Martin. Thinking he might have rounded up the crooks Martin was after, he wrote to him to check on whether the men he had in custody were the ones wanted in Martin’s jurisdiction.

Marshal Burns must have been a very thorough man because he even commissioned photos of the culprits. A picture, after all, is worth a thousand words. He fastened the photos together and sent them, along with a letter, to provide Martin with a visual of the suspects.

horse thief letter

Neither man was wanted in Ventura, but 24-year-old Adamson owned up to Burns about his lengthy prison record. He said he had been a prison trusty (an inmate deemed trustworthy who got special privileges) in Stockton, where he was serving a six month sentence for stealing a bicycle, when he abused that trust by escaping. He’d also done two years in a penitentiary in his native New Zealand. Not to mention that he’d served time in British Columbia and in Ashland, Oregon.

They were convicted of grand larceny. Carey, a 36-year-old native of The Emerald Isle, apparently had no priors, but he was dumb enough to go along for the ride with Adamson. It earned him four years in San Quentin. Adamson, the “Kiwi,” got six years.

Adamson and Carey SQ
San Quentin prisoner inmate photos of Adamson and Carey. California State Archives

Adamson was deported back to New Zealand after he was released in 1917.

Featured: suspect photos of Frank Adamson and Jim Carey taken October 26, 1912 in Coalinga, California.

11 thoughts on “Stealing Horses

  1. Nice history lesson. As a “reward” and “wanted” postcard collector, I have several cards that were sent out to jurisdictions notifying departments of stolen horses and buggies. Sometimes the rewards were partially paid for by the Anti-Horse Thief Association. For liability reasons, the sender of the card, usually a law enforcement agency, was careful to state that the horse was either “lost or stolen.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope there wasn’t a Pro-Horse Thief Association! Seriously, I love it when I can find a photo or two, along with a letter that was sent by the sheriff or marshal. The postcards and wanted posters are also quite fascinating! Thanks for reading and posting, Jim.

      Like

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