The Chicken Thief History
Nebraska Website - Nebraska Mug Shots history.nebraska.gov website; put “mug shots”
in search box at top right of screen. We will call this man “John
Criminal Offense: Chicken theft – [1 year sentence] Offense Location: Nebraska
Mug shot shows a middle aged man with medium brown
hair [hard to tell color in black & white picture]
Who was this man?
Born in Indiana in 1877 –
Parents homesteaded in eastern part of the county soon after his birth.
He grew up there on family farm. 1902 – John, now 23 and farming on his own,
married a girl in a neighboring community.
Sept 1909 – wife died
leaving 3 small children. Her sister moved in to care for them
1910 census in April lists
his occupation as chauffeur in the auto industry He had
apparently given up farming because he was living in town Now
the troubles begin Feb 1913 – Charged with
another man of stealing hides; pled innocent
4 days later appeared in court on a charge of forgery for passing several
forged checks last fall.
later he was one of four prisoners caught attempting to escape.
The noise made by another of the four as he tried to dismantle the lock on
the cell door with a case knife and
fork attracted the deputy.
[probably not his idea, just happened to be in cell with man who tried to
March 1913 – “Smith” found guilty of forgery and sentenced to 1-20
yrs. But the judge
recommended leniency so he would probably serve only one year.
The charge of grand larceny for stealing the hides was dropped.
[So that chicken theft sentence was apparently not his first trip to the
After his release Apparently came back home and went to work
farming with his father, had 3 boys to support 1918 draft registration - Age
40; medium height, medium build, blue eyes, light brown hair Farmer.
Worked for his father all summer. Expects to farm for himself next year
Remarried, maybe twice, and had a daughter
Farmed on his own
Depression hit and with it more trouble
March 1931 – Headline “Home Made Burglar
Alarm Stops Theft” A farm couple southeast of Gibbon raised
a lot of chickens
Set up an alarm to prevent anyone from stealing their chickens by attaching
a mousetrap at the chicken barn door
with an electric wire that would ring a bell in their living room and
bedroom if tripped.
also backed their car in position so that if the headlights were turned on,
they would shine on the chicken
night the alarm rang.
ran out to the car and turned on the lights in time to see the thief run out
of the chicken house with a sack
of chickens in one hand and more in his other hand.
Thief dropped the chickens
in his hand but ran away with the sack of ten chickens which had a value of
more than $5.
In his haste to get away, he left on foot instead
of taking the car he had driven over there.
Husband called the sheriff
who identified “John Smith” as the car owner.
Sheriff found “Mr. Smith”
in his bed at home. When
arrested, “Smith” insisted he had done nothing wrong, that his car must have
been stolen. April 1931 – After a trial and
over 24 hours of deliberation by the jury, “Smith” was acquitted.
[So this is not when the mug shot was taken.]
Maybe because he
got away with it once he thought he could do it again.
Or maybe the Depression was hitting him hard and he was desperate
– “John Smith” was again charged with chicken theft and he again pleaded not
December 1932 – But this time he was found guilty and sentenced to
one year in the state penitentiary. [so
this must be when the mug shot was taken]
Then what happened to him?
Returned to Buffalo County but did
not go back to farming on his own
Maintained relationships with his children,
visiting them and helping them with their businesses
Generally was helpful
around town, apparently leading an honest and peaceful life.