could be Buffalo's crossing the platte

 Research Papers

Today is:

                                                   The Chicken Thief

History Nebraska Website - Nebraska Mug Shots website; put “mug shots” in search box at top right of screen.

    We will call this man “John Smith”

    Criminal Offense: Chicken theft – [1 year sentence]
    Offense Location: Nebraska State Penitentiary

     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.

        10 days 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 escape]

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 state pen.]

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 rented farm

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.

        They also backed their car in position so that if the headlights were turned on, they would shine on the chicken

Late one night the alarm rang.

        Wife 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

November 1932 – “John Smith” was again charged with chicken theft and he again pleaded not guilty

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.

Died in 1961

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Revised: 04/27/2019