Dakota Datebook

Southeast ND Horse Rustlers

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

It took a year and some fancy police work, but on this date in 1939, three members of a horse rustling gang were finally caught and put behind bars.
It all started in June of 1938 when Charles Pollard, a LaMoure County farmer reported that three of his horses had disappeared. Sheriff Leo Stowman soon learned that some horses near Jamestown were also missing. At the time, the evidence didn’t show whether the horses were stolen, or had just run away.
Two Barnes County farmers also reported they too had lost horses. Heading to the scene of this last crime, Sheriff Stowman found his first tangible evidence. It had rained the night before, and tire prints were clearly visible in the mud. He also found straw left behind from the horse thieves’ truck. Sheriff Stowman now concluded that a horse rustling ring was operating in the area.
Sheriff O.K. Bitz from Stutsman County and Sheriff Charles Paulson of LaMoure County began the slow and tedious task of hunting for suspects. They watched highways day and night, looking for trucks and strange drivers. Horse markets in Minnesota and South Dakota were also checked.
Sheriff A. F. Roethke of Cass County and Sheriff A.P. Tiedemann of Ransom County also became involved with the search.
Finally the case began to break. Sales slips and a check of the horse markets led the sheriffs to Lee J. Brown and Gehard Haney of Casselton. A background check on Brown showed that he had spent time in the state prison for assault.
In late September of 1939, they arrested Haney and he soon confessed to stealing the horses. He implicated Brown and Lew Pitchow, another Casselton farmer. Pichow also confessed to the crime, but Lee Brown still held out.
The sheriffs told Brown that his two companions had confessed, and that most of the horses had been found. Eventually, Brown too finally “fessed-up.”
Cooperative efforts by the sheriffs of five counties and their “dog-ed” police work ended with convictions. The three men were put behind bars and twenty-one of the horses were recovered.

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, Monday Evening, November 20, 1939. pg.2.

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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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