Dakota Datebook

Chicken Rustlers

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Two alleged ‘chicken rustlers’ were arrested in Valley City on this date in 1922 by Sheriff Larson on charges of repeated chicken theft. The two men hailed from Pine City, Minnesota, and appeared to be operating a wide-scale chicken rustling scheme in which they would drive into rural areas of North Dakota, steal live chickens from area farms, and then transport the chickens back to Fargo to sell.

In early May, Sheriff Larson had received reports from area farmers Joe Starke and John Ravelin that chickens had gone missing from their flocks. He had therefore been “…keeping an eye out for possible thieves” when he noticed two out-of-town men acting strangely on the streets of the city. Upon investigation, he discovered that the car they were driving had chicken crates in the rear seat. The crates had been covered with blankets to avoid detection. The culprits were taken to the county jail and later arraigned before Judge Mow.

Although surprising, the crime of chicken theft was not unheard of, and was common enough in the early 20th century to be the subject of popular culture; in 1903, a black-and-white silent film was released by the S. Lubin Production Company titled Stealing Chickens. The short comedy detailed the escapades of two chicken rustlers caught in the act by a shotgun-wielding farmer. In 1919, Cloyd Haggard of Lima, Ohio, was sentenced to two years in the state penitentiary for stealing chickens.

Although a common and relatively inexpensive commodity today, the value and small, portable size of chicken made their theft profitable and tempting to early 19th century thieves, especially during the shortages caused by World War I. In 1922, when the Valley City chicken rustlers were captured, the average price of chicken in the United States was nearly 40¢ a pound, just higher than the price of cheese. Factoring for inflation and converting this to the value of today’s dollar, this would be the equivalent of five dollars and thirty-one cents a pound, meaning the short-lived chicken crime spree of Starke and Ravelin in rural Barnes County was possibly quite profitable.


Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job



http://www.infomercantile.com/dakota_death_trip/Chicken_Rustlers_1334437802.html (Dakota Death Trip blog posted by D. Dahlsad, The Bismarck Tribune, May 16, 1922).



United States Dept of Agriculture, 1938. Miscellaneous Publication 281-283: p. 56. Washington, DC.

New York State College of Agriculture at Cornell University, October 1922. National Poultry, Butter, and Egg Bulletin, Vol. 7 (No. 1). Ithaca, NY.


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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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