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Honor among Thieves: Horse Stealing, State-Building, and Culture in Lincoln County, Nebraska, 1860 - 1890

  • Author(s): Luckett, Matthew S
  • Advisor(s): Aron, Stephen A
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation explores the social, cultural, and economic history of horse stealing among both American Indians and Euro Americans in Lincoln County, Nebraska from 1860 to 1890. It shows how American Indians and Euro-Americans stole from one another during the Plains Indian Wars and explains how a culture of theft prevailed throughout the region until the late-1870s. But as homesteaders flooded into Lincoln County during the 1870s and 1880s, they demanded that the state help protect their private property. These demands encouraged state building efforts in the region, which in turn drove horse stealing - and the thieves themselves - underground. However, when newspapers and local leaders questioned the efficacy of these efforts, citizens took extralegal steps to secure private property and augment, or subvert, the law.

In excavating the cross-cultural history of horse theft, this dissertation challenges studies that segregate American Indian and Euro-American horse cultures and horse stealing by illustrating how both whites and American Indians used horse stealing as a means of growing herds, seeking retribution, and establishing dominion on the Plains. It also disputes the idea that the evolution of law and order on the frontier was linear and preordained, since it was not until whites perceived that they had lost their ability to control horse stealing that they made a significant effort towards stamping it out. Finally, it demonstrates how the roots of twentieth-century fears of and campaigns to reduce violent crime lie within late-nineteenth century concerns among horse-owning Midwesterners that even well-established law enforcement was ill-equipped to deal effectively with the dangers posed by horse thieves.

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