The Horse Theives - As told by Alex Rankin

In 1882, when absent from homestead duties, I took part in a hunt for horse—thieves, and three stolen horses. The thieves had stolen the horses from a man of Calf Mountain, near Morden, and were travelling westward near the boundary when overtaken by the sheriff. They would not surrender either themselves or the horses, but told him to take them dead or alive if he could. The sheriff did not shoot, but called out some of the nearest settlers to help him, and the thieves were over-taken beside a large slough; but they still defied the sheriff to take them, alive or dead. Some who had rifles wanted to shoot, but others restrained them especially a young man by the name of J. W. Smaill, from Crystal City, who, strongly advised them not to shoot, for if they should happen to kill the men they could be tried for murder under British law, even though the men were thieves. In the meantime, while the sheriff and settlers were parleying with the outlaws, two brothers, by the name of McKitrick had crept close enough to the horses, through the long grass to stampede them, so the horses were caught, but the thieves escaped. The sheriff was satisfied to get the horses, and let the men go. The thieves traveled about seven miles east that night, and stole three horses from the Lynes brothers. They then went a few miles west and crossed the boundary into Dakota.

The next morning the men of the settlement, well armed, followed their tracks, resolved this time to get them. There was not a man left but myself and a young fellow by the name of Alex Mutch. When the women of the district realized that all the men were away, and that they had no provisions or extra clothing, they got us to take a team and wagon and go around the settlement gathering up provisions. We started out, well supplied with bread, tea, pork and flour, also overcoats and quilts, as rain had come on, and they expected the men would be away for several days and the nearest settlement in Dakota was at Devil’s Lake, sixty miles away.

We met many of the men returning their ardour to catch the outlaws being dampened by the rain and chill. However, we continued our journey until we overtook the leaders of the party, just before dusk.

When it became too dark to follow the tracks further, we, unhitched our horses and tied them around the wagon, and prepared our own supper. Then we spread our quilts under the wagon, and laid down and tried to sleep, but the rain trickled through the bottom of the wagon box and sleep was out of the question. We moved out into the open, so that the rivulets could not reach us. With two horse blankets on the ground, and our quilts over us, we tried to sleep in the drizzling rain. There were eight of us, the ones behind crowding out those in front, so that he, too, got in behind, and thus we tried to keep warm, as we were chilled to the marrow although it was the last week in June.

With the breaking of the day we had our breakfast, and then resumed our tracking, We followed the tracks until well on in the day, and they led us away to the south-west, toward Bismark. We changed our course south for Devil’s Lake, or Fort Totten, where we might get assistance from the militia, or the Indian scouts.

We camped on the north side of the lake that night, crossed over by the ferry in the morning, reaching the fort, and found that the men we were seeking had been there all night; having travelled around the end of the lake, and had left only an hour before we arrived. We asked the major in command if we overtook the men, and they would not give up the horses, if we had the right to fire on them, even if’ we should kill. “Oh”, he said, there is no law in the United States protecting horse thieves, you take your own chance. There we had the difference between the law of the United States and the law of Britain.

The Lvnes boys offered seventy five dollars reward for their three horses, or twenty-five for each horse, and the commandant sent some of the Indian scouts with us. We came on our men where they had camped for dinner. The Indians had spread out, and came on them from different directions. The Indians drew their revolvers and the thieves surrendered. They made them deliver their guns, and give up the horses, then to our great surprise they let the men go.

When they returned to the Fort they were asked why they did not bring in the men too. They replied, “Reward for horses, no 'reward for men.”

They were given the seventy-five dollars, and the officer in charge allowed them to keep the guns and revolvers they had taken from the men and the Indians were happy. We were happy too,’ as we started back over the trail, and we reached home safely on the first day of July.