Anti-Horse Thief Association

The Anti-Horse Thief Association (AHTA) was first organized in 1854 by David McKee, a farmer and stock raiser, in Clark County, Missouri. McKee envisioned an organization for the protection of property, especially horses, which was often stolen by thieves living in the border area between Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa, where he lived. The AHTA quickly grew, and soon there were chapters and suborders in several states. In spite of its name, the basic principle of the organization was opposition to law violations of any kind, not just horse theft. Members were to bring criminals to justice, not through vigilantism, but through the court system. AHTA's emblem, the horseshoe, stood for Humanity, Charity, and Justice.

Every year the suborders' presidents would appoint members to serve on pursuing committees, otherwise known as posses. If a theft or other crime occurred, the pursuing committee tracked the offender until his capture. In addition to pursuing committees, AHTA developed vigilance committees whose members kept suspicious persons under surveillance by watching their homes and sometimes following them. In order to obtain evidence, members would occasionally spend days watching the home of a certain thief, as well as a trail or river crossing suspected of being used by criminals.

One of the more notable manhunts involving AHTA members was the protracted search for outlaws Dick Yeager and Ike Black during the summer of 1895. Both were wanted for numerous offenses, including robbery. They had a knack for eluding the law. For two months posses of various deputy sheriffs, constables, and AHTA members pursued the duo over much of Oklahoma Territory and eventually fatally shot Black and mortally wounded Yeager.

In 1916 AHTA had over forty thousand members in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, lllinois, Arkansas, New Mexico, Colorado, and South Dakota. By 1933 AHTA members noted that thieves were stealing fewer horses and other stock but observed that many other types of petty thefts were being committed with greater regularity. As horses ceased to be the primary mode of transportation, the organization changed its name to the Anti-Thief Association (ATA). In subsequent years AHTA, and later ATA, became more of a social and fraternal group than an arm of law enforcement. Most lodges held annual family picnics with planned activities such as horse races, roping events, and other competitions.

Ritual of the Anti-Horse Thief Association   
Ritual of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Anti-Thief Association