In 1914, cars were a rarity. The well-to-do had them, most everyone else had horses. The horse was the sole means of transportation, and to lose it to a thief would mean great inconvenience. The police did what they could do, but many thieves went unapprehended. Thus, in 1914, a vigilante group formed in Miami called the Anti-Horse Thief Association. Incidentally, the first one was formed around 1859 in Ft. Scott, Kansas.
It was a secret society, for good reason: in addition to catching thieves and turning them over to the authorities, they would sometimes dispense their own form of justice, which would typically involve a rope in a tree. Keeping the membership secret would discourage retaliation from the thieves’ friends and family. Plus, if the thieves didn’t know who the members were, they wouldn’t avoid them.
As the years went by, the group performed fewer lynchings and became less secret. A May 1930 article in the News-Record gives minutes from a group meeting in Vinita where officers were elected and named. They would post signs on properties advertising rewards of 25 to 50 dollars for the arrest and conviction of thieves of any type of property. By 1947, the national group had changed their name to the Anti-Thief Association.
By the 50’s, the group had faded away nationwide. There are still scattered branches, but they have become social clubs, not vigilante groups. Nowadays, we have Neighborhood Watch programs to keep an eye out for wrongdoers. But step back to Miami’s early years, and there was a similar organization with a lot more teeth.