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August 30: Hen Heists

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On this date in 1923, a search was launched in pursuit of an organized crime group active in the Aneta area. Thieves had been targeting local farmers with innovative tactics. What was the crime, you may be wondering? These criminal masterminds were stealing chickens.

Typically, when chicken thefts occurred, they were noisy endeavors. The chickens would squawk, and farmers would often catch the criminals in the act. What made this particular band of chicken thieves successful was their silence. Sometimes chickens were even left behind in a lethargic state. As a result, authorities suspected that the group was using gas or other means to stun the chickens. Another possible method was poison.

This cunning band of chicken thieves was believed responsible for the disappearance of nearly 2,000 chickens in the Aneta area in just two weeks! However, what started as a local scheme, quickly turned into a widescale chicken and turkey spree, with the poultry pillagers making their way south to Valley City, where in late August, they stole at least 300 chickens from a single farm! In September, 25 white leghorns were taken from a Jamestown area barn in one night.

Reports of chicken and turkey thefts continued into December, appearing in newspapers all over the state. In Northwood, a barn containing horses and chickens was even set on fire by the chicken thieves.

Soon, the culprits’ luck began to run out. In Sykeston, a burglar was caught hiding in an underground room he had dug under a coop with chickens he stole the previous night. He was shot and killed on the spot.

One Fessenden farmer heard a commotion in his hen house in the middle of the night. He got up to investigate, spotted four supposed chicken thieves, and shot three of them dead and seriously injured the fourth.

It remains a mystery whether the thefts were linked or the work of copycats. Nonetheless, the sheer volume and variety of the crimes indicates the poultry thefts of 1923 were no coincidence.

Dakota Datebook by Shelby Kriewald

August 30, 1923, The Bismarck Tribune, p. 1.
August 30, 1923, Westhope Standard, p. 1.
September 1, 1923, The Bismarck Tribune, p. 4.
September 25, 1923, The Bismarck Tribune, pp. 1-2.
September 27, 1923, The Foster county Independent, p. 7.
September 28, 1923, The Bismarck Tribune, p. 1.
October 4, 1923, Ward County Independent, p. 9.
October 18, 1923, The Foster County Independent, p. 3.
October 25, 1923, Flasher Tribune, p. 1.
November 8, 1923, Bottineau Courant, p. 1.
November 8, 1923, Ward County Independent, p. 12.
December 6, 1923, The Bismarck Tribune, p. 7.
December 12, 1923, The Hillsboro Banner, p. 1.
December 12, 1923, The Minot Daily News and Minot Daily Optic-Reporter, p. 5.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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