Timeline Tuesday: Coal Thieves

Workers at Honey Creek Coal Mine, Peru, Nebr

Workers at Honey Creek Coal Mine, Peru, Nebr. RG2304-8-58


The advent of winter at one time prompted many Nebraska householders to lay in a supply of coal. Those who lacked the money sometimes found creative ways to fill the family coal bin. From Lincoln’s Daily State Journal of January 27, 1878: “A successful raid was made upon the coal thieves frequenting the [Lincoln railroad] depot night before last. Ever since last fall our dealers have been missing from one to three tons per night taken from loaded cars standing upon the track. “The loss was so heavy and the stealing becoming greater and greater, the coal dealers had a meeting a few evenings since and decided to employ three watchmen to watch their property for one night, if the scheme worked, put them on duty from night to night as the occasion demanded. Night before last was their first night on duty and before daylight the next morning four of the thieves were caught in the act with the coal on their backs and some three or four that had visited the cars and were in the act of helping themselves when they discovered the watchman. “Mr. Gillespie, one of the watchmen, overhauled a Bohemian who was lugging off a chunk that did not weigh less than 200 pounds. Every one that was found with coal, declared that it was their first attempt at stealing. The dealers inform us that at least fifteen families living about the depot have not purchased a pound of coal since last summer, and yet nice little piles may be found in their houses and at the back doors. “One man who had filled a sack, when stopped, said he had been purchasing his coal from Mr. Shaw. When that gentleman examined his books it was found that the thief had purchased a quarter of a ton last August, and no other dealer in the city had sold him a pound since that time. Those arrested were compelled to return the coal to the car, and their names taken. Yesterday morning they were sent for and all save one put in an appearance, declaring their innocence of habitual stealing and offering to compromise the matter. “The coal dealers in a body, together with the special watchmen, were guarding their property last night, and we presume will gather in a few more [thieves]. An example, it is thought, will be made of the guilty ones to-morrow.”

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