Scholla: Bernville Horse Association

Bernville Horse Association

There are still a few old-timers who are still among us who were members of the efficient society against horse stealing, known as “Der Pferde Gesellchaft von Bernville.” It was organized in 1863 and continued to collect dues from its members down into the first decade of the present century.

The first published set of Regelen und Nemen- Gesetze was issued in the German language in 1863. Five years later the same version appeared in English as the rules and by-laws are: John Groff, William Potteiger, Adam N. Potteiger, Samuel Balthaser, and Gabriel Dundore. Elias Bickel was the president and John Staudt was the treasurer.

Annual meetings were held in the “lower” hotel in Bernville on the first Saturday in November. A fine of 25 cents was imposed upon each non-attending members. Each commissioner was assigned a number of “riders” whose duty it was to set out in pursuit of the horse thief within four hours after receiving notice of the theft. Rewards were offered to the pursuers, the size of the reward depending upon the number of miles he was obliged to ride before apprehending the thief.

If the stolen horse was not recovered the owner was entitled to receive a sum of money as his insurance payment provided that he had met certain requirements. First of all the owner of the horse had to be a member of the association. No one living at a distance of more than nine miles from Bernville was eligible for membership. Each horse was to be branded on its left fore-foot with a cross of prescribed dimensions and the mark had to be renewed from time to time to make sure that it was always visible. Owners were required to record the age, size, color, and every peculiar mark of all of his horses in the association’s book. If all of these requirements were met a committee of three was chose to determine the value of the stolen animal. If the treasury was not equal to the payment of these sums an assessment was levied upon the entire membership.

One curious provision of the by-laws provides as follows:

“Should the association at any time dissolve, or the majority desire it, the fund (in the treasury) shall be distributed in equal shares among the legitimate members.”

Another by-law provided that if the treasurer was “intentionally” absent from the annual meeting he should pay a fine of $50.

The organization served more as deterrent against horse stealing than as an agency for recovering stolen horses. This writer has interviewed a number of persons who served as “riders” pursuing thieves into the Welsh Mountains or northward toward Pottsville. But not one of them was present at the capture if thief and none could tell of horses being retrieved.

Perhaps there are some readers of this column who could furnish interesting details about trailing horse thieves. We would welcome such information. In answering please remember the cardinal points of reporting news—Who, where, when, what and why.

Archival Notes: The American House was the hotel that the Bernville Horse Association held their annual meetings. On the property the Hotel also had a horse sale and exchange stable. For more information you can consult the Passing Scene volume 21, page 243, as well as other volumes of the Passing Scene.

American House Hotel August 1907 during "Old Home Week." Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.
American House Hotel August 1907 during “Old Home Week.” Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.
The American House August 16, 1923 while the building was being remodeled to become a shoe factory. The building was condemned and demolished in 1940.
The American House August 16, 1923 while the building was being remodeled to become a shoe factory. The building was condemned and demolished in 1940.

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