Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Salome Whitman — A First for Women

Well, it is a first.
The article in the Lancaster Daily Intelligencer of August 20, 1884, says that Salome Whitman was a historic first a woman in the state of Pennsylvania, but before you start lauding her as a early feminist, you should know that what Ms. Whitman was a first at was that she was first woman convicted in Pennsylvania of stealing horses.

This is sort of astonishing. Pennsylvania became a state with the rest of the original thirteen states. Is the Lancaster Daily Intelligencer really telling us that the state went from the Federal period, through the Civil War, all the way to 1884 stealing horses? What was wrong with the women of Pennsylvania?

She was arrested on July 13, 1884. The Richmond Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia reported that
A Lancaster (Pa.) special of the 14th instant says: Salome Whitman, a young married woman, only twenty-one years of age, was lodged in the county prison last night on the charge of horse-stealing. She stole the team of Casper Showalter on Saturday night, and after driving several miles offered the team for sale, and was taken into custody. She declares that she was induced to commit the act by a son of Abe Buzzard, but her story is not believed. She seems utterly indifferent about her fate. She is the first woman ever arrested in this county for horse-stealing.
The reports on Whitman make note that she is young and attractive. The report on her conviction reads:
The Female Horse Thief
Salome Whitman has gained the notoriety of being the first woman in Pennsylvania convicted of the high crime of horse stealing. She is rather a good looking young woman, has been married only a short time, and said she did not know where her husband was. After the grand inquest had returned a true bill against her she conclude to save the time of the court and jury by entering a plea of guilty. Her story was that she lived in the East Earl township, near the Welsh mountain, an one night a few weeks ago, when on the road home, in company with a young son of Abe Buzzard, he told her to steal the team of Caskey Showalter, which was hitched in front of a house along a road. She did as he told her and drove the team to her home, and it was recovered there the next day. The court said in view of her youth they would make the punishment as light as consistent with justice. She was then sentenced to undergo an imprisonment of one year and eight months in the county prison. She appeared to be less concerned about the sentence than the members of the bar grouped around her while the court was addressing her.
Some variation here from the first report. Did she try to sell the horses or not? Abe Buzzard was the leader of a fairly notorious gang of thieves in the Lancaster area.

Whitman’s time in prison didn’t stop her from getting into the newspapers. On December 3, 1884, the Daily Cairo Bulletin reported that Whitman and another female prisoner “had made a hole” in their cell in order to communicate with two male prisoners.
Illicit Love Behind Prison Bars, and What Came of It.
Lancaster, PA., December 8.—At a meeting of the Prison Inspectors yesterday, it was revealed that Salome Whitman, a horse thief, and Frances Fisher, another notorious woman in the same cell, had made a hole through to the cell of Geo. Spangler and Thomas Shape, with whom they had constant communications. The female horse thief has made a confession of her guilt, which involves a an illegitimate child as the result of this unheard of shame. The only action of the Inspector so far has been to censure the prison officials. The affair is the sensation of the hour.
How big was this hole? And by “communications,” it’s clear that they weren’t talking about casual conversation, because long talks about the nature of the corrections systems in the nineteenth century weren’t going to lead to an illegitimate child. Further, Whitman’s association with the rougher elements of society seemed to continue. The final news article on her is from The Saint Paul Daily Globe reported on June 19,1886, that Whitman had married. But that didn’t keep her out of trouble.
A Pair of Thieves.
Special to the Globe.
Lancaster, Pa., June 18.—Salome Buck, alias Salome Whitman, a famous female character known all over Eastern Pennsylvania, is in trouble here again. She has served terms in jail for burglary and horse stealing, she having just been released from jail here after serving two years for stealing a fine pair of trotters and driving them into Maryland. When she left jail Scaly Smith, a well-known mountaineer and jail bird, met her at the door and they went at once and got married. Smith on the night of his marriage committed a burglary and was taken to jail the next day. Last night his wife was locked up in prison on the same charge. She is pretty and muscular. Her stealings amount to thousands of dollars.
Ah, the honeymoon. Get married and rob some stuff. Together.

This colorful and notorious figure seems to vanish from the record after that. Nor could I found her in any censuses. I’m sure she preferred it that way.
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  1. Maybe the pre-1884 female horse thieves were just better at not getting caught?

  2. That is entirely possible. Ms. Whitman doesn't exactly strike one as a criminal mastermind, does she?


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