There’s a black sheep chicken thief in our family tree.

I found my father-in-law in the 1930 census as an “inmate” of the Kansas State Industrial Reformatory at the age of 19. Because my husband was not raised by his father, we didn’t know what he’d done.

Black Sheep Chicken Thief

Crime and Punishment

Quick Googling revealed the records of this reformatory were at the Kansas State Archives. His case file revealed he “unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously, did steal, take and carry away in the night time 24 Rhode Island Red Chickens, of the fair and reasonable value of over $20” from a neighbor. Another count of stealing 36 chickens from another farmer was dropped when he pleaded guilty to the first charge. He got five years and served almost two years before he was released.

Black Sheep Chicken Thief

Five years for $20 worth of chickens sounds excessive to me, but it does seem that he made rather a career of it and perhaps had been on probation before this.

Kansas State Industrial Reformatory

The reformatory was built in Hutchinson, Kansas: “A group called the Hutchinson Sewing Circle managed to raise $1,000 which was donated to the fund in order to purchase land for the Reformatory. The Ladies Sewing Circle … were a group of prostitutes that were operating in the Hutchinson City Limits at the time. They felt that the Reformatory was a good concept and that youth should be separated from adults in the prison system.”

But when I saw “inmate at the Kansas State Industrial Reformatory” I thought instantly of those classic movies where Bogart/Cagney have a new assignment at a juvie reformatory, where they find Dead End Kids going without food or medical care and enduring beatings. By the last reel, Bogart/Cagney fires the corrupt guards and warden and the kids promise to go straight.

Maybe I’ve watched too many 30s movies, but two years at the Kansas State Industrial Reformatory sounds pretty grim to me. And that’s the story of our black sheep chicken thief.