Horsethieves and War

This information was received from Wood Hicks, Pigs-Ear & Murphy, By Bill Pippin

   During the 1850's and 60's Potter County earned the title of "Horsethieves' Heaven." Outlaws roamed the hills around Pike Mills and Pike Center, stealing horses and anything else they could get their hands on. There was also much counterfeiting going on. As it is today, crooked officials were often in cohoots with the bad guys and everybody was seemingly getting a piece of the action.

   The most notable horsethief was Abram "Borm" Rohrabacher, a hard-drinking, hard-fighting, brawny giant of a man with the strength of an ox and the temper of a wounded bear. Before starting his career as a horse-thief, Brom had made a reputation for himself as log-driver, raftsman, and barroom brawler.

   Brom and his boys would steal horses and lead them to a dark hollow near Genesee Fork, just above West Pike. Here they would dye the horses a different color before taking them to Jersey Shore or Williamsport to be sold. Another horsethief haven in those days was the Thunder Run area.

    During the latter years of the Civil War Widger Gang was at large in Potter County, led by a dishonorable discharged Union Army Captain named Widger. Along with his brother, Widger led a band of outlaws who stole sheep and cattle and slaughtered them, selling the meat at lumber camps of shipping it out of the county in salted barrels. Eventually the entire gang was capured. One of them turned state's evidence, sending the reminder to the penitentiary.

   Before the war most of Potter County was opposed to slavery. The Underground Railroad was active here and helped many blacks on their way to freedom. There is no instance of a slave being apprehended in Potter County.

   This was the quiet, peaceful scene here in 1860 when dramatic things were happening elswhere in the nation. There were the Lincoln-Douglas debate over slavery; a commotion down at Harper's Ferry, Virginia by some people led by John Brown; Talk of secession from the Union By several southern states. And a presidential campaign was underway, with Abraham Lincoln emerging victorious.

    Then on April 12, 1861 the Civil War began. There was great excitement in Potter County at the prospect of going to war, just as there was all over the nation. Men were rapidly being recuited for the Bucktail Regiment. In May of 1861 twenty-one volunteers from Pike, West Branch and Ulysses Townships arrived in Coudersport, led by Colonel Kilbourne.

   About one-hundred volunteers were assembled from Potter County and twenty-nine were immediately shipped out in wagons, accompained by the Coudersport Brass Band for the first five miles. The military marching music was enough to make their spines tingle with anticipation.

   On August 14, 1861 the following ad appeared in the Potter County Journal, the county's only newspaper:
   "Volunteers Wanted! Boys, get ready to give me your names. I will be in every district in the county; of the time notice will be given. Let us go together, fight together and if necessary die together! Signed: John M. Kilbourne, Major commanding, Pike Mills, Pa., August 13, 1861."

   On April 16, 1862 Major John M. Kilbourne returned hame from the front (age 46). Many of those he had recuited did not return from it, including his son . It had begun with the anticipatory excitement of a big college football game with crowds cheering along the way and waving handkerchiefs. it ended in stark, sad reality after four years of indescibable bloodshed, suffering and horror.

   Authorities of that period estimated that during the last month of the war every able-bodied man in Potter County was fighting at the front and it is claimed that no other county in America matched this. At least 318 Potter Countians were Killed. About 30 prisoners of war died in Andersonville Prison.

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