Sgt. Hickman Catches Horse Thief

     In the early morning hours of Thursday, January 24, 1901, Sgt. James Hickman of the St. Louis Police Department’s Mounted Patrol was riding in the area of Manchester and Macklind Avenues.  A couple blocks from the City of St. Louis’ limits, Sgt. Hickman observed a rider on a horse.  The rider was also guiding another horse.

     Sgt. Hickman hailed the rider and struck up a conversation with him.  The rider claimed to be from Washington, Missouri.  He told Sgt. Hickman that he was delivering the horses to a dairyman.

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Artist rendering of Sgt. Hickman’s running gun battle with a horse thief from the January 24, 1901 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

     Sgt. Hickman was suspicious of the rider’s story.  The man claimed to have left Washington at 9 pm the night before but Sgt. Hickman knew the 36 mile trip could not be made that quickly.  Sgt. Hickman also doubted the rider would have made the trip at night in the cold.  Sgt. Hickman wore a thick overcoat because of the crisp frost.

     Sgt. Hickman told the rider to accompany him to the Mounted Patrol Station in Forest Park, so he could check out his story.  The rider in his late 30s agreed to accompany Sgt. Hickman and appeared completely docile in following his commands.

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Picture of Sgt. James Hickman from the January 25, 1901 edition of the St. Louis Republic

     The men were riding for several minutes, when the rider suddenly pulled a revolver and fired a shot at Sgt. Hickman.  Sgt. Hickman could not react fast enough to stop from being shot at and one bullet struck him in the arm through his heavy overcoat.

     The rider took off with the horses and continued firing at Sgt. Hickman.  Three rounds struck his horse’s neck but Hickman’s horse was not seriously hurt.  Sgt. Hickman shot at the rider several times.  Investigators believed at least one round hit the rider.

     The rider realize he could never outpace Sgt. Hickman with both horses fastened together, so he jumped down to the frozen clay and began trying to run away with his now empty revolver.  Sgt. Hickman caught up to the man and leaped off his horse.

     Both men had emptied their revolvers, so they engaged in a ferocious battle with empty guns as clubs.  Sgt Hickman enjoyed a reputation as one of the toughest men on the force.  Despite a ten-year difference in age, Hickman pummeled the man but fatigued from the loss of his own blood.  The rider took advantage of the lull to break away from Hickman and run into the nearby Dogtown neighborhood.

     Besides the two horses, Sgt. Hickman also recovered the rider’s cap, gun and lantern.  A St. Louis County postmaster identified two of the horses as part of the three horses stolen from him overnight between January 23-24, 1901.  St. Louis Police were hopeful of identifying the thief by the items he left at the scene.

     Doctor’s were worried about Sgt. Hickman’s wounds but he made a fully recovery.  Sgt. Hickman continued with the St. Louis Police Department until his death from a heart attack on February 17, 1913.  The 62-year-old officer was born in Missouri on September 12, 1850.  Sgt. Hickman served in the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars before embarking on a 32 year St. Louis Police career.

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Sources: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 24, 1901, p. 1 and The St. Louis Republic, January 25, 1901, p. 9.

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