“The Pirate of the Wabash”

Columbus “Lum” Houchin, 3rd cousin 3X removed, counterfeiter, outlaw, and “The Pirate of the Wabash”. Yet another nut from the family tree.


Columbus, Gabriella Woolsey Houchin, and their son, Joseph Downey Houchin

Columbus and two of his brothers, Jesse and Joseph, his second wife, as well as a mistress, and others comprised a notorious coin counterfeiting gang active in Indiana and Southern Illinois in the late 1800s and early 1900s. After being arrested and convicted the first time, he was pardoned by Grover Cleveland in 1887…. and went right back to counterfeiting. He was arrested several more times, including during one “sting”, the breathless newspaper of which follows, and one, in 1901 when he allegedly “quit in disgust” but was in business for at least another year. Both he and Jesse were separately reported to have died after different incidents (neither was killed).

Columbus eventually dropped out of sight, seemingly finally retired. He is found on a 1910 census, living with his son Jesse, farming in Arkansas. In February 1922, Downey, seen in the photo, received a letter that was mailed from Arnot, Mississippi. Columbus states his health is bad and he can’t do anything any more. He also can’t see Jesse (his and Flora’s, his second wife, son).


Of Counterfeiters Made by General Foster and Treasury Detective in Pike County.

Abbott, Treasury Detective, said that for several years parties in this section of Indiana were suspected of dealing in counterfeit money, and about ten months ago it was determined upon to capture them. In order to more effectually fasten up on the guilty parties proofs of the most positive kind, Treasury Detective B.D. Hobbs was sent into the section of the country around Stendale, Holland, Huntingburg and Pikeville, where it was known that the manufacture and passing of counterfeit money was going on. Hobbs located in this neighborhood as a corn doctor, and went under the assumed name of Dr. Charley Henderson. The doctor, by leaving samples of his nostrums not only in the houses of those suspected, but in those of many others who were not, and having a smattering of the profession, soon won the confidence, not only of the gang, but the neighbors, and it was not long before he was check-by-jowl with everyone, especially the suspects. Among the latter was Zim Kinder, then a resident of Stendale, the acknowledged leader of the gang, which consisted of the Houchins, Lum, Jess and Joe, Barney Smitten, Henry Grossman, John Phillip Taylor, D. Wesley Woods, Joe Perkins (the man brought down last night) and others who were engaged in shoving the coin that Kinder manufactured. So far had Doc. gotten late their confidence that they let him into a scheme which they had formed for robbing the safe of a merchant named Poetiker, at Stendale, and the bank either at that place or Huntingburg. They also wanted to branch out in their business by going into the counterfeiting of paper money. Henderson was selected to procure the tools for the robberies as well as the paper on which they were to do their counterfeiting. This was about two weeks ago. Arrangement had been made by Henderson, now that he had all the proof necessary to convict the counterfeiters, to have as many of the gang together as possible on his return to that the difficulty of their capture would be lessened. To this end, he suggested that as many as could get there should be a Lum Houtchins’ house on Thursday night last. Henderson then make his further arrangement for the necessary assistance in effecting the arrests. During all of his stay among the rascals, he has called to his assistance a Mr. J.M Killian, who kept a tinware store in Stendale, and who ably assisted him when the crisis came. Four detectives with deputy marshal Andy Hart went ahead for the purpose of surrounding Houchins’ house, leaving the General to follow after. Henderson placed Abbott, Kennoch and Hart to the rear and side of the house, while he and Killian entered. Henderson, as soon as everything was ready, was to notify the detectives on the outside and they were to rush in and make the capture. Henderson was in the house about three quarters of an hour before he notified Abbott that everything was ripe. The signal for the rush to be a cough. The detectives closed up around the house and shortly after Henderson entered they heard high words, but not sufficiently distinct to tell what was said. The signal was given, but when they attempted to enter found the doors barred against them and immediately after heard pistol shots. Killlian, who was holding the lamp in the left hand was shot, in the hand, causing him to drop the lantern and pulling [?]. Abbott and Kennoch then ran around to the front door after posting Hart at the side door, and tried to get a view of what was going on inside by peeping through a window next to the door. Their faces were within two feet of the window when a pistol sot was fired through it, followed by the body of a man. The ? were afraid to shoot, for fear that it might be either Henderson or Killian. The fellow stumbled, picked himself up and ran around behind the stable where he was afterward found shot through the lungs. This proved to be Joe Houchins. A second later another man came through the door running toward the rear of the house, followed by two or three balls from the detectives’ pistols. This was the end of the firing. The officers then entered the home, and after getting a light, it was searched and ? Houchins found stowed away in it. After securing Joe and Lum, the officers commenced picking up others of the gang living in the neighborhood. The man that came through the door was caught afterward about two miles form the Houchins’ home, found shot in the groin, in the arm and in the lower part of his back. This was Jesse Houchins. Lum had the marks of two pistol balls that had cut the skin on his arm. Hart had his hat and the lapel of his coat penetrated by pistol balls. After securing the Houchins, Smitten, Grossman, Taylor and Woods were easily found, and were all brought here yesterday morning en route to Indianapolis. Kinder, who was brought down by Deputy Meeks, is still in our jail, as is Perkins. They will be taken to Indianapolis this morning by Abbot and Kennock. The detectives now think they have pretty effectually broken up the gang that has been coming on the confines of Pike an Warrick. Mr. Abbot related an instance of what these desperadoes were capable of doing and this fear they kept the neighborhood in. some time in August Houchins and Kinder went into the saloon kept by a man named Burnett and called for a couple of drinks, offering a five dollar gold piece in payment. Burnett knew the money was counterfeit, and told them so as he shoved it back to them. The words were scarcely out of his month before they both whipped out their revolvers, curling him, and told him that if he didn’t give them $4.50 in change they would blow his brains out. He gave them the change.

from the Jasper Weekly Courier, 9 Nov 1883, page 1, Jasper Indiana


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