I have come across many independent telephone systems in rural parts of Indiana incorporated during the early 1900s. The Peoples’ Cooperative Telephone Company, headquartered in the village of Bowers, Montgomery County, Indiana, was incorporated on January 8, 1902, and reincorporated on November 10, 1922. This is an unusual example because the company stayed in existence to 1945. Most of the independent telephone companies lasted maybe ten to twenty years. Also, many of their incorporation papers would have dozens of subscribers’ signatures, whereas this document was signed only by the five directors and did not include the rest of the subscribers to the telephone system. Also note that this incorporation document was very primitive; I doubt if a lawyer was ever consulted.
“The said Corporation proposes to establish, maintain, and operate Telephone lines and Exchanges in the counties of Montgomery and Boone in the state of Indiana, with exchange at Bowers, Indiana. [ Bowers was a railroad stop and was also named Bowers Station.]The amount of capital stock of this company is $600.00, and is divided into 150 shares.” The 1922 reincorporation explained that each share cost $4.00. Also, the 1908 corporation report stated that the use of the system for each subscriber was raised to 10 cents. I wonder if that meant 10 cents per call?
The original directors of the Company were Martin L. Clouser – a farmer who lived in Thorntown, Montgomery County, and was the manager of the Company through 1940 when he was 70 years of age. His wife Goldie was the Company’s bookkeeper. John H. Hutchison – in 1903 he was listed as the Postmaster of Bowers with an annual salary of $138.95. He later moved to Morgan County, Indiana, where he worked as a farmer. Lewis Kirk – he was a farmer and machinist who owned several thrashing machines, and also an oil drilling business. George W. Deck and Marshel Hampton were farmers in Bowers.
Seymour Detective Association No. 320. Seymour, Jackson County, Indiana. June 18, 1923. “The object of this corporation shall be for the purpose of detecting and apprehending horse thieves and other felons, and for mutual protection and indemnity against the acts of thieves and felons.” This was a “fill in the blanks” form letter that also described the organization of the Company into a captain, lieutenants, and constables. There were ten signatures on the second page of this document, which I believe was the minimum membership for a company.
According to the Biennial Report of the Secretary of State of Indiana for companies incorporated in Indiana there were 123 of these vigilante companies formed between November 1, 1906 and September 30, 1908. In comparison there were nine new Detective Association companies in 1918, according to the Journal of the Fifty-Eighth Annual Session of the National Horse Thief Detective Association held in Richmond, Indiana of October 1-2, 1918. This Journal also claimed there were 8,810 members of the Association at that date, and that 5 horses, 14 autos, 18 sheep, and 1 robe [?] had been recovered that year. Some of the Companies had descriptive names such as the Good Intent Horse Thief Detective Association No. 159, the Invincible Detective Association of Koscuisco County, Ind. No. 29, and the Young America Detective Association.
The Association’s 1918 Annual Journal also included a patriotic speech and an appreciation of participation in the meeting by a twelve-year old girl. With a membership of 8,810 and only 38 recoveries made by them in 1918, one wonders if the Association wasn’t more of a social get-together than a detection and apprehension organization.
There is discussion about whether and when this Association, formed in Indiana in the decade before the Civil War, morphed into a white supremacy group. When the KKK became dominant in Indiana politics in the 1920s, they infiltrated the NHTDA. An Indiana state law allowed members of the Association to travel across state lines to chase and apprehend felons, including “nomadic band[s] of gypsies” and those who “live in idleness, having no visible or known means of earning a fair, honest and reputable livelihood”. This phrase could be broadly interpreted and I can see why the KKK would want to participate in this organization.