May Calvin, female horse thief

Larry Wood

Larry Wood


During an eleven-year period from 1891 to 1902, an unusual outbreak of horse thievery by women occurred in Southwest Missouri. At least three young women from the region made headlines across the country for their horse-thieving antics during this period, but perhaps the most notorious was May Calvin.

May came to Webb City from Thayer, Missouri, around 1890, when she was about fifteen years old. Shortly afterward, she dropped out of school and joined Robinson’s Circus in St. Louis as a rider. Before long, she came back to southwest Missouri and drifted across the state line into Kansas, where she went on a criminal spree.

About the middle of October, 1892, May stole a horse and buggy at Fort Scott and immediately started south. She was captured at Weir City, brought back to Fort Scott, and placed in the Bourbon County jail. However, her youth and good looks won her the sympathy of the prosecutors, and the case against her was dismissed on January 21, 1893.

Less than twelve hours after gaining her freedom, May appropriated a horse and buggy from a barn near Hepler, Kansas, and drove back to Fort Scott. She then “drove furiously” to Nevada, Missouri. There she left the stolen rig at a livery as security for another horse and buggy and resumed her mad dash. The day after she passed through Nevada, a posse captured her, and she was turned over to Kansas authorities for the Hepler heist.

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