Constituting whiteness: The National Horse Thief Detective Association and racial mores in Indiana, 1850–1930

Erik C Wade, Purdue University


This dissertation tells the story of the National Horse Thief Detective Association (NHTDA) based in Indiana, a group that has received little attention until now. The NHTDA represents a story of how white supremacy was state sanctioned and enabled the transformation of Indiana into a modern political domain. I argue that the framing of the 1851 Indiana constitution and the development of the NHTDA offer a top-down-bottom-up model for examining how the boundaries and performances of citizenship in the United States along the lines of race, property, and the law are constructed and fostered. The NHTDA was composed of white propertied men that were granted the right to organize by the state for the protection of their property against criminals. The association began in central Indiana in 1845 with one company; by 1926 there were as many as 300 active companies, some of which formed alliances with the second wave of the Ku Klux Klan. I contend that the attitudes that produced the 1851 Indiana constitution directly reflected not only the anxiety over and resistance to black immigration and equality, but also influenced other movements based on local interests and social discrimination. In the case of the NHTDA, their activities persisted for nearly a century, which is testimony to how "natural" white supremacy was in Indiana.




Curtis, Purdue University.

Subject Area

American studies|American history|Law|Ethnic studies

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