The Little Cities Archive

Shawnee, Ohio

The Legend of “Shep Tinker’ By Arnold Van Horn, Jr.

Posted by littlecitiesarchive on July 15, 2010


Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines a legend as (a) a story coming down from the past, one popularly regarded as historical although not verified, (b) a body of such stories, (c) a popular myth of recent origin, (d) a person or thing that inspired legends.  When we look at the stories of “Shep” Tinker we find that the stories fit several of these definitions.

During this article, I will not try to prove or disprove most of the stories that many of us have heard most of our life.  Since “Shep” lived in at least three of the counties in our area, and traveled in several additional ones, the stories are varied and in some cases very far fetched. I will try to give some of the stories that have been passed down from generations to generations.  I will try to let the reader decide what to believe and what to disbelieve.

Some of the facts that can be verified are as follows:  The History of Hocking Valley published in 1883, pages 786 & 787, relate a little of the history of the Tinker family.  Since Charles S. Tinker (brother) was born in Hamshire County, Mass, there is a good possibility that Shepard was born there also.  While the boys were young, the family moved to Canada and stayed there until the start of the War of 1812.  The family then returned to Albany, New York.  They lived there for about five years and then moved to Virginia for a short time.  The family then moved to Ohio.  First they located in Muskingum County and then on to Perry County.  “Shep’s parents were Elisha and Lydia (“Shepard) Tinker.  They bought land in Monroe Township near the Irish Ridge Road.  The Tinker Cemetery on Dew Road contains their last resting-place.

Shepard (“Shep”) H. Tinker married Mary Ann Blackstone on February 15, 1834 in Athens County, Ohio, (Vol. #1, page 206) Athens County Marriage Records.  During their married life they lived in Perry, Morgan, and Hocking Counties.  They may have lived in others that I have not found as yet.  They owned a lot of land in those counties.

In his unpublished story, “Shep” Tinker – The Robin Hood of Southeastern Ohio” by W. W. Higgins, the author relates that “Shep” was a horse trader, and his brother drove a “Yankee peddler” wagon over several counties for one of “Shep’s” business ventures.  It can be easily seen how the reputation of being a horse thief came into being.  No doubt some of those that dealt with him and other horse dealers may have thought they had been robbed after they had the horse for a few days.  Many of the horses traded by horse traders of the time were not as good as they were built up to be.

From this point, for a while, we will deal with some of the stories that have been handed down over the years.  Once again when we look at the story by Higgins, he relates that the story was told that one of the ways that “Shep”: and his helpers would get horses was to pose as a traveling preacher or circuit rider.  While “Shep” was preaching, his helpers would help themselves to the horses that belonged to the congregation.  When the theft was discovered, “Shep” would help to head the searchers in the wrong direction.  Another way that Higgins related that they got horses was for “Shep” and his helpers to pose as members of the Anti-Horsethief Association.  They convinced the local horse breeders that “Shep” Tinker and his gang were planning a raid on local stables.  “Shep” and his crew agreed to help with a 24-hour vigil over the horses.  After the locals were tired out and went to sleep, “Shep” and his crew quietly took the horses.

In the Wayne National Forest leaflet “Point of Interest – Tinker’s Cave”, it gives the name of Seth Tinker and not “Shep”.  It speaks of the one “Tinker’s Cave” just south of New Straitsville, Ohio.  In the article, it relates that Tinker was a noted horse thief and would take horses from Northern Ohio and bring them to Southern Ohio.  He would in turn take horses from Southern Ohio north.  This article gives one story when “Shep” supposedly had taken a horse, and the owner was in pursuit.  The horse was dark without any white on it.  Tinker then put a white cloth around the nose of the horse.  In the twilight, the owner did not recognize his own horse.  The owner asked “Shep” if he had seen the horse and rider.  “Shep” said he had and gave directions as to the direction the thief had gone.  Tinker got away from the owner that was after him.

From my earliest years,  my mother, Ada Van Horn, would tell her children of the stories she had heard.  She had been raised in Burr Oak, and her grandfather ran the Burr Oak Store.  No doubt some of the stories were told there.  In addition to this, she and Dad had lived near the old Tinker Cemetery shortly after they were married.  So she lived a short distance from where Elisha and Lydia had lived.  She told of how “Shep” would take the horses that he had stolen to a cave within a half-mile of the tinker Cemetery.  Here he would change the appearance of the horses by painting the manes and tails.  She also told of him putting the horseshoes on backwards.  I remember as a boy wondering how that could work, but it sounded possible, I guess.

Robert Holland related that on the farm where he was raised near Hatfield,  there is a cave of sorts that is called “Mutton Rock”.  His father had told him that “Shep” Tinker also stole sheep, butchered them, and hung them in the cave to cool out.  He advised that it is not a true cave but a split in the rock about three feet across and 15 to 20 feet high.  Mr. Holland’s father related to him that “Shep” would wedge the gamble sticks in those rocks to hold the butchered sheep up off the ground.

The stories of Tinker’s exploits are as varied and diverse as the teller.  Some of the things could not be true.  No doubt some of the stories have been expanded with each telling.  Like most legends, the person that has the reputation gets the credit for everything in the area whether or not they were involved.  To have done all the things that “Shep” is credited to have done, he would not have had any time for taking care of all the land he and his wife owned.

The Tinker family moved around quite a lot.  Shepard Tinker and his wife, Mary, were living in Morgan County, Union Township, in the 1850 census.  Shepard is listed as being 40 years old at the time.  Mary is listed as 36 years old.  They have 5 children listed as living with them ranging from age 14 years down to 8 months.  They owned several different parcels of land in Perry County, Monroe Township.  In Volume “L”, page 455, it records that Shepard and Mary Ann Tinker sold ∏ acre of land just outside of Millertown, Ohio, where the meeting house stood.  This is dated May 13, 1839.  In volume “U”, pages 129 & 130, it records that Shepard and Mary Ann Tinker sold Lots 16, 17, & 18 in the town of Millertown, Ohio.  Lot #16 is where my wife’s grandparents (Dick and Louise Embrey) lived for years.  There are other land transactions around the Millertown area where the Tinkers bought and sold.  It appears that they lived in the area between the late 1830’s until about 1849 when they sold the last plot of land there.  After living in Morgan County for the 1850 census, the Tinker’s had moved back to Perry County by 1854.  In 1856, there was a sheriff’s sale ordered resulting from a lawsuit filed by Alexander Laughman for the sum of $376.39 against Shepard Tinker.  Tinker had 40 days to pay the debt or the land would be sold.  He did not pay so the land was sold.  It appears that the Tinkers’ moved to Hocking County after they left Perry County.  They owned land there until about 1880, when the land was sold.

Criminal records from this time period that Tinker was active are only partial records.  In some cases, the records are missing completely.  I did find some records that may shed a little light on the type of person Shepard Tinker was.  In the Morgan County Common Pleas records (Volume “K”, pages 94-97), the reports show that the Grand Jury of Morgan County, on February 26, 1847, indicted Shepard Tinker, Sandy King, and one unknown person for robbery and assault.  They were alleged to have stolen wheels, 2 pair of wagon hounds, 2 axletrees, one coupling pole and one wagon from Israel Hedge.  Warrants were issued on September 10, 1847.  Robert A. Pickerton, the sheriff, reported that he had taken Tinker into custody and released him on bond.  On September 15, 1847, the first jury could not agree on a verdict.  It was a “hung” jury.  The second jury was held on February 29, 1848.  The second jury found Tinker “not guilty” of robbery and “guilty” of assault.  The judge sentenced Shepard Tinker to 4 days in the Morgan County Jail and for him to be served only “bread and water for that 4 days”.

The Perry County records are more fragmented and scattered so in some cases we only get part of the picture as in some cases we do not know the outcome.  The Perry County Archives contain the following information.  In Book #2, page 50A states the case of James Dew against Shepard Tinker is “appeared and continued”.  I could not find any additional information on this case.  The June 1851, Grand Jury indicted Shepard Tinker and John Arnold for “Gaming”.  A warrant was issued against Tinker on June 26, 1851.  He was arrested and plead “guilty” and was fined $10.00 and costs (Volume #B, page 243).  On March 21, 1857, a case is recorded in Perry County Court where a  “Writ of Habeas Corpus” was filed on behalf of Shepard Tinker.  The judge is ordering the jailer to bring Tinker before him for the setting of bond on the charge of “horse stealing”.  There is no other record of this case.  It would be nice to have the results of this case.  There are two other cases in Perry County where “Shep” Tinker’s name appears.  In 1852, John McCabe was indicted for selling whiskey without a license.  On January 22, 1850, Samuel Koons was also charged with selling whiskey without a license.  In both cases, Shepard Tinker was the witness for the state.  The question is was he working undercover for the state or was he caught drinking the whiskey and forced to testify against the two men.  These are the only criminal cases that I have found to date.  I checked in Hocking County and could not find any criminal records of Tinker there.  I checked in Athens County and their criminal records are almost non-existent.  The older criminal records for Muskingum County Court of Common Pleas are stored in the attic of the court house and inaccessible to the public.

There are several civil suits against Shepard Tinker.  Most of them are for debts that he had failed to pay.  Many of them, he paid up once the court gave him little choice except to pay.  I found 3 lawsuits in Morgan County and 6 in Perry County where Shepard Tinker was sued for different amounts of money.  There were two suits filed by him in Perry County where people owed him money.

The last transaction that I could find that involved Shepard Tinker with the courthouse was in Volume #25, pages 423 & 424 located in the Recorder’s office in New Lexington, Ohio.  “Shep” is selling 80 acres of land in Section 25, Monroe Township, Perry County to Samuel Tinker for $2,000.  He sold the land to Samuel Tinker.  The transaction is recorded to have taken place on April 14, 1876, and not recorded until March 16, 1881.  There is also recorded at the same time where Shepard Tinker bought the land in February 20, 1844, and did not record it until March 16, 1881.

In the Wayne National Forest article, it reports that there are two different stories as to what Tinker did during the Civil War.  One is that he fought for the Union and was a good soldier.  The second is that he stayed home and traded horses to both sides.  The one story is that he supplied horses to Morgan’s Raiders when he came through.  I checked the roster of soldiers for the Union forces during the war.  There was not a Shepard or a Seth Tinker listed that served.  On the other story of Morgan’s Raiders dealing with him,  I doubt this as Morgan was on the move and was just trying to get back South.  He was taking horses himself but not buying them.

There are at least three caves that are called “Tinker’s Cave”.  The most famous one is the one on Sandy Run in Hocking County, 2 – 4 miles south of New Straitsville, Ohio.  There is a rock overhang that is quite large.  It is 54 feet deep and 180 feet wide.  It appears that, at some times of the year, there is water flowing under part of the overhang.  When I was there on December 15, 1998, there was no water in the cave at all.  Several horses could stand under the overhang and have plenty of room.  On February 11, 1999, I found the second “Tinker’s Cave” on Irish Ridge.  This is also a rock overhang.  It is much smaller that the first one.  This area had water running off the rocks above the overhang when I was there.  Several horses could have been kept here if the area was boxed in.  The area is too steep for a horse to climb out so, if a short fence was built down stream, it could have kept the animals in.  When I was there, there was a set of horse tracks under the overhang where someone had wanted to know if a horse could get under the overhang.  Needless to say, they could.

Wallace Higgins talks of a place that is called “Tinker’s Hollow”.  On April 19, 1999, Ned and Sally Gohring went with me to locate this hollow.  Ned had been there when he was a lad.  We located what is left of the hollow and also a rock overhang at the end of the hollow.  The area has been strip mined so the entrance to the hollow has been stripped and reclaimed.   There is still enough of the hollow to tell that it was a long box at one time with the cave (rock overhang) at the end.  The sides were too steep to climb so any animal located there would be easy to maintain with little effort.  This hollow and the cave are located along Sulphur Springs Road about 1 mile north of State Route 155 near Hemlock.

Mary Ann Tinker died in October 1880.  She was listed as being 67 years, 8 months, 6 days of age.  She is buried at Dew Cemetery in Monroe Township, Perry County.  It is not known at this time when or where “Shep” died.  The last records that I can find is where he was at the Perry County Infirmary, page 21 of their records relate – Shepard Tinker, M, 75 years, destitute, on December 2, 1881, Monroe Twp., discharged on December 28, 1881.

References are:

1. Unpublished article – “Shep” Tinker – Robin Hood of Southeastern Ohio, by W. W. Higgins.

2. Letter from Robert Holland.

3. Land and criminal records in Perry County Court House.

4. Criminal and civil in Perry County Archives records.

5. Land and criminal records from Morgan County Court House.

6. History of the Hocking Valley published in 1883.

7. Wayne National Forest leaflet entitled “Point of Interest –                                               Tinker’s Cave”.

8. 1850 Census for Union Township, Morgan County.

9. Perry County Infirmary records.

Arnold Van Horn

18075 Laughman Road

Lore City  OH  43755

12 Responses to “The Legend of “Shep Tinker’ By Arnold Van Horn, Jr.”

  1. Don Olbers said

    Had to offer up another location for Tinker’s Cave. Local legend says it is in Hocking Co, Ward Township,and that Morgan’s Raiders stopped there after leaving Nelsonville, and shoed their(?)horses backwards in hopes of confusing their pursuers.

    • Nancy said

      I have done a lot of research on this dude, Shep Tinker, my two times great grandfather thru my father’s lineage, and I did a chronology of all known facts from documents ( not just accounts) to see if the timeframe was consistent with the Morgan’s Raiders incident. Morgan’s Raiders entered Hamilton Co. Ohio on July 13, 1863 and raided and destroyed in Ohio until July 26, 1863 when they were arrested in Columbiana County. Shep was certainly in the area during that time. He was on the census of the Ohio Pen in 1860 but was back in public records by 1862 running for and being elected to Justice of the Peace(!) in Perry County. I cannot account for him again until September 1863, when he was arrested in Zanesville for passing counterfeit coins….but I surely cannot rule OUT involvement with Supplying horses for Morgan’s raid!
      Regards, all….

  2. Don Olbers said

    I’m probably talking about the same Hocking County cave you mentioned.

  3. Teri McDonough Scott said

    This story is about my great great grandfather… I would love to know more…feel free to email me…

    • Nancy milburn said

      Shep Tinker is my two times great-grandfather on my father’s side. Have done a lot of research on him and have lots of documentation and newspaper articles. I would love to compare notes. I am out-of-state and therefore cannot investigate oral histories in the local area where Shep lived.

  4. John Murphy said

    I’m Teri McDonough Scott’s cousin. Our grandparents, Frank and Anna Murphy lived in Millertown in the last house on the right on the main street through town. The name Embrey sounds very familiar and possibly lived there around the same time as Frank and Anna. Anna’s grandfather was Shep Tinker, but due to his life style, she would never talk about him even among the family. In the 1960’s while a student at OU, I tried to get my grandparents to do a little oral history on the past but Shep Tinker was always off limits.

    • Nancy milburn said

      Shep Tinker is my two times great-grandfather on my father’s side. Have done a lot of research on him and have lots of documentation and newspaper articles. I would love to compare notes. I am out-of-state and therefore cannot investigate oral histories in the local area where Shep lived.

  5. DAVE HELLYER said

    to arnold van horn.was addison your dad??is junior and sally your your siblings??we may be some brother is butch hellyer,our dad was AJ HELLYER of burr oak.our grand parents were JOE HELLYER/nell hines,latta,hellyer.i now leave on millertown rd se,since 2005. dave,age 61yrs.

  6. Paul Stine said

    Dad, as kid, asked the old man..”Did you run at Bull Run?” Mallen replied, “Hell ya, and them that didn’t are still there! ” This kind of stuff, and stories so rich..Mallen had horse shot from under him in Battle of Baldwin, FL..chased into the swamps, he hauled his saddle, til’ in typical irish reasoning..”Hell, I have me no horse, so hell with this saddle”. Was fined for it as loss of horse equipment at muster out pay

  7. Paul Stine said

    He is Pvt. Francis Mallen, Co. E, 75th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Grave marker stands at Warren National Cemetery, Marion, IN. It Had been Soldiers and Sailors Home, when he died 1917. Please visit..leave a flower, or a salute…the lad certainly deserves it. He was a remarkeable boy from Chapel Hill.

  8. Paul Stine said

    Oh, and older brother James Mallen, Chapel Hill, had joined earlier as contract labor in Corps of Engineers, seige of Nashville. Died there, consumption or ‘eh wot. We have been unable to locate his grave. Corps of Engineers have nothing on him. Only thing we know, is he served under a Capt. Durr..precise unit undetermined. So, after all these years, hope fails of ever finding James. That hurts. Paul

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