The Yardleyville Protective Company rides through Yardley during the Olde-Fashioned Christmas Parade.

YARDLEY >> The Yardleyville Protective Company for the Pursuit and Detection of Horse Thieves and Other Villains is saddling up for its 153rd annual meeting in January and the public is invited along for “the ride.”

The unique evening of history, community, socializing and horsing around takes place on Saturday, January 11 at Michael’s Restaurant, 935 Lincoln Highway in Morrisville.

The annual meeting and dinner of the “Horse Thieves” offers a night filled with food, entertainment and a chance to spend time with some old friends and maybe make some new ones, said Company President Hank Crawford.

At this year’s meeting, officers and directors of the organization donning black top hats will preside over a gathering of “vigilantes” just like the organization has done for the past 153 years.

But unlike meetings from a century and a half ago where members were busy forming posses, posting rewards and tracking down horse thieves and other villains, today’s company is more about socialization, tongue and cheek humor and keeping a tradition alive.

“It’s all about having a good time together as a community and as part of a group that goes back 153 years,” said Crawford.

Protective Companies kept order in the days before organized police departments. And in the case of the Yardleyville company acted as an insurance company for its members paying out claims for lost and stolen livestock, property and horses.

“They served a purpose not just in Yardley but in other parts of Bucks County and other parts of the country,” said Crawford. “They were the vigilantes. They were the people who protected people’s property. A horse in those days was your means of transportation. It was your survival. And if that horse was stolen, which many were back in those days, they relied on the protective companies to find them,” said Crawford. “It would be like if your car was stolen. You’d want someone to find it. These companies served a useful purpose. And it wasn’t just horses. There were claims in for chickens and other livestock.”

The companies were composed of neighbors who would get together to help other neighbors after they fell victim to thieves.

“This is part of Yardley’s history,” Crawford continued. “While it doesn’t serve a purpose any more, to be a part of an organization that’s been around that long is something special.

“This is a piece of local history to cherish and support because if we lose it it will be gone and we’ll never get it back,” said Crawford. “We’re blessed here in Yardley that people have kept it going.”

The annual meeting and banquet is a fun night, said Crawford. “We do some horsing around. We read the minutes from 150 years ago. It’s a wonderful dinner and a time to get together with neighbors to share in a unique experience.”

Meetings are highlighted by a ceremonial “hanging” reserved for a member of the community who has distinguished themselves through their work and good deeds.

Last year longtime “horse thief” Edward “Skip” Garlits was rounded up by a “posse” consisting of a “sheriff” and a “horse” inside the banquet hall and taken to the gallows where a “judge” read the charges being brought against him by the company.

Shouts of “hang ‘em” typically fill the room as a noose is placed around the “villain’s neck” and applause fills the room. The name of the “hangee” is kept a closely guarded secret so the villain is always surprised.

“It’s an honor to be hung,” explains Crawford, noting that past villains have included a who’s who of community leaders including retired Pennsbury Superintendent Ralph Nuzzoko, Charles Ronaldo, Sam Snipes, Tom and Katherine Cadwallader, Gene Cadwallader, Peg Zimmerman, Jim Foulds, Pat Miiller, Michael Burns, Wendy Varney, Lisa Pellegrino, Bill Moculak, Brad Varney, Doug Wright and Dr. John Newsom.

The company also presents its annual Horse’s Ass Award to a deserving member and will take a moment to remember “Horse Thieves” who have died during the previous year, including Herb Young, Joe Pellegrino and Bruce Winslade.

In addition, the company will pay special tribute to the memory of past president, historian and longtime member Pat Miiller who was instrumental in keeping the horse company alive and well.

The company also will be donating the proceeds from this year’s 50/50 in Miiller’s memory to the Quality Care Coalition of Bucks County.

The evening concludes with special entertainment from comedy hypnotist Stephen Christopher who will have everyone entranced with his amazing and hilarious power of the mind.

“It’s going to be a great night,” said Crawford, who especially encourages younger generations to experience the “Horse Thieves” first hand. “It’s a fun night out. It will give you a lot to tell your friends. It’s just once a year. And it’s about keeping a tradition alive. We hope to see you there,” he said.

If You Go

This year’s meeting takes place at Michael’s Restaurant, 935 Lincoln Highway, Morrisville, beginning with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres (cash bar) at 4:30 p.m. followed at 5:30 p.m. by the general meeting, dinner and entertainment. The cost is $47 for members and $50 for guests. Advanced reservations are required by Jan. 2. To make a reservation, call 215-493-5867 or email varnew@aol.com. Be sure to include dinner selection: Prime Rib Au Jus, Chicken Cordon Bleu, Broiled Salmon Steak or Vegetarian option.

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