In researching my wife's family tree I came across an account of the estray law at work in her family. An estray was any domestic animal that was loose and the owner was unknown. It did not apply to dogs, cats, and poultry running loose. If a householder took up an estray found on or about his premises, within five days must post notices of his possession in at least three public places in the township, and may use the animal for his own benefit.
An estray, except a cow in lactation, must not be used until notice has been posted. The notice must describe the animal, and must state before what judge or magistrate and at what time (not less than 10 or more than 15 days) from the posting of the notice the one who found the animal will apply for appraisal of the animal. If the owner appears and claims the animal, the taker-up is entitled to payment for keeping, feeding, and advertising. If the stray animal dies or gets away, the taker-up is not responsible.
If the owner of the animal did not come forward and pay for the charges and expenses, the animal becomes the property of the taker-up. However, the taker-up must notify the judge or magistrate who heard the appraisal proceedings that one year has elapsed and that the owner has not appeared. If the animal was appraised at more than $25, the county clerk is also entitled to this notice. If the owner of a hog, sheep, or goat does not appear within three months, claim the animal, and pay for the charges and expenses, the animal will likewise become the property of the taker-up.
The legal notice is written in bold handwriting and I have copied the style and spelling the way it appears in the county records:
State of Illinois
Effingham CountyJonathan T. Tucker
Being duly sworn says Henry Messman
took up as an estray on or about the
1st day of December 1879 one yearling
steer black and White spotted with a
swallow fork in each year and an underbit
in the left year and that said steer
is the porperty of Jonathan H.
Tucker Afficant says that he knew
said steer before it strayed away
and he is satisfied that the above described
steer is the propery of Jonathan Tucker.
Subscribed and sworn to
before me this 6th day of J. T. Tucker
Rufus C. Hannah J.P.
What happened in the above? John Tucker's steer strayed from section 2 Jackson Township onto the Henry Mersman farm in section 6 of Watson Township which is a distance of about 2 miles. After about three months Mr. Tucker came forward to reclaim his property and pay for his steers board. You might wonder why a cow could be milked. If a cow is not milked it will go dry. If a cow goes dry it will have to have another calf before it can give milk again. This would be a tremendous calamity for a family with young children and a major finical loss to the owner of the cow. The estray law book of Effingham County gives some neat insight to happenings in the county.