Silas (Sile) Doty (1800-1876) dictated his autobiography late in
his life giving details of his life of crime in several states,
including these events in Detroit.
Ashtabula we took the stage for Cleveland, and from there we took a
boat for Detroit. This was in the summer of 1835. My wife was in the
state of New York on a visit, which gave me ample scope to carry on my
profession on a large scale, and which opportunity I has improving to
the best of my ability, still acting with great caution at all times.
After reaching Detroit, Wicks put away most of his money and went
home to his family. Before leaving, however, he gave me the names of
many of the blacklegs, and also introduced me to a number of the chief
ones in the ring. I remained in the city several weeks, doing a small
business each day, and at the same time taking a sharp survey of the
river up and down for some distance, with a view at some future time of
engaging in smuggling goods.
Wicks did not remain at home any length of time. Very soon he was
back again, with his horses and wagon, and on the same night he arrived,
we followed three or four teamsters out on the road leading to
Plymouth, a distance of fourteen miles, who had their wagons loaded with
merchandise....We loaded up our wagon with their goods in a hurry,
selecting such articles as we wanted - tea, sugar, and dry goods - and
of these we made a full load, and long before daylight our goods were
put in safe keeping in Detroit, and ourselves and team nicely fixed in a
private place in the city.
The next day Wicks and I went to a retail grocery store and sold a
portion of our goods, such as were in his line of trade. After taking
all he wished, he went with us to a man in the dry goods trade, who took
the balance. From this sale we realized six hundred dollars, and the
reader must understand, too, that we always sold these goods at a big
discount; such was invariably the case with stolen property.. . . .
Wicks proposed that I should move to Detroit, and after thinking and
talking it over, I concluded it would be a good idea, as it would give
me every opportunity to smuggle and steal, and I felt very confident as
to my ability to do either just as well, or a little better, than the
next one. . . .
I had not long to wait before Wicks made his appearance, and we
commenced right away to smuggle goods. We carried it on successfully the
greater part of the fall and winter of 1835-36, our profits being very
fair. In crossing the river, we wore several different disguises, going
scarcely twice in the same one. We imported a large amount of foreign
liquors, on which we always made a large per cent. . . . .
At this time the old United States hotel was in operation in
Detroit. This place, then being the capital of the State, made it
necessary for the Legislature to meet there. This was the season of the
year when this body was in session. Many of the members of this august
assembly were boarding at this hotel, which served as a talisman to draw
Wicks there also; and as he never done anything of this kind without an
object in view, he was not long in discovering the moneyed men in the
hotel, what room they occupied, and the very place which they kept their
"shiners." He also ascertained that the night clerk at this house was
of our stripe, and I know the reader will think he must have been a very
desirable appendage in such a place, and for our purpose, I will admit,
he was indispensable; but in speaking in behalf of the interest of the
guests, I will leave them to answer, which they would often do, and with
a vengeance, too, those mornings when on getting up, they found their
pockets empty. . . . The clerk seemed a great favorite with them all,
and one night he invited the members out with him to see the women,
which they accepted, and, as usual on such visits, drank a great deal,
so by the time they were ready for home, they were very generally
"half-seas over." An hour after these worthies went to bed, I made my
appearance and entered the back door, of which I made mention, all
equipped. . . . .
It was 1 o'clock in the morning when I opened the first door. The
whole house was quiet, and these men were sleeping soundly. I opened and
entered three rooms, taking all I could find, being very careful to
lock them again when I left. I retreated through the back door, the same
as I had entered, no one seeing me come or go. I counted the money I
had taken on my first opportunity, and found I had over five hundred
dollars. . . .
They soon found their money was gone, and how that could happen,
with their doors all locked as they had left them, they could not
understand. They at once awoke the clerk to get his version of the
affair. He told them they must have lost it at some of the houses they
had visited on the evening before, as it was impossible to get it out of
their rooms. They saw it appearances were against them, so they
enjoined secresy upon the clerk as to the whole affair, not wishing it
to be said of them that they had lost their money in a low brothel. . . .
The lakes were now free of ice, and, after resting a few days, we
shipped as hands on one of the first boats that left Detroit for
From: THE LIFE OF SILE DOTY THE MOST NOTED THIEF AND DARING
BURGLAR OF HIS TIME. THE LEADER OF A GANG OF COUNTERFEITERS, HORSE
THIEVES AND BURGLARS OF THE NEW ENGLAND, MIDDLE AND WESTERN STATES. THE
TERROR OF MEXICO DURING 1849. Compiled by J.G.W. Colburn. Toledo, OH: Blade Printing & Paper Company, 1880: 178-183.
Schneider, John C. Urbanization and the Maintenance of Order: Detroit, 1824 - 1847. Michigan History 1976 60 (3): 260 - 281.
Sullivan, Jerry. Bad Men of Michigan. Detroit Historical Society Bulletin 21 (January, 1965): 4-9.