Otho Hinton was one of the more interesting characters in central Ohio in the early years of the state's history. He was like many of the people who came into Ohio as the state was being settled. They were strong, brave and extremely resourceful.

Otho Hinton was one of the more interesting characters in central Ohio in the early years of the state's history. He was like many of the people who came into Ohio as the state was being settled. They were strong, brave and extremely resourceful.

They were also a restless breed, constantly seeking the next challenge, the next adventure and the next great chance. Given the times and place where they lived, however, most of these people were extraordinarily honest and seldom yielded to criminal temptations. Most, but not all.

The long career of Otho Hinton started well enough. He had come to central Ohio as a boy of eight with his father in 1810. They settled in the frontier village of Delaware, which itself had only been founded two years earlier, in 1808, near the former site of large Native American village. By the time the Hintons arrived, that village had been abandoned and the new town of Delaware had hopes of becoming the next state capital.

Delaware never became the capital city, but the next few years were busy ones nonetheless. The outbreak of the War of 1812 led to the creation of several large armies. One of them was led by General William Henry Harrison and stopped for a time near Delaware. It was later reported that young Otho Hinton made some of his first pocket money selling walnuts to the soldiers. He soon moved on to more lucrative enterprises. Trained as a carpenter, Hinton was hired in 1824 to build a new Delaware County jail for $1,000. The third jail to be built in the county, the new building was made of wood.

The front part of the structure was a dwelling and was attached to a 20- by 36-foot jail. The exterior of the jail was covered with black walnut boards and the entire structure -- including the roof -- was painted red.

In his spare time, Hinton became actively involved with the local militia. In a day when militia companies elected their own officers, the popular Hinton soon became a "General."

As one account later put it, "He was a man of ready tongue, slight education and great assurance, and his public speeches, though often ridiculed by his opponents on account of the grammatical inadequacies they displayed, were generally effective and well-received."

Yet even though Otho Hinton was doing well enough as a carpenter and part-time soldier, he apparently had greater ambitions. In 1826, the Columbus and Sandusky Turnpike Company was incorporated to begin building a road to link the capital of the state with Lake Erie. It would soon pass directly through Delaware and open central Ohio to better much better transportation. Otho Hinton saw his future on the new roads that were tying the state together.

In 1830, he invested in and became an active participant with the Ohio Stage Company. Over the next several years, the company became quite successful through the efforts of Hinton and the primary operators of the company -- William and Robert Neil of Columbus.By 1840, General Otho Hinton a leading political, military and business figure in central Ohio. In 1841, he sold most of his interest in what by then had become the Neil, Moore & Company, but continued to act as an agent for the company.

By 1843, Neil, Moore & Company was one of the largest stagecoach companies in America. Its routes extended for more than 1,500 miles from Ohio into Pennsylvania and New York as well as Michigan and Indiana. Its coaches carried passengers, freight, and perhaps most importantly, the U. S. Mail.

Otho Hinton took some of the proceeds from the sale of his share of Neil, Moore & Co. and invested it in other enterprises. Some of his investments were in other stage lines. But he also bought some prime real estate in Delaware as well. In 1845, he built a large new hotel at the corner of Winter and Sandusky streets and called it the Hinton House. An 1848 description of it says that it was "one of the largest and best constructed hotels in Ohio."

Later called the American House, it was a long-time landmark in Delaware.

But if 1845 was a high point of Hinton's career, 1846 had to be one of the lowest. A devastating winter had flooded fields and carried away bridges. Delays proved to be costly and federal fines for lack of timely delivery of mail ruined Hinton financially. A man who had been rumored to be one of the wealthiest men in Ohio was now facing financial catastrophe.

In short order, Otho Hinton needed a lot of money to support his wife, two daughters and his own rather elaborate lifestyle. He decided to acquire it from the one business he knew best -- Neil, Moore & Co. And since he could not borrow it or earn it from that company rapidly enough, he decided to steal it.

Over the next several months, large sums of money began to be lost from shipments transported by the stagecoach company. It soon became apparent to management that the one thing these losses had in common was that they occurred when Otho Hinton was riding in the stage.

On Aug. 4, 1850, Daniel Haskell, the Cleveland postmaster, put a package of marked bills in the money bag going to Wooster, knowing that Hinton would be on the stage. A government detective also on the coach would later testify he saw Hinton act rather suspiciously when he was handling the money bag.

Upon his return to Cleveland on Aug. 28, 1850, Hinton was arrested and found to have marked money in his possession.

Because he was considered to be a prominent citizen, Hinton was not put in jail but was held in a room in the fashionable Waddell House in Cleveland. Waiting until his jailers were asleep, Hinton promptly escaped.

A reward poster offering $500 for his capture noted that Hinton was a "man of about fifty-five to sixty years of age, weight one hundred and eighty or ninety pounds; has dark hair, almost black, very fleshy, stout built, florid complexion, and looks as though he were a hard drinker, but is strictly temperate."

Captured again near Wellsville on the Ohio River, Hinton was brought to Columbus on Sept. 5, where he was "put up at the Neil House."

Protesting his innocence, he was then returned to Cleveland. At a stop in Zanesville along the way, Hinton addressed a large crowd and vigorously claimed to be innocent of all charges.

On Oct. 10, 1850, he appeared in a Cleveland court. Unable to post bail of $15,000, he was committed to jail. Before he left the courtroom, he was asked if he had anything to say. Hinton then spoke for 30 minutes protesting his innocence. On Oct. 19, 1850, the bond was reduced to $10,000 and on April 16, 1851, the bond was posted and Hinton was released.

The case never came to trial. As one later local history put it, "public sympathy was wrought upon in his favor, and he quietly disappeared, forfeiting his bond." He later moved to Oregon and then to Hawaii. He died as the Civil War was coming to an end.

Otho Hinton was not the only man to rob stagecoaches in the early days of frontier Ohio. But he certainly was one of the most successful, and undoubtedly one of the best known.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for This Week.

Ed

Lentz