James B. Horn, Soldier, Minister, Conman
When the Civil War begins, James enlists in Company C of the 37th Virginia Infantry, one of the first units recruited in Russell County. On the earliest muster roll remaining for that company, that of August 31, 1861 (covering July and August), Horn is listed as being sick at Monterey. He apparently re-joins the unit and on February 18, 1862, he re-enlists and is given a $50 bounty and a furlough home. He never returns to his unit. Subsequent muster rolls list him as a deserter.
Immediately after getting home on his furlough, he marries Eliza J. Porter, who lived near the Horns. On the 1870 census they are living in Castlewood, Russell County, and have four children, Morris, Florence, Elgar, and Mary. James owns $1,500 worth of real estate and has $175 of personal goods. Both amounts indicate James had significant financial resources (200 of the 317 families living in Castlewood at that time owned no real estate at all.)
Both his parents appear to have died before 1865, when his grandfather Pleasant Horn dies. At some point prior to 1868 Horn becomes a practicing minister, marrying a handful of couples in Russell County in 1868, 1869, 1876, and 1877. Later on in life, he claims to have been a Baptist minister in Virginia for 17 years.
By 1880 James and his growing family are living in the town of Grundy, in Buchanan County. In addition to the four children on the 1870 census, daughter Eliza A. H. E. P. and son James B. Jr. are born. James senior is working as a hotel keeper. His oldest daughter is listed as Nance B. Her name in the 1870 census appears as Morris.
Horn next appears in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1893, placing the following advertisement in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
On June 20, 1895, Horn creates a company called the Metropolitan Industrial Benevolent Association, providing insurance to low income workers in St. Louis. The board of directors of the company consists of Horn, his wife Adell (no record has been found of a divorce or the death of his previous wife, Eliza), James B. Horn, junior, and Charles Maupin, of Fort Scott, Kansas, who is Horn's son-in-law. John I. Debelach, an umbrella mender living in St. Louis, is listed as the secretary of the association. Debelach was offered a 20% interest in this "concern", he paid Horn $200 and deeded two lots to cover his share of the Association costs. Debelach worked from November, 1895 to June of 1896 for the Association, without pay. Finally Debelach had enough and left the Association. Subsequent circulars issued by the Association listed James Brockhorn as a member of the board of directors, but Brockhorn was simply an alias for James B. Horn.
Debelach's rebellion and removal from the Association starts a landslide of attention and press scrutiny for the Association. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch of September 18, 1896 explained how the Association worked:
"By beginning to pay 5 cents a week for a child when it is 2 years old the poor mother is promised death insurance ranging from $17 to $115, or the payment of $50 to the child should it live to become 21 years of age."
Other payment plans and returns were also sold by the Association. However, Horn had a habit of refusing to pay out claims.
In September of 1896, after receiving complaints about the Association, the St. Louis Chief of Detectives ordered an investigation. Upon calling at the office of the Association, Detective Tracy was met by an agitated Horn:
"'I defy any one,' he said, 'to show where this association has refused to pay a just claim.' Mrs. Horn scattered a large number of receipts upon the center table to substantiate this assertion."
After questioning the Horns and discovering the names of the board of directors, Detective Tracy commented "Seems to be quite a family concern." Further investigations turned up several poor colored people who claimed to have been swindled by Horn. Finally, in late September, 1896, a warrant was issued for Horn and he was arrested.
Later reports in the Post-Dispatch indicate that Horn came to St. Louis in 1891 and refused to say where he was before that time. He married his present wife in St. Louis in 1892, although no marriage record can be found.
When he was arrested Horn stated "I can beat that case."
Horn apparently did "beat that case" because the Metropolitan Industrial Benevolent Association continued to operate in St. Louis and other places for several years. A few months after his arrest, Horn reorganized the Association and created a new board of directors. Unfortunately for Horn, his business practices soon forced his new board to resign en masse.
Newspaper accounts show the Association operating in Cape Girardeau, Missouri in 1897 and 1898. On April 22, 1898 the Post-Dispatch reports that one of Horn's agents, Alfred Jones of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri had absconded with Association funds. The swindler had been swindled.
Horn drops from the public eye around this time, only appearing in a local newspapers in 1904 with the following advertisement:
A tontine is a life insurance scheme where all members pay in a regular rate and the money goes to the surviving member(s) of the group at the end of a specified period.
Horn and family continue to live in St. Louis until his death in 1923.