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According to popular belief, the Buckriders (Dutch: Bokkenrijders), were ghosts, who used fly through the sky on the back of goats. During the 18th century, groups of thieves and other criminals used this belief to frighten the inhabitants of Southern Limburg (A province in the southern part of the Netherlands). Using the name buckriders, these criminal bands infested 'Overmaas', a region that includes Southern Limburg, but also parts of Germany and Belgium. Commonly, the buckriders raided peaceful communities and farms.
Earliest records mentioning the buckriders originate from a tome called Oorzaeke, bewys en ondekkinge van een goddelooze, bezwoorne bende nagtdieven en knevelaers binnen de landen van Overmaeze en aenpalende landstreeken, which means something like: Causes, proof and discovery of a godless, averted gang of night thieves and gaggers within the lands of 'Overmaas' and adjacent regions. This book was written in 1779 by S.J.P. Sleinada (His real name however was Pastor A. Daniels). This pastor, who lived in Landgraaf, knew several buckriders personally. The author tells us that these robbers made a pact with the Devil and rode their bucks at night. The common people told stories about them flying through the sky, pronouncing the following spell: 'Over huis, over tuin, over staak, en dat tot Keulen in de wijnkelder!' (across houses, across gardens, across stakes, even across Köln into the wine cellar!). Once a year, they would visit their master, the Devil, on the 'Mookerheide'.
Later on, the buckriders held a reputation that resembles Robin Hood and his gang. Present interpretation is that a number of criminal gangs robbed houses and committed other crimes, using the myth in their advantage. Also, many of the buckriders that were arrested are thought to be innocent, as confessions were given by means of torturing.
Buckriders in Limburg
In Limburg, the buckriders nowadays embrace their cultural heritage. During the 18th century, the buckriders mainly terrorized the 'Maasgouwen' (Overmaas). Together with parts of Belgium and Germany we call it the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion. Trials against buckriders differed from 'common trials against common criminals' if the suspect had performed a godless oath: 'I forswear God ... etc.' This so-called oath of heresy is a stereotypical aspect of the buckriders myth. Since the convicts were accused of their oath and pact with the devil, we can define this as a late form of witch-hunt. Prosecution of buckriders was as ruthless as the buckriders were themselves, even by those day's standards. 90% of the convicts received capital punishment. Confessions were given by means of torture, or by fear for it.
There are 7 periods of different buckrider raidings. The first took place during 1743 - 1745, and the last during 1793 - 1794.
|Gangleaders||Raiding area||Trial (Year)||Number of gangmembers|
|1. Mathias Ponts||Herzogenrath - Nieuwstadt||1743 - 1745||87||140|
|2. de Gaverelle- de Preez||Schinnen - Geleen||1749 - 1751||31||45|
|3. Broers Kerckhoffs (Joseph Kirchhoffs)||Herzogenrath - Valkenburg (Limburg)||1771 - 1776||230||450|
|4. Voortmans - Van Muysen||Wellen (Belgium)||1774 - 1776||31||350|
|5. Philip Mertens-H. Houben||Ophoven - Geistingen||1785 - 1786||16||45|
|6. Nolleke van Geleen||Bree - Bocholt||1789 - 1791||23||60|
|7. Pelsers-Bollen||Neeroeteren - Maaseik||1793 - 1794||50||80|
- Gabriël Brühl, dead by hanging, 10 September 1743.
- Geerling Daniels, died of two stabbing wounds caused by himself, 28 January 1751
- Joseph Kirchhoffs, dead by hanging, 11 May 1772
- Joannes Arnold van de Wal ("Nolleke van Geleen"), dead by hanging, 21 September 1789
Etymology of 'Buckriders'
Formally, the name Buckriders was first publicly used in 1774, during the trial of 'Wellen'. Johan van Muysen slid a letter underneath the door of a farmer called Wouters. The letter contained a threat that Wouters's house would be burned down if Johan did not receive some money. Van Muyses claimed to be member of the buckriders and used the word Satan up to three times. In the trial of Wellen, the term buckriders is openly used against Philip Mertens, somebody who wrote a letter that resembled the letter of Johan.
Buckriders compared to Witch-hunts
The fact that the buckriders were tried and prosecuted for their pact with the devil, resembles the witch-hunts during the Medieval Ages. Historians place these buckrider-hunts alongside other prosecuted 'godless' people: Knights Templar, Heresy, and Witches. These kinds of ruthless and fullscale trials last took place in Limburg.
Most of the crimes they were accused of, buckrider gangmembers never performed (such as the pact with the devil). There never was an organized central buckriders gang, but small separate groups. Buckriders thus means: Criminal that was a suspect of heresy and satanism in the Buckrider trials.