Back in the 1800s wandering livestock was a problem that was caused primarily from the lack of fencing. This was such a problem that rules and regulations were made to deal with the stray livestock. In Ohio the first act regulating estrays was created 7 February 1804. 
What is an estray? The definition, according to Black’s Law Dictionary, Estray: Cattle whose owner is unknown…a wandering beast whose owner is unknown to the person who takes it up…an animal that has escaped from its owner, and wanders or strays about… 
The Estray Book detailed the wandering livestock’s markings, who found it, when it was found, who claimed it and when it was claimed, if it was ever claimed. Soon after an estray was found a notice of the animal was to be published in the newspaper or printed on a poster by the finder. The animal was appraised. If the owner claimed the animal within a year he was to pay the taker-up payment for feeding, boarding and advertising. If the owner did not come forward the animal became the property of the taker-up or was sold. The Estray book was kept by the local Justice of the Peace and a copy was given to the Town Clerk. These books were often kept at the county courthouse.
I have heard about these early county books but had never actually seen one. Thanks to Catherine (Leininger) Miller’s son Jerry who gave me the old Estray Book of Liberty Township, Mercer County, Ohio. This old book, dating back to 1842, was stored in Catherine’s attic with some other old books. The Estray book was probably passed down to her father, Ted Leininger, who was once a Liberty Township Trustee. Jerry knows I have an interest in the history of the Chattanooga area and graciously thought of me when he found the books. I plan to scan and digitize them and transcribe and index them before I pass them on to another entity for safekeeping.
The Liberty Township Estray Book contains dates from 1842-1880. The little book is about 6 ½ by 7 ½ inches with pages that are not numbered. I began transcribing the book as it was written, misspellings, capitalization and all. There are about 58 pages in the book with writing on both sides of the pages. I have just a few pages transcribed so far and below are some examples from the book:
[Inside front cover]:
Mercer Co. Ohio
Estray Book of Liberty township
Mercer Co Ohio
H. V. Hinton, JP, Clerk
[Next 2 pages]:
Estray Book of Liberty Township, Mercer County Ohio.
Book of marks in the last half of the book
Marks in the last half of this book.
Estray Book of Liberty Township Mercer County Ohio
Philip Kable, JP Clerk
Liberty Township Mercer Co., Ohio
January 1st 1842; Jacob Deutch made return of three Estrays taken up by him—One a Black Mare with a Bay colt; The Mare is supposed to be Fourteen years old & with a large Bell on her neck -& with a white strip in her forehead; a white spot on the point of the nose with a white spot on the left shoulder and the left hind foot whiten fifteen hands high. The Colt is a last Spring Mare colt; Also one Bay Mare Colt one year old last Spring with a white spot in her forehead, with the left forefoot whiten. No other marks percivable [sic]. P. Botton Clerk
Jan. 1st 1842
The above Estrays were proved & taken away by the owner from Indiana.
Apr 14, 1842; This Day Wm. F. Watkins made return of description of a Stray Mare which he had this day taken up; The marks are a follows viz A light Iron grey mare fourteen hands high. Long mane & tail Shod all round. No brands or marks percivable; Supposed to be nine years old; A true [?] T. Wilson T Clerk.
May 2nd 1842; The above Estray was appraised by Jonathan Spry & John Fisher at $30.00 & return made to J. Downes, JP of Black Creek Township and a transcript was afterwards taken by P. Bolton JP of Liberty Township & return made to me as Clerk of Township; T. Wilson.
The above Estray was sold Oct 2nd for Eighteen Dollars and twenty five cents-The costs were $16.05. A note was given to Township Treasurer for $2.20-for nine months T. Wilson Clerk.
July 28th 1842 This day came Sylvester Skeels & made return of description of Estray Mare which he took up July 26th; The marks are as follows viz A Black Mare fifteen hands high-a white strip in the face from a star in the forehead , a [?] on the nose; the hind feet white & the left fore foot almost white with two black spots near the hoof The neck shows marks of the mare having worn a yoke with hair being worn off-Supposed to be ten years old. No other marks or brands percivable a natural trotter but [?] a little. July 28 1842 T. Wilson, Clerk
This certifies that the mare taken up by S. Skeels was appraised at 25 dollars by Mr. R. Watkins & Adam Bolenbaucher & return made to P. Botton, J.P. T. Wilson TP Clerk
This is to certify that the above estray mare was claimed & proved to be the property John Stettler and was given up to him as the law directs Aug 20 1842 T Wilson Clerk JP Clerk
Ear marks, a type of identifying brand, are in the back half of the book. Below are some examples:
This day personally came John F. Wisenborn and made return of his Ear mark for Hogs Sheep & Cattel [sic] as follows viz two Slits in Each Ear
Recorded this 26th day of June AD 1883
Philip Kable clerk
This day came Peter Brehm and made return of his Ear mark for Hogs Sheep & cattel as follows viz a Hole in Right Ear and upper half cross in left Ear
Recorded this 15th day of March 1884
Philip Kable clerk of Liberty Township
This day came Jacob Bollenbacher and made return of his Ear mark for hogs Sheep and cattel as follows viz a square cross of the right Ear, two slits in the left Ear
Recorded this 5th day of May AD 1881
Philip Kable clerk
November th 6th 1877
This day Philip Kable made return of his Ear mark as follows viz a hole in Right Ear Square cross of same upper bit of left Ear. Recorded this 6th day of November AD 1877
Philip Kable Clerk
December the 1th 1877
This day personally came John Alt and mate return of his Ear mark for hogs Sheep and Cattel as follows viz a Square cross of Left Ear upper bit in right Ear
Recorded this 1 day of Dec AD 1877
Philip Kable Clerk
This is a great piece of Liberty Township history and I will post more transcriptions as I get them finished.
 Mary L. Bowman, Abstracts and Extracts of the Legislative Acts and Resolutions of the State of Ohio: 1803-1821 (Mansfield, Ohio: The Ohio Genealogical Society, 1994), p. 19.
 Henry Campbell Black, M.A., Black’s Law Dictionary, Third Edition (St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing Co., 1933), p. 691.
Such a formal regulation for stray livestock!? Since animals were so critical to life and success in those days, perhaps it makes some sense. Also the fear of being falsely accused of theft when justice might be a little quick draw if intentions were not clear. However, it all seems a bit over the top. Why would anyone travel to “town” to report some stray critter showing up? Just talk to the neighbors, get the word out and stay the regular routine rather than take the time to “report” the find. We can not really appreciate how folks considered running into town a real special deal in those days. It was not as casual or frequent as our mobility today would suggest.