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Bounty (reward)

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Bounty (reward)

A bounty (from Latin bonitās, goodness) is a payment or reward often offered by a group as an incentive for the accomplishment of a task by someone usually not associated with the group. Bounties are most commonly issued for the capture or retrieval of a person or object. They are typically in the form of money. By definition bounties can be retracted at any time by whomever issued them. Two modern examples of bounties are the bounty placed for the capture of Saddam Hussein and his sons by the United States government and Microsoft's bounty for computer virus creators. Those who make a living by pursuing bounties are known as bounty hunters.


Historical examples

A bounty system was used in the American Civil War. It was an incentive to increase enlistments. Another bounty system was used in New South Wales to increase the number of immigrants from 1832.

Bounties were sometimes paid as rewards for killing Native Americans. In 1862, a farmer received a $500 bounty for shooting Taoyateduta (Little Crow). In 1856 Governor Isaac Stevens put a bounty on the head of Indians from Eastern Washington, $20 for ordinary Indians and $80 for a "chief". A Western Washington Indian, Patkanim, chief of the Snohomish, obligingly provided a great many heads, until the Territorial Auditor put a stop to the practice due to the dubious origins of the deceased.

In Australia in 1824, a bounty of 500 acres of land was offered for capturing alive the Wiradjuri warrior Windradyne, the leader of the Aboriginal resistance movement in the Bathurst Wars. A week after the bounty being offered the word "alive" was dropped from the reward notices, however he was neither captured nor betrayed by his people.

Bounties have been offered on animals deemed undesirable by particular governments or corporations. In Tasmania, the thylacine was relentlessly hunted to extinction based on such schemes. Gray wolves too were extirpated from much of the present United States by bounty hunters. An example of the legal sanction granted can be found in a Massachusetts Bay Colony law dated May 7, 1662: "This Court doth Order, as an encouragement to persons to destroy Woolves, That henceforth every person killing any Woolf, shall be allowed out of the Treasury of that County where such woolf was slain, Twenty shillings, and by the Town Ten shillings, and by the County Treasurer Ten shillings: which the Constable of each Town (on the sight of the ears of such Woolves being cut off) shall pay out of the next County rate, which the Treasurer shall allow."

17th-century examples

Since after the Restoration criminality was increasing, the dissatisfaction with the penal system led to the implementation of the rewards. £10 were promised to anyone who gave information about a robber or burglar and a pardon was also granted to convicts able to provide evidences against their accomplices. Between 1660 and 1692 Parliament introduced a series of statutes that offered rewards up to £40. Under William III the rewards became a systematic element in the fight against crime, an alternative to erase the most dangerous threats to the community. The first example of permanent reward was in 1692, when £40 (together with the offender's horse, arms and money) were offered for the discovery and the conviction of offenders who committed serious property crimes: highway robbery, burglary and housebreaking, coining and other offences. The trial judges became fundamental to the administration of the rewards system because the statutes put them in charge of apportioning the reward among the persons who claimed to have participated in procuring the conviction. As it was written in the legislation of 1692 " case any Dispute shall happen to arise between the persons so apprehending any the said Thieves and Robbers touching their right and title to the said Reward that then the said Judge or Justices so respectively certifying as aforesaid shall in and by their said Certificate direct and appoint the said Reward to be paid unto and amongst the Parties claimeing the same in such share and proportions as to the said Judge or Justices shall seem just and reasonable"

18th-century examples

In the 18th century the government episodically offered rewards by proclamation: in 1720 a royal proclamation offered £100 for the unmasking of murderers or highway robbers, sometimes worth as much as £100. When a statutory reward overlapped a proclamation, prosecuting or convicting of a highway robber could be worth £140 a head (£100 under proclamation, £40 by statute), £240 for a pair or £420 for a three-person group. These were huge sums at the time when an artisan earned about £20 and a labourer less than £15 per year. Supplementary reward was part of the administration of the law for six years, then with the death of George I it came to an end. After two years, in February 1728 a new proclamation reinstated the £100 reward by respecting the original terms. Private parties were also free to offer rewards in addition to rewards by proclamations, then this practice was taken up by governmental departments and local authorities. In 1716, Robert Griffith was indicted for stealing from Thomas Brooks, one silver watch, value £51, and one gold watch, value £18, from Mary Smith. She offered a reward of £15 to anyone who gave information about the robber. The reward was received by Mr. Holder, after he brought Mrs. Smith the silver watch that was stolen. In 1732 Henry Carey offered a reward of 2 guineas for the securing of Richard Marshall, and 3 more for his conviction. Marshall together with Mary Horsenail and Amy Mason were indicted for breaking and entering the house of Mr. Carey in Dorrington-street. They were also indicted for robbery. Marshall was secured by Mr. Parker, that received the 2 guineas reward as promised.

Rewards and thief-takers

In creating incentives to overcome criminality, the rewards system risked overincentivizing. This led to the development of the profession of thief-taker. Thief-takers were part of the criminal underworld, but they were seen as offering an advantageous service to the state. Victims of theft in London, facilitated by the circulation of newspapers, took advantage of advertising in order to recover their stolen goods. They offered a reward “with no questions asked”. Since prosecutors usually resorted to the legal system, they had to pay for the proceedings at the Old Bailey: though the offender was convicted, they often lost their goods forever. For this reason, prosecutors decided to bypass the legal system recovering their good by resorting to advertising. Thief-takers were the perfect intermediates between victims and offenders and received a portion of the reward offered. Jonathan Wild, a prominent figure of the underworld, successfully combined thief taking with the activity of simplifying the return of stolen goods by paying rewards to the thieves. In the early 1720s he controlled London’s underworld but his activity became a threat to the community and the integrity of the penal system. In 1725 Wild was accused of stealing fifty yards (46 m) of lace, value £40, from the shop of a blind woman, Catherine Statham. He admitted accepting a reward of 10 guineas from Mrs. Statham for helping her to recover the stolen lace. He was acquitted of the first charge, but with Mrs. Statham's evidence presented against him on the second charge, he was convicted and sentenced to death.

Fictional representations

The figure of Jonathan Wild inspired the character of Mr. Peachum in The Beggar's Opera, a satirical ballad opera in three acts written in 1728 by John Gay. Peachum controls a large group of thieves, and is connected to the government and courts. Because of these connections, he can decide whether to allow a captured criminal to be hung (in that case he receives a reward) or to be released. In Scene II Peachum gives evidence against another member of his gang, Tom Gagg, in exchange for a reward of £40. Then in Scene IV Mrs. Peachum, Peachum’s wife, enters and inquires about Bob Booty, her favorite member of the gang. Peachum will accept a £40 reward for allowing Bob to be hung.

21st-century examples

The majority of prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay detainment camp were handed over by bounty hunters.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston offered a $5 million reward for the return, in good condition, of the thirteen works of art taken from its galleries in March 1990.


The term bounty is used in the mathematics to refer to a reward offered to any person willing to take on an open problem. Bounties are offered for solving a particular math problem – ranging from small lemmas that graduate students solve in their spare time for $20 US up to some of the world's hardest math problems. Paul Erdős was famous for offering mathematical bounties.

Open-source software

In the computer science and open source community bounty refers to a reward offered to any person or project willing to solve open problems; for instance, implementing a feature or finding a bug in an open source software program (open source bounty). For instance the Mozilla Foundation offers bounties for security bug hunting. Bounty driven development is one of the Business models for open-source software.


In poker culture, a bounty prize refers to a fixed quantity each player put on when registering into a tournament that is particularly dedicated to be given to the player that spews another out of the tournament.

Motor sport

Often, if a driver or team has won multiple consecutive races, a race track or sanctioning body will establish a bounty on a team. This practice is common on local short tracks, especially if a driver has won three consecutive weeks or more. The bounty often is increased for every race the offending driver or team continues to win, and is claimed upon another driver or team ending that winning streak. After Chip Ganassi Racing won six consecutive Rolex Sports Car Series races, Grand American Road Racing Association established a $25,000 bounty to the team that beats Ganassi. On May 14, 2011, Action Express Racing defeated Ganassi, and claimed the $25,000 bounty.

American football

Bounties, referring to bonuses for in-game performance, are officially banned by the NFL, the sport's dominant professional league. Despite this, bounties have had a significant history within the sport. Notable examples include a 1989 game between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles that became known as the Bounty Bowl, and a bounty scheme organized by players and coaches with the New Orleans Saints that was uncovered in 2012, leading to substantial penalties.


"Bounty" is also used to refer to bonus payments made to staff on recruitment (and/or for recommending others for recruitment) – this used to be common in the military (indeed it was standard practice in the British Army during the 19th century) but has since been largely phased out, only to become relatively widespread amongst civilian employers. Many reserve armed forces also pay a retention "bounty" to personnel who meet or exceed participation and training thresholds.


The company weBounty, Inc. offers users the ability to create or pledge to bounties across a variety of categories.


Bounty (reward) Wikipedia