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The Anniston Star from Anniston, Alabama • Page 2

The Anniston Star from Anniston, Alabama • Page 2

The Anniston Stari
Anniston, Alabama
Issue Date:

(PESTOIRQ NG HAUNTED 1) off NATCyEZ.lQiClfl '-r-n on 1 A aim IB is i i a i 1 ii i mi i in i sftr tttr mem woau .1 i fit i it -j i ti One of the most lawless and unsafe roads on earth IOO years ago, this pioneer trade route is to be transformed into a national parkway rolling 550 miles across the south m. Yi Cantata Rnwman fttAnnad forward. -r Tf snatched open the man's buckskin shirt and revealed the tell-tale scar on 'the man who posed as Sutton. it By Robert Talley THE Natchez Trace, that historic wilderness trail which linked Nashville, with the Spanish domains in the Southwest a little more than a century ago and-along which bloodthirsty land pirates preyed upW unwary travelers with a fiendishness perhaps) unmatched in the nation'i history, is to live again, nraae nt with, colorful nast. a ribbon Below a reproduction of an old print showing Murrell gangsters with the body of a victim. IV 'i clared they had followed "Big Sam" Mason to his lair, tomahawked him and chopped off his head. Whether the head was really that of Mason or that of some hapless traveler whom the two men had murdered along the Trace probafbly never will be known, but just as they were preparing to collect the reward a dramatic scene occurred. In the crowd gathered on the public square was Capt. John Bowman, who had moved to Greenville from Knoxville some years before. 'Captain Bowman. eyed iSutton, "I think that man is 'Little Harp, he said. "If he is 'Little Harp' there is a scar on hi left chest, for I cut him there in a fight in Knoxville years ago." Captain Bowman stepped forward, snatched open the man's buckskin shirt and revealed the scar on the man who posed as Sutton. Maya was quickly identified as another member of "Big Sam" Mason's gang, who had turned traitor. Instead of collecting the reward, the two men were hanged in the customary manner of that day. Their heads were cat off feter and mounted on poles beside the Trace as a warn-ing to other bandits. Of all the desperate character who roamed the Natchez Trace none was more colorful than John A. Murrell, that Napoleon of outlaws who dreamed of a robber empire in the Southwest with himself at its head. Hone thief, slave stealer and a pirate who operated on land as well as river, he was a man of remarkable attainments who could and often did cover up his tracks by posing as an itinerant preacher. concrete 550 miles long and fringed by beautiful parki and terraces, soon will curve its Venicway through western Tennessee, northern Alabama and central Mississippi It is the Natchez Trace National Parkway really an elongated national park for which the federal government already has set aside more than $10,000,000. Actual restoration work is starting this summer. When the project is completed several years from tow, at an estimated total cost of $20, 000.000, autos will speed along a modern highway' following the route of this historic wilderness road so rich in the legends and the romance of the Old South. Over it Andrew Jackson marched his victorious troops homeward after the Battle of New Orleans. Henry Clay traveled it on horseback when he was seeking votes for the presidency. Jefferson Davis took the beautiful Varina Howell for his bride in a great old mansion near the trail. In earlier days Indians battled white pioneers in its dark mm Mr For a time, Hare's gang made its hide-out in a cave a few miles north of Natchez. Then, in 1817, Hare was captured. He was taken to Nashville, tried, convicted and sentenced to prison. Making his escape, he fled east and on the night of March 12, 1816. he held up the Washington-Baltimore mail oqach near Haarre de Grace. Md and obtained several thousand dollars. Two days later he was captured and on Sept 1 0, 1 8 1 8, he was hanged before BOO people, after spending his last hours praying and reading the Bible in his cell. flatboat traders returning overland from New i it. tl The Natchez Trace, with park areas shaded. was Murrell who boasted that he had I stolen more than a thousand slaves. It A little later, nervous uneans ana rooDea tnem or men goto. A scene of dark murder, bloody crime and swift and terrible pioneer justice, the old road has a history. A few miles north of Natchez, residents will show you today where the bloody head of the notorious "Little Harp" was hoisted on a pole as a warning signal. Almost within the city limit! of present-day Natchez is "the Devil's Punchbowl," a large depression famed as the hide-out of John A. Murrell and his gang, reopie still dig mere for treasure reputed to have been buried by this Napoleon of outlaws who plotted a robber empire in the Southwest! PpHE Natchez Trace was a natural locale for 1 crimes. From Nashville the narrow road il fT-f UWi wayfarers along the Trace trembled at the name of "Big Sam" Mason, who, with his three sons and several other companions, spread a trail of murder and robbery all the way from Natchez to Nashville. Previously a Mississippi river pirate whose band had scuttled flatboats and slain their crews. Mason had turned to the richer pickings to be found along fhe wilderness highway. After the robbery of Col. Joshua Baker, a trader returning to Kentucky with his gold. Mason was captured and taken to Natchez. The punishment for murder in those day was hanging, but as Colonel Baker had not r't .1 IV 1 I I 1.i I 'Mil Mill Alt ill I 1 11 II fl desperate thA TITORE ever, ORE the fugitive 1L Harps tomahawked a young man named Trabue. Another victim they captured and stripped, tied him to the back of a horse and drove the horse over a high cliff. A little later they paused at the cabin of Mrs. Moses Stiegal 5sS was' Murrell whose name spelled terror to Mississippi river boatmen and Natchez Trace way farers alike. It was "Murrell who robbed and burned and murdered for years and then plotted a slave insurrection in the Southwest which would set him up as the emperor of that area. John A. Murrell started his career of crime in early youth when he robbed the pack of a peddler who spent the night at his mother's home in Franklin, a short distance south of Nashville. Later, he stole a horse and for this he was publicly branded with the letters (horse thief) on his left thumb. Hia next adventure in crime was when he robbed a hog dealer of $1200 in gold, killed him and tossed his' body into a deep ravine beside the Trace. For a few years Murrell turned to Triver piracy, and then he went back to the Trace. Murrell'a gains from robbery and murder of travelers were spent in sordid and reckless pleasure in "Natchez-Under-the-Hill," that pest hole of bawdy houses and riotous saloons under Natchez's high bluffs, where he and his gang ruled. Many years later "Natchez-Under-the-Hill" tumbled into the river, carrying its saloons and bawdy houses with it, and people likened its fate to Sodom and Gomorrah. In 1835, when he was near the peak of his lurid career, Murrell plotted his most daring venture of all; Through his agents he planned a rebellion in which the slaves would overthrow their masters, kill them, and set up Murrell as their ruler. In an area where the black in some parts outnumbered the whites two to one, this scheme appealed to Murrell as having good chance for success. The uprising was set' for Christmas Day, 1833, and was to begin at Natchez and sweep north and south through the valley. The plans for the wholesale massacre were discovered when a Negro nurse refused to murder the white, baby entrusted to her care and revealed the secret to her master. Immediately, the whites put an end to the plan. Murrell fled, but he was trailed to a point near Jackson, and captured. He was tried and sentenced to 10 years at hard labor in the penitentiary at Nashville. He served his term but both his health and his mind cracked in prison and he came out an invalid and hope-leu imbecile. This is Andrew Jackson's old home, The Hermitage, near Nashville, starting point of the Natchez Trace, over which Jackson marched his victorious soldiers home from New Orleans. been killed. Mason got led through a great wilderness. It was the only return route for traders who drifted their flat-boats down the Mississippi river to New Orleans. These returning merchants offered rich pickings for land pirates. Eastward from Nashville, to Cumberland Gap in the Allegheny Mountains near Knox-ville, led the Wilderness Trail, almost as remote and as primitive as the Natchez Trace itself. Some of the most daring bandits ot the era began their career on the Wilderness Trail and then drifted on down to the Natchez Trace. Among these were Micajah and Wiley Hajp. two brothers known as "Big Harp" and "Little Harp." Tradition says the two brothers were insane, and their actions certainly were those of madmen. The Harps were a sinister pair, with deep, burning eyes. Three raw-boned and slatternly women went with them. Two of these were their wives and the third a woman they picked up somewhere along their route. They robbed and murdered a man named Johnson and threw his body into a nearby river, after first ripping out the entrails and placing stones therein to weight the body down. They tomahawked a pack peddler named Peyton. Farther into the wilds, they killed two more men. At a tavern, they agreed to guide young John Lang ford through the wilderness and. as soon as they were out of sight of the inn. they hacked him to death with their tomahawks and tossed his nude body into a ravine. By that time a posse was on their trail. The Harps were captured and confined in the little log jail at Stanford. but soon made their escape. They It ft behind the three women, all of whom were pregnant. Later, the women were tried for the Harp crimes and acquitted. long enough td murder Mrs. Stiegal and her'chil-dren, Mr. Stiegal being absent at the time. By this time, the three women had rejoined them with their three babies. Crazed with rage over his family's murder, Stiegal joined a posse organized by Capt Samuel Leiper, one of Nashville's pioneer citizens. In a battle in the canebrakes, "Big Harp" was shot in the spine by Captain As the bandit lay dying, the furious Stiegal jerked out his hunting knife and cut off "Big Harp's" head. He wedged the ghastly trophy into the fork of a tree and for many years that community was known as "Harp's Head." The younger Harp escaped and Jed toward the Natchez Trace. The. most notorious land pirate on the Natchez Trace at that time Was Joseph Thompson Hare, a contrast to the- sinister, and evil-looking Harps. Hare was a dandy who liked fine clothes. He wore a crimson silk coat, knee', breeches and silver-buckled shoes. 'Born of off lighter. He was sentenced to 39 lashes on the bare back, 1 2 hours with his neck and wrists locked in the town pillory and branding on the thumbs with a hot iron, to mark him as a thief. RELEASED. Mason rode out of town vowing vengeance and immediately started on a new campaign of crime. Robberies and murders followed in profusion, one haul netting at much as $70,00 in gold. Eventually Mason and seven members of his band were captured, but they escaped and resumed their depredations. Governor Claiborne, territorial ruler of Mississippi, offered a big 'reward for Mason head. A short time later two men appeared in the little town of Greenville, Miss, (now extinct, although there i another town by the same name), with a human head packed in a ball of blue clay. They demanded the reward. They gave their name as Mays and Sutton and de good fanffly in New Yorlc he had gone by boat to New Orleans where he entered into a career of thievery. There he organized a gang of robbers and traveled north to Natchez and beyond, to prey on travelers along the Trace. In one raid upon returning flatboat traders, staged a few miles north of Natchez, Hare and his band murdered several of them and obtained 300 gold doubloons and 38 gold bars, having a total value of $12,000. A second haul in a dry canebrake netted them $7000, and few More murders. Leaving the cave which was it headquarters, the band went to Nashville to celebrate and Hare ever wishing to play the gentleman' bought a fine carriage and a Negro slave to drive it Hare rode proudly around the chy, posing as a wealthy flatboat trader. A little later the band returned to New Orleans and when gambling and hard living exhausted their money, they set out for the Trace to recoup. Cojyrlht, 1IIT, by KvsrjrWok Maamslss)

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