Wednesday, August 10, 2005

... tramps and thieves ...

While I'm on a media kick, here's one more entry, brought thoughtfully to you by Bonnie, distinguished guest introducer of journal topics. This passage is culled from a book titled Gangsters, Swindlers, Killers, & Thieves, an anthology edited by Lawrence Block. The author of the passage is Edward L. Lach Jr. The article is nominally about an outlaw and pirate named Samuel Mason, but it is the introduction that renders it worthy of being included here (did I mention that Bonnie enjoys material of a macabre bent? I am also guilty of same.)

'Because most of what I know about the early years of the American Republic I learned in elementary and high school, I had no idea what a hazardous place the frontier was. Wild animals were the least of it; predatory humans, of the sort to be found hiding out in Cave-in-Rock, were a far greater danger.

'Micajah and Wiley Harpe (Big Harpe and Little Harpe respectively) were brothers, North Carolina Tories who headed west after the Revolution, preying on settlers and travelers in the Mississippi Valley. They were bearded giants dressed in buckskin, wearing scalps on their belts and much given to swooping down on passersby, screaming, "We are the Harpes!" and butchering all within reach. When a posse trapped them in 1799, Wiley escaped; Micajah was shot down and his head sawn off while he was still alive. The posse members carried off his head, perhaps in hope of a reward, but wound up boiling it for soup one night when rations ran low. They nailed his skull to a tree and it stayed there for years.

'According to some sources, the "John Setton" who brought in the head of Samuel Mason was actually Wiley Harpe. Others identify him as a bounty hunter named Bill Setton, and maintain that hanging him as Harpe was yet another miscarriage of frontier justice, as Little Harpe continued preying on the local populace for several years, until he disappeared and was presumably eaten by wolves.

'They didn't teach me any of this in Mr. Green's eighth grade history class ....'

A couple of observations - neither of us were ever taught this in history class either.

It was apparently very easy for people to lose their heads back then.

And, for some reason, we are now singing "Mmm, mmm, good. Mmm, mmm, good. That's what Campbell's Soup is, ..."


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