Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Forgotten Highwaymen II




Part Two: Forgotten Highwaymen

 
Highwaymen were a special breed of folk hero. They took risks and lived dangerously. Thanks to them the roads weren’t safe. As was noted in American Highwaymen Part I, they could live outside the law – in some cases, create the law to suit them. Some of them had been outstanding citizens before turning to lives of thievery, and their reasons for doing so might surprise you. Here is look at another group of forgotten American folk “heroes”.
The Harpe Brothers: Often referred to as America’s first true serial killers, the Harpe Brothers left an endless trail of death and destruction behind them as they traveled throughout Kentucky and Tennessee in the late 18th century. Some reports suggest that even fellow outlaws feared these men, “Big Harpe” and “Little Harpe”, because of how ruthless they were. The Harpe Brothers murdered not for financial gain, but for the love of the sport, and held no discrimination towards age, gender, or race. Anyone was fair game. The total death count has been estimated to be somewhere around 50, although the actual number remains unknown.
Michael Martin: A 20-year old Martin partnered up with a known highwayman, Captain Thunderbolt, and began robbing travelers in Ireland in 1916. Known for his quick feet, Michael Martin was often referred to as Captain Lightfoot. The two “Captains” formed a chivalrous thieving duo, vowing never to steal from women or the poor. They found success wherever they went until Martin decided it was time to start a new life in America. He began his old ways by robbing unsuspecting people when he arrived, until his eventual capture. In 1821. He became the first and last person to be hanged in Massachusetts for highway robbery.
James Ford: Described as “Satan’s Ferryman”, the ex-county Sherriff, Justice of the Peace, and overseer of the poor had what some had described as an evil lurking deep within him. Known for creating the “Ford’s Ferry Gang”, James Ford and a group of degenerates would prey on any unsuspecting traveler in their vicinity during the 1820’s. Ford’s reign of terror would come to a sudden end when a group of vigilantes decided to take up the law in their own hands and assassinate the leader himself, dismantling the gang entirely.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

American Highwaymen I





Folk Heroes: 

American Highwaymen I




Folklore is filled with legends, myths and fables about men and women who were known for their lawless deeds. Among them are the highwaymen. These real-life pirates of the land robbed travelers and left paths of destruction in their wake. This may well be what people remember most about them. 

The following three tales focus on American highwaymen whose thievery and cunning lived well on after they had died.


The Doan Brothers: Between 1781 and 1788, the Doan Brothers formed a gang of at least 30 men. Together they terrorized small eastern Pennsylvania towns. Robberies, shootouts and jailbreaks were common acts for them.  Historians have suggested that they do so as a form of retribution. This payback was meant to even the score and then some for land being taken from their family during the American Revolutionary War.  This retaliation led to a path of crime that death stopped.


Ben Kuhl: This man earned his fame by being a part of the last horse-drawn stage robbery in the United States. In 1916, Kuhl and a few friends attacked the driver of a first-class mail stage and shot him in the back of the head, leaving behind an overcoat and a bloody envelope. The culprits fled with over $4,000 in gold coins. They nearly got away with it. Witnesses helped the police identity Kuhl and the bloody envelope left behind with his palm prints on it was used in court as evidence.


David Lewis: “The Robin Hood of Pennsylvania” became a deserter soon after enlisting in the Army at the age of 17. From there he embarked on a new trade, counterfeiting. After Lewis had escaped prison (and the death sentence), he made his way to Vermont to work on a new scheme. He focused on robbing the city’s elites in order to garner the highest possible profit. After a string of successful attacks, Lewis was wounded and captured and put in jail, where he eventually died from gangrene infested wounds. 


The list of American Highwaymen continues next week with a brief look into the lives of James Ford, the Harpe Brothers, and others.

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