A Brotherhood Of Cutthroats
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Wednesday, Nov. 3, 1819.–Left Miller’s tavern at 7 o’clock and arrived at Squire Chambers’ at 6 o’clock, after traveling a distance of thirty-six miles. Passed a trifling village, Fredericksburg; also Greenville. A poor, barren, deserted country. For ten miles, stony, poor, mountainous and naked. Land a little better. Miserable huts, poor accommodations, cabin taverns, and high charges. Crossed Blue river. Every man his own hostler and steward. Plenty of game–deer, turkeys, etc. Inhabitants generally possess a smaller share of politeness than any met with before.
Thursday, Nov. 4.–Left Squire Chambers’ (who is only member of the assembly, by the by) at 7 o’clock a. m. Arrived at Lewis’ at 6 o’clock, a distance of twenty-five miles. Passed a little village called Peola. The fact that this part of Indiana is a late purchase by the United States, accounts for its towns being so inconsiderable and being made up of log houses. The lands here are very fertile, the country mountainous and broken. Traveled twenty-five miles through woods and passed but four houses. With great difficulty obtained water for our horses. In the midst of one of those long and thick pieces of woods, we passed one of the most miserable huts ever seen–a house built out of slabs without a nail; the pieces merely laid against a log pen such as pigs are commonly kept in, a dirt floor, no chimney. Indeed, the covering would be a bad one in the heat of summer, and, unfortunately, the weather at this time is very severe for the season of the year. This small cabin contained a young and interesting female and her two shivering and almost starving children, all of whom were bare-headed and with their feet bare. There was a small bed, one blanket and a few potatoes. One cow and one pig (who appeared to share in their misfortunes) completed the family, except for the husband, who was absent in search of bread. Fortunately for the dear little children, we had in our carriage some bread, cheese, toddy, etc., which we divided with them with much heartfelt satisfaction. In this situation the woman was polite, smiled and appeared happy. She gave us water to drink, which had been refused to us by persons on the road several times during the day. What a lesson for many of the unhappy ladies that inhabit large cities, whose husbands are slaves to procure all the luxuries of life, a fine house, carpeted floors, elegant furniture, fine carriages and horses, gay and cheerful company, and a smooth brick pavement or marble to walk upon! Yet they are too often dissatisfied, and are sighing for that which cannot be obtained. Could they but contrast their situation with this ragged, suffering and delicate female, they would have just cause to be happy, and would be under the strong conviction that Providence does not interfere with the common affairs of this life. Traveled over excellent lands not taken up which could be cleared with very little labor.
Friday, Nov. 5.–Left Mr. Sears’ at 7 o’clock, after having slept in a cabin with three wagons. My friend and self treated civilly by the family. The house not close enough to keep the cats and dogs out. Traveled over an extremely mountainous country to White river (east fork), where a town was laid out last May. Promising little place. Several houses building together, with the industrious appearance of saw and grist mills, give it the appearance of a place of business. Little town is called Hindoostan. In this part of the country the woods are large, the hills bold and lofty, and there is an abundance of bears, wolves, wildcats, panthers, etc. Thousands of acres of land of the first quality are unsettled and to be purchased at from $2.50 to $5 an acre. In crossing White river we had to descend a very steep precipice above the falls, in effecting which my friend, Dr. Hill, who happened to be driving our little carriage, was thrown head foremost into the river. Part of our baggage followed him, and the carriage was very near upsetting. However, we forded this elegant stream, which is 200 yards wide, without much difficulty. After halting a few minutes on the bank to examine our bruises and adjust our baggage, we proceeded on our journey. Traveled a distance of eighteen miles to the west branch of White river, which we forded without risk, the bottom being hard and rocky. Traveled over a fertile country four miles to Steenz, making a distance of thirty-four miles. At this dirty hovel, with one room and a loft, formed by placing boards about three inches apart, ten travelers slept. There were thirteen in family, besides two calves, making in all, with my friend and self, twenty-three whites, one negro and two calves.
Saturday, Nov. 6.–Supped on pumpkins, cabbages, rye coffee without sugar, bones of venison, salted pickles, etc.–all in the midst of crying children, dirt, filth and misery. The last entertainment made the first serious unfavorable impression on my mind relative to the west. Traveled six miles to breakfast and to entertain an idea of starving. No water, no food fit to eat, dusty roads and constantly enveloped in a cloud of smoke, owing to the woods and prairies being on fire for 100 miles. Breakfasted on sound provisions for a rarity and felt a little refreshed. This part of Indiana is rich and valuable. Corn and oats 50 cents a bushel. My good little horse being sick, my usual flow of spirits commenced a retreat. However, they were soon rallied again after a few long sighs for those that are dear and far from me. Arrived at Vincennes, on the Wabash, a bold and handsome river, the size of the Schuylkill. Vincennes, an ancient town, is small, ugly and meanly built, although beautifully situated. Its inhabitants are French, Americans, Indians–and, in short, persons from the four corners of the earth. Indian mounds or small round hills are common in this country. They are believed to be the work of art, and from bones and so forth which have been found in them are supposed to have been receptacles for the dead, when none but the footsteps of the savage was to be traced in these forests. We are now within a few miles of the Shakers and Harmonites, whom we intend to visit and give a correct account of. Very much revived this day, having lived well. Necessity is often the mother of invention. Yolk of egg, flour and water mixed is a good substitute for milk, and is often used in coffee in this country. Rye is frequently substituted for coffee and sage tea in place of the imperial.
Sunday, Nov. 7.–Left Vincennes at 7 o’clock. Crossed the meandering stream, Wabash, into Illinois. This river abounds in fish, ducks and geese. Traveled thirty-seven miles over rich and elegant prairies. Passed but very few houses in this distance. Our poor horses and ourselves almost famished for water. Traveled eighteen miles without a drop, and then compelled to use it out of a stagnant pool, where thousands of insects considered the water private property. Arrived at McDermott’s, on the Fox river. Obtained a list of cutthroats and murderers, whose names are as follows on the list: Gatewood, Rutherford, Grimberry, Cain, Young, Portlethwaite, etc. This chain of villains extended for eighty miles through all the dreary and lonesome prairies. We were informed that when they were not engaged in robbing or murdering they were very industriously employed in manufacturing bank notes, which they imposed on travelers at every opportunity. It may be worthy of remark that all the country for forty miles around where these banditti have taken possession belongs to the United States. For the convenience of travelers, a new road has been made through this country, instead of going by Shawneetown, and those villains have posted themselves along the road under the name of tavern keepers, watching for their prey whenever it may pass. Indeed, I conceive it impossible for any man who has cash enough to make him worth killing to travel this road alone. Called to see Gatewood, the first man on the list of cutthroats. He was from home. Saw his wife, a handsome, young dejected-looking woman, who appeared very uneasy at her husband’s being inquired for by a man almost as well armed and not much out of the style of Robinson Crusoe. Saw a bloody cravat on the end of the log of which his house was built. We intend to call and see the balance of the fraternity out of curiosity. Traveled over prairies just burned and through woods on fire. Smoke and dust, together with the want of water, almost produced suffocation, families sending miles for water to drink. The prairies extend for miles, indeed, as far as the eye can reach, level as a plank floor. The soil generally is a bed of manure, the land uncultivated and without any person to claim it. The few inhabitants found in this part of the country are impolite, lazy and disobliging. Passed many families traveling to the west, and met a few bound to the east. There has been no rain in this part of the country for near seven months. Many of the farmers have lost stock in consequence of the drought. A few years ago this part of Illinois was inhabited only by the rude and uncivilized savage. The scalping knife and tomahawk, graced their bark dwellings and were often used in the most inhuman manner. The murdering of women and children whom they viewed as their enemies was not an uncommon occurrence. But who could have believed that when the red men of the forest had retired from this beautiful country their places would have been supplied by persons whose characters would be softened by the appellation of savage–penitentiary outcasts and murderers? Who could believe that a human being could be so depraved as to fall upon a defenseless and unoffending traveler and murder him under the pretense of sheltering him from the storm and giving him a hearty welcome at his table? Who could believe that even devils in human shape could cut the throats of two traveling strangers to obtain two watches, $80 and a pair of saddle-bags? I shudder at the blackness of the crime. It occurred only yesterday, and we are at this moment near the spot where the horrid deed was committed. Two other murders have lately been committed near this place. A stranger was found hung on a tree and a traveler was murdered near Shawneetown by the same men whose names have been mentioned.
During last summer a traveler was found murdered near one of those prairies, but he had been dead so long it was impossible to ascertain who he was.
Monday, Nov. 8.–Left Dermott’s at 7 o’clock. Crossed a prairie five miles wide. Met with a new species of game called prairie hens. They are very much like the pheasant, and I am of the opinion they are the grouse. Plenty of deer and turkeys. Crossed a prairie twelve miles broad and arrived at the house of Rutherford, the second man on the cutthroat list. We had time enough to pass this house, but having a list of desperadoes, and being disappointed in seeing Gatewood, curiosity induced us to spend the night. This was a piece of comedy for information which was near ending in tragedy. Our traveling party consisted of four persons, Dr. Hill, myself and two young men, strangers, from Kentucky. As we traveled in a little carriage, and with a pair of horses, we placed our fellow-travelers’ baggage with our own, which made a considerable show. On our arrival a man dressed like a Quaker pretended to be hostler until he ascertained the quantity of our baggage. I recognized him as an engraver from Philadelphia, who had been a candidate for the penitentiary for forgery. We called for the landlord, and were informed by Mrs. Rutherford that he was from home, but we could be well entertained and made comfortable in every way. Mrs. R. is a young and beautiful woman, possessing a delicacy of features and an elegance of shape, but seldom to be met with in those cabins of misery. The lily and the rose appeared to vie with each other to gain the ascendency on her cheeks. Her teeth were even, beautifully white and well placed. Her hair curled in irregular ringlets down her neck. She smiled on all. Her eyes were quick, black, sparkling and full of impudence and bold and disagreeable looks.
“O woman, if by simple wile Thy soul has strayed from honor’s track, ‘Tis mercy only can beguile, By gentle ways, the wanderer back. Go, go, be innocent and live! The tongues of men may wound thee sore, But heaven in pity can forgive, And bids thee go and sin no more.”
We spent our time very agreeably for about two hours. My friend was so much fascinated with this western beauty that I began to conclude his common stock of gallantry had much improved since his arrival in this fertile country. Indeed, they appeared mutually pleased and the fleeting hours seemed almost too short for the full enjoyment of each other’s conversation. Myself and fellow-travelers enjoyed their mirth and jokes. Little did my friend dream a frightful cloud was hovering over him which threatened to darken all his bright prospects. We were suddenly startled by the shrill Indian warwhoop, which proceeded from a thicket near the house. It may not be amiss to mention here this warwhoop was what my friend had never heard before. It appeared to pass over his frame like an electrical shock, and from his being an elegant man, six feet high, and in a lover’s attitude, he was reduced to about three feet in height, with knees as high as his chin and the points of his shoulders higher than his head. In this situation he prespired very freely. We were not kept long in a state of suspense. Rutherford and three sturdy fellows, armed, entered the house, all half-drunk. They took no notice of us, but eyed our baggage, which was heaped on the floor. They drank freely of whiskey, and appeared in fine spirits. As one of our companions was passing a small log house, in which food was kept, he heard men whispering, which he informed me of. I immediately got a candle. Searched the house, but did not see any person. However, as I was returning, I found two tall men hid in the chimney, who, on being spoken to, went into the house, making six all together, and most of them very tall. They were armed with rifles and butcher knives, without coats or hats, their sleeves rolled up, their beards long and their faces smutted, such as the bravos are represented in the play of “The Foundling of the Forest.” We had been anxious to see some of these banditti, but we did not contemplate seeing so large a company or having so full a visit from the fraternity. Rutherford disguised himself and denied that he was landlord, or that he lived at the place. It was not long before we were informed of the business of those devil-like looking visitors. Some of their private consultations were overheard. Robbery and murder was contemplated. They would frequently whisper and pinch each other, wink, eye us, then hunch each other and give a number of private signals which we did not understand. One observed “the trap door was too open,” “that the boards were too wide apart,” in a loud tone of voice. The reply was: “By G—-, it should be screwed up tight enough before morning!” They often mentioned the names of the cut-throats we had on our list as their particular friends and associates. They also spoke of the two men who had been murdered the day before, and acknowledged that they ate their last meal in the house we were in. Laughed at the manner in which the throats of one of these unfortunate men was cut, and many other circumstances which would swell this memorandum too much. Convinced us beyond a doubt they were of the banditti that had been described to us. Our own safety now became a matter of serious consideration, and our party of four held a consultation after the robbers’ consultation was over (which was held in the dark a little way from the house). The two strangers that we overtook on the road were firm-spirited, and declared we would die side by side or conquer if attacked. I am almost ashamed to add that a man whom I have named as friend in my memorandum, whom I have known for years, and with whom I had traveled 1,000 miles, expressed himself to the following effect: “By G—-, instead of joining us he would take care of himself!” and insinuated that he would join the strongest side, and immediately went into the house and placed himself among the ruffians.