Mason, The Outlaw

Joseph Thompson Hare

The Memoirs of William Calhoun Love - Link!
Includes story of murder of family member by the notorious
Harps, infamous Natchez Trace bandits

Mason, The Outlaw
Among the incidents in the early history of the Mississippi Territory was the violent death of the notorious robber, Mason.  This fearless bandit had become the terror of the routes from New Orleans and Natchez through the Indian nations, mostly along the Natchez Trace.

After the organization of the Territorial Government, and the opening of roads through the wilderness to Tennessee, the return of traders, supercargoes, and boatmen to the Northern settlements, with the proceeds of their voyage, was on foot and on horseback, in parties for mutual protection, through the Indian nations.  It was not a matter of surprise that bandits should infest such a route. 

It was in the year 1802 that Mason made his appearance in the Mississippi Territory.  Long accustomed to robbery and murder upon the Lower Ohio during the Spanish dominion on the Mississippi, and pressed by the rapid approach of the American population, Mason deserted the "Cave in the Rock," on the Ohio, and began to practice his trade along the Trace.  Associated with Mason were his two sons and a few other desperate miscreants. 

 The more time that passed, the more feared Mason and his gang became.  One day he would be marauding on the banks of the Pearl, but before pursuit was organized, word would arrive that the desperado had robbed and murdered along the Mississippi River.  He was the terror of every peaceful traveler through the wilderness, but in spite of many attempts at his capture, he baffled everyone, and continued unchecked in his evil deeds.

The beginning of the end occurred when Mason and his gang attacked and robbed a citizen of great respectability who had been passing through the wilderness with his sons.  Their lives where spared, and they returned safely to the settlement, but public feeling was not excited, and Governor Claiborne found it necessary to act.  He offered a liberal reward for the robber - dead or alive.

This proclamation was widely distributed, a copy of which reached Mason himself, who indulged in much merriment upon reading it.  Two of his band, however, were tempted by the large reward, and concerted a play by which they might obtain it.  An opportunity soon occurred, and while Mason, in company with the two conspirators, was counting out some ill-gotten plunder, a tomahawk was buried in his brain.  The head was severed from it's body, and borne in triumph to Washington, in Adams County, then the seat of the Territorial Government.

The head of Mason was recognized by many, and identified by all who read the proclamation, by virtue of certain scars and peculiar marks that had been described.  Some delay, however, occurred in paying over the reward, owing to the slender state of the treasury. 

Meantime, a great assemblage from all the adjacent country had taken place to view the grim and ghastly head of the robber chief.  The curious were not less inspired to see and converse with the individual whose prowess had delivered the country of so great a scourge.  Among those spectators were the two young men who, unfortunately for the traitors, recognized them as companions of Mason, in the robbery of their father.

It is unnecessary to say that treachery met its just reward, and that justice was also satisfied.  The reward was not only withheld, but the robbers were imprisoned, condemned, and executed at Greenville, Jefferson County.

The remaining members of Mason's band, being thus deprived of their leader and two of his most efficient men, dispersed and fled the country.  Thus terminated the terrors which had infested the road through the Indian nations, known to travelers as the Natchez and Nashville Trace.
Bibliography: A Comprehensive View of our Country and its Resources, by James Dabney, McCabe;  Hubbard Brothers, Philadelphia, PA, 1876. 



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