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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
A Comprehensive View of our Country and its Resources, by James
Dabney, McCabe; Hubbard Brothers, Philadelphia, PA, 1876.