AHGP Transcription Project


Hopkins County


Hopkins County, the 49th in order, was formed in 1806, out of part of Henderson County, and named after Gen. Samuel Hopkins. In 1857, before part of its territory was taken to form Webster County, it was 40 miles in length and 26 in breadth. About one-eighth of it was in cultivation, and there were over 100,000 acres of superior bituminous and cannel coal. It is in the western part of the state, and bounded north by Webster County, east by Pond River, which separates it from McLean and Muhlenburg, south by Christian, and west by Caldwell and Webster counties.

Green river is navigable for small steamers at all seasons, Pond and Tradewater rivers for small crafts and rafts in the winter and spring. The county has three classes of land; ridge, or hill land; bottom, or black flat land; and rolling lands, with soil mainly a freestone, based upon reddish-yellow clay foundation. Timber abounds, of the finest quality and greatest variety.

Towns
Madisonville, the county seat, incorporated February, 1810, and named after President Madison, is on the Henderson and Nashville railroad, 39 miles south of Henderson; population in 1870, 1,022.
Ashbysbury, on Green River; incorporated in 1829, and named after Gen. Stephen Ashby.
Nebo, 10 miles north west from Madisonville;
Slaughtersville, 3 miles north east;
Frostburg, 12 miles north east;
Swanville, 5 miles south east;
Chalklevel, about 18 miles south west;
Charleston, about 14 miles south west;
Gordonsville, 10 miles south, and
Elwood, 7 miles from Madisonville; and
Hanson, on the Henderson and Nashville railroad, are all small places.


Members of the Legislature from Hopkins County, since 1815

Senate
Wm. R. Weir, 1820;
Andrew Sisk, 1832-36;
Wm. Bradley, 1845-49, '51-55;
Jas. D. Headley, 1855-59;
A. Kendall Bradley, 1867-71.

House of Representatives
Wm. R. Weir, 1815, '16, '17;
Eleazer Givens, 1818;
Wm. Gordon, 1819, '20, '21;
Absalom Ashby, 1822;
Wm. Wilson, 1824;
John Harvey, 1825;
John Ray, 1826;
Jas. Bishop, 1827;
Alex. M. Henry, 1828;
Andrew Sisk, 1829, '30, '31;
Francis Jett, 1832;
Chas. Bradley, 1833;
Iredell Hart, 1834;
Wm. Bradley, 1835, '36, '37, '38, '44, '50;
David H. Thomasson, 1839;
Hiram H. Smith, 1840;
Jabez White, 1841, '42;
Bradford L. Porter, 1843, '63-65, resigned Jan. '65;
Daniel Head, 1845;
Samuel Morton, 1846;
Newton Headley, 1847, '48;
John E. Arnold, 1849;
John B. Laffoon, 1851-53;
Wm. B. Clarke, 1853-55;
Wm. M. Morrow, 1855-57;
Wm. B. Parker, 1857-59;
H. H. Smith, 1859-61;
John Ray, 1861-63;
Richard Gregory, 1865-67, resigned 1866, succeeded by Chas. S. Green, 1866-67;
Wm. 0. Hall, 1867-69;
Lafayette Wilson, 1869-71;
S. H. Woolfolk, 1871-73;
Washington Chandler 1873-75.

The Iron Ores, within 1˝ miles all around Providence, were analyzed by Prof. Robert Peter in 1856, and found to contain some as low as 26.845 and one as high as 64.266 per cent, of iron. Iron ore, of fine quality, is found over a large portion of both Hopkins and Webster counties.

Coal
Hopkins County is rich in this mineral beyond computation, her provision of coal (before Webster was taken off) exceeding that of any county in the western basin. Ten veins of coal, generally well developed, extend over nearly the whole county, in some openings 8 feet thick, and all the outcrops are of easy access. The town of Providence (now in Webster county) is at the top of a hill, around which 3 veins of coal, each 5 to 6 feet thick, are exposed, in scarcely 125 feet of measures. The Henderson and Nashville railroad runs between numerous coal banks; in the south east portion of the county all the creeks, Clear, Lamb, Richland, Stewart, Caney, and Pond, and their tributaries, seem to run purposely to expose thick coal banks; Dozier's mountain. Buffalo Mountain, Wright's ridge, Bear Wallow, from base to top, look like a succession of coal, iron, and limestone strata. The coal from one bank contained as little as .820 and from another as high as 2.796 per cent, of sulphur.

Baron Frederic Wm. Augustus Steuben, the distinguished (Prussian) inspector-general of the Revolutionary army, shortly after the close of the war for independence, visited Kentucky and located some land. Tradition says that he was wounded by the Indians at or near a lick in Hopkins County, called (from that circumstance) Steuben's Lick. He died in Utica, New York, Nov. 28, 1794, and a copy of his will was sent to Kentucky, and on file in the court of appeals, but destroyed by fire when the papers of that office were burned. Among its provisions was a bequest to Capt. Meriwether Lewis, his former aid-de-camp, of one of his swords, and a legacy in money of perhaps $2,000, for the reason that Lewis' salary of $500, as secretary to President Jefferson, was insufficient to support him in the style his position demanded. There was also a legacy of perhaps $2,000 each to certain of his servants, on condition that at his death they should lay him out in his military cloak, and at the expiration of a designated time bury his body in a secret place which he had pointed out to them, and forever keep the place concealed; any disclosure of this secret to forfeit the legacy. In attempting to remove his remains, a few years ago, they were found to be petrified.

General Samuel Hopkins (whose name this county bears) was a native of Albermarle County, Virginia. He was an officer of the revolutionary army, and bore a conspicuous part in that great struggle for freedom. Few officers of his rank performed more active duty, rendered more essential services, or enjoyed in a higher degree the respect and confidence of the commander-in-chief. He fought in the battles of Princeton, Trenton, Monmouth, Brandywine, and Germantown, in the last of which he commanded a battalion of light infantry, and received a severe wound, after the almost entire loss of those under his command in killed and wounded. He was lieutenant-colonel of the tenth Virginia regiment at the siege of Charleston, and commanded that regiment after Colonel Parker was killed, to the close of the war. The following anecdote is told of him:
At the surrender of Charleston, on the 20th of May, 1780, he was made a prisoner of war. After a short detention on an island, he and his brother officers, his companions in misfortune, were conducted in a British vessel round the coast to Virginia. During the voyage, which was a protracted one, the prisoners suffered many privations, and much harsh treatment, being often insulted by the Captain.
Hopkins became indignant at the cruelty and insolence of the captain of the vessel, and determined, at all hazards, to resent the harsh treatment to which himself and brother officers had been subjected. On receiving his day's allowance, which consisted of a moldy biscuit, he deliberately crumbled it up into a wad, and then, presenting it to the captain, demanded of him whether he thought that was sufficient to keep soul and body together. The petty tyrant was taken by surprise, and had no reply. "Sir," continued Hopkins, "the fortune of war has frequently placed British soldiers in my power, and they have never had cause to complain of my unkindness or want of hospitality. That which 1 have extended to others, I have a right to demand for my companions and myself in similar circumstances. And now, sir, (he continued with great emphasis), unless we are hereafter treated as gentlemen and officers, I will raise a mutiny and take your ship. This determined resolution had the desired effect. His companions and himself, during the remainder of the voyage, were treated with kindness and respect.


In 1797, General Hopkins removed to Kentucky and settled on Greene River. He served several sessions in the legislature of Kentucky, and was a member of Congress for the term commencing in 1813, and ending in 1815. In October, 1812, he led a corps of two thousand mounted volunteers against the Kickapoo villages upon the Illinois; but being misled by the guides, after wandering in the prairies for some days to no purpose, the party returned to the capital of Indiana, notwithstanding the wishes and commands of their general officers. Chagrined at the result of this attempt, in the succeeding November, General Hopkins led a band of infantry up the Wabash, and succeeded in destroying several deserted Indian villages, but lost several men in an ambuscade. His wily enemy declining a combat, and the cold proving severe, he was forced again to retire to Vincennes, where his troops were disbanded.

After the close of this campaign, General Hopkins served one term in Congress, and then retired to private life on his farm near the Red banks.

About twenty miles from the town of Henderson, at a point just within the line of Hopkins county, where the roads from Henderson, Morganfield and Hopkinsville intersect, there is a wild and lonely spot called "Harpe's Head.'' The place derived its name from a tragical circumstance, which occurred there in the early part of the present century. The bloody legend connected with it, has been made the foundation of a thrilling border romance, by Judge Hall, of Cincinnati, one of the most pleasing writers of the west. The narrative which follows, however, may be relied on for its strict historical truth and accuracy, the facts having been derived from one who was contemporary with the event, and personally cognizant of most of the circumstances. The individual to whom we allude is the venerable James Davidson, of Frankfort, a recent treasurer of Kentucky. Colonel Davidson was a distinguished soldier in the last war with Great Britain, and had filled the office of treasurer for many years. His high character for veracity is a pledge for the truth of any statement he made.

In the fall of the year 1801 or 1802, a company consisting of two men and three women arrived in Lincoln County, and encamped about a mile from the present town of Stanford. The appearance of the individuals composing this party was wild and rude in the extreme. The one who seemed to be the leader of the band, was above the ordinary stature of men. His frame was bony and muscular, his breast broad, his limbs gigantic. His clothing was uncouth and shabby, his exterior weather beaten and dirty, indicating continual exposure to the elements and designating him as one who dwelt far from the habitations of men, and mingled not in the courtesies of civilized life. His countenance was bold and ferocious, and exceedingly repulsive, from its strongly marked expression of villainy.

His face, which was larger than ordinary, exhibited the lines of ungovernable passion, and the complexion announced that the ordinary feelings of the human breast were in him extinguished. Instead of the healthy hue which indicates the social emotions, there was a livid unnatural redness, resembling that of a dried and lifeless skin. His eye was fearless and steady, but it was also artful and audacious, glaring upon the beholder with an unpleasant fixedness and brilliancy, like that of a ravenous animal gloating on its prey. He wore no covering on his head, and the natural protection of thick coarse hair, of a fiery redness, uncombed and matted, gave evidence of long exposure to the rudest visitations of the sunbeam and the tempest. He was armed with a rifle, and a broad leathern belt, drawn closely around his waist, supported knife and tomahawk. He seemed, in short, an outlaw, destitute of all the nobler sympathies of human nature, and prepared at all points for assault or defense. The other man was smaller in size than he who led the party, but similarly armed, having the same suspicious exterior, and a countenance equally fierce and sinister. The females were coarse, sunburnt, and wretchedly attired.

The men stated in answer to the enquiry of the inhabitants, that their names were Harpe, and that they were emigrants from North Carolina. They remained at their encampment the greater part of two days and a night, spending the time in rioting, drunkenness and debauchery. When they left they took the road leading to Greene River. The day succeeding their departure, a report reached the neighborhood that a young gentleman of wealth from Virginia, named Lankford, had been robbed and murdered on what was then called, and is still known as the "Wilderness Road" which runs through the Rockcastle hills. Suspicion immediately fixed upon the Harpes as the perpetrators, and Captain Ballenger, at the head of a few bold and resolute men, started in pursuit. They experienced great difficulty in following their trail, owing to a heavy fall of snow, which had obliterated most of the tracks, but finally came upon them while encamped in a bottom on Greene River, near the spot where the town of Liberty now stands. At first they made a show of resistance, but upon being informed that if they did not immediately surrender they would be shot down, they yielded themselves prisoners. They were brought back to Stanford, and there examined. Among their effects were found some fine linen shirts, marked with the initials of Lankford. One had been pierced by a bullet and was stained with blood. They had also a considerable sum of money, in gold. It was afterwards ascertained that this was the kind of money Lankford had with him. The evidence against them being thus conclusive, they were confined in the Stanford jail, but were afterwards sent for trial to Danville, where the district court was in session. Here they broke jail, and succeeded in making their escape.

They were next heard of in Adair County, near Columbia. In passing through that county, they met a small boy, the son of Colonel Trabue, with a pillow case of meal or flour, an article they probably needed. This boy it is supposed they robbed and then murdered, as he was never afterwards heard of. Many years afterwards human bones, answering the size of Colonel Trabue's son at the time of his disappearance, were found in a sink hole near the place where he was said to have been murdered.

The Harpes still shaped their course towards the mouth of Greene River, marking their path by murders and robberies of the most horrible and brutal character. The district of country through which they passed was at that time very thinly settled, and from this reason their outrages went unpunished. They seemed inspired with the deadliest hatred against the whole human race, and such was their implacable misanthropy, that they were known to kill where there was no temptation to rob. One of their victims was a little girl, found at some distance from her home, whose tender age and helplessness would have been protection against any but incarnate fiends. The last dreadful act of barbarity, which led to their punishment and expulsion from the country, exceeded in atrocity all the others.

Assuming the guise of Methodist preachers, they obtained lodgings one night at a solitary house on the road. Mr. Stigall, the master of the house, was absent, but they found his wife and children, and a stranger, who, like themselves, had stopped for the night. Here they conversed and made inquiries about the two noted Harpes who were represented as prowling about the country. When they retired to rest, they contrived to secure an axe, which they carried with them into their chamber. In the dead of night they crept softly down stairs, and assassinated the whole family, together with the stranger, in their sleep, and then setting fire to the house, made their escape.

When Stigall returned, he found no wife to welcome him; no home to receive him. Distracted with grief and rage, he turned his horse's head from the smoldering ruins, and repaired to the house of Captain John Leeper. Leeper was one of the most powerful men of his day, and fearless as powerful. Collecting four or five other men well-armed, they mounted and started in pursuit of vengeance. It was agreed that Leeper should attack "Big Harpe," leaving "Little Harpe" to be disposed of by Stigall. The others were to hold themselves in readiness to assist Leeper and Stigall, as circumstances might require.

This party found the women belonging to the Harpes attending to their little camp by the road side; the men having gone aside into the woods to shoot an unfortunate traveler, of the name of Smith, who had fallen into their hands, and whom the women had begged might not be dispatched before their eyes. It was this halt that enabled the pursuers to overtake them. The women immediately gave the alarm, and the miscreants mounting their horses, which were large, fleet and powerful, fled in separate directions. Leeper singled out the Big Harpe, and being better mounted than his companions, soon left them far behind. Little Harpe succeeded in escaping from Stigall, and he, with the rest of his companions, turned and followed on the track of Leeper and the Big Harpe. After a chase of about nine miles, Leeper came within gun shot of the latter and fired. The ball entering his thigh, passed through it and penetrated his horse, and both fell. Harpe's gun escaped from his hand and rolled some eight or ten feet down the bank. Reloading his rifle, Leeper ran up to where the wounded outlaw lay weltering in his blood, and found him with one thigh broken, and the other crushed beneath his horse. Leeper rolled the horse away, and set Harpe in an easier position. The robber begged that he might not be killed. Leeper told him that he had nothing to fear from him, but that Stigall was coming up, and could not probably be restrained. Harpe appeared very much frightened at hearing this, and implored Leeper to protect him. In a few moments Stigall appeared, and without uttering a word, raised his rifle and shot Harpe through the head. They then severed the head from the body, and stuck it upon a pole where the road crosses the creek, from which the place was then named and is yet called Harpe's Head. Thus perished one of the boldest and most noted freebooters that has ever appeared in America. Save courage, he was without one redeeming quality, and his death freed the country from a terror which had long paralyzed its boldest spirits.

The Little Harpe, when next heard from, was on the road which runs from New Orleans, through the Choctaw grant, to Tennessee. Whilst there, he became acquainted with and joined the band of outlaws led by the celebrated Mason. Mason and Harpe committed many depredations upon the above mentioned road, and upon the Mississippi river. They continued this course of life for several years, and accumulated great wealth. Finally, Mason and his band became so notorious and troublesome, that the governor of the Mississippi territory offered a reward of five hundred dollars for his head. Harpe immediately determined to secure the reward for himself. Finding Mason one day in a thick cane break, counting his money, he shot him, cut off his head, and carried it to the village of Washington, then the capital of Mississippi. A man who had been robbed about a year before by Mason's band, recognized Harpe, and upon his evidence, he was arrested, arraigned, tried, condemned, and executed. Thus perished the "Little Harpe," who, lacking the only good quality his brother possessed, courage, was if anything, more brutal and ferocious.

Another Account
During a visit to Bowling Green, Kentucky, in the summer of 1871, an old citizen inquired the authority for the foregoing sketch, observing that in several particulars it was different from the commonly received version in that region, and omitted some matters of considerable interest. We joined with other friends in earnest solicitation that the Hon. Joseph R. Underwood, then in his 81st year, but as eloquent and vigorous a practitioner of law as before he took his seat as one of the Judges of the Court of Appeals, nearly forty-three years before, would write out a statement of that startling tragedy, as he had learned its details on the very scene of its bloodiest chapter. He did so, and we publish it in his own language, somewhat abridged. We give the two accounts, as the details were differently reported in other neighborhoods, where parts of the bloody scenes were enacted.

"In October, 1838, I called on John B. Ruby, a surveyor living in Hopkins County, Kentucky, to engage his services in surveying lands. On the way, and not more than a mile from his residence, I passed the farm on which had lived and died John Leeper, celebrated as the capturer of the famous outlaw, Big Harpe. Wishing to learn all I could of the matter, I inquired of Mr. Ruby how long he and Leeper had lived neighbors, whether they were intimate as friends, and whether Leeper had frequently told him the particulars attending the capture and death of Harpe.

"My excitement and anxiety grew out of the following facts: When a small boy, my home was with my maternal uncle, Edmund Rogers, near Edmunton in Metcalfe County. When my uncle brought me from Virginia, I was informed that a little mill-boy, named Trabue, had been met on his mill path by the Harpes and murdered, and that a man named Dooley had been murdered by them, a few miles above my uncle's residence, on the creek upon which his residence was situated. These things made a deep impression on my young mind and heart. Not long after, I was put to school in Danville, Kentucky, and there was informed of the murder of Lankford on this side of Cumberland Gap, in what was then called the Wilderness, by the Harpes; their arrest and imprisonment at Danville; their breaking jail and flight through the Green river country, murdering as they went. I had previously heard of the murder of Love, and Stigall's family, and burning the house over their dead bodies.

"Mr. Ruby informed me that he had lived in the neighborhood forty years, almost in sight of Leeper's residence; that they were intimate friends; that Leeper was as honest as any man that ever lived, brave and truthful, and had often related to him and others the particulars attending the capture and death of Big Harpe. After dinner we went to the residence of Mr. James Armstrong, and there I wrote, as Mr. Ruby dictated, the following facts, detailed to him by Leeper and other pioneers:
"There were two Harpes, brothers, one a large, athletic man named Micajah, the other small and active, named Wiley. They were scarcely ever called by any other names than Big and Little Harpe. Big Harpe had two wives, Little Harpe but one. These women had children, but how many, I did not learn. Their wives were detained with the children at Danville for some time after their husbands broke jail and fled. When released, they moved and located about eight miles from the present site of the town of Henderson, Kentucky, where they lived in the winter of 1798-9 and ensuing spring, and passed themselves as widows. In the summer of 1799, Big and Little Harpe traveled through what is now Hopkins County, on their way to join their wives. The country on the south side of Green river was a wilderness, with but few scattered settlers. (The word settler has a technical meaning, in consequence of the Legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky granting lands to those who settled and improved the wilderness.) The Harpes rode good horses, were well dressed in broad-cloth coats, and armed with rifles and holsters of pistols. The wild, uninhabited condition of the country was their apology for such equipments.

They stopped for dinner at the house of a settler, named James Tompkins, who resided near Steuben's lick—named after Baron Steuben, of revolutionary memory. (Mr. A. Towns told me of a tradition among the early settlers, that the old Baron had visited Kentucky soon after the close of the war, and had been wounded by the Indians at this lick, hence its name.) While resting themselves and enjoying the hospitality of Mr. Tompkins, the Harpes passed themselves as Methodist preachers, and one of them said a long grace at the dinner table. The conversation related mostly to the general character of the country and the great quantity of game it furnished. One of them asked whether he hunted and killed many deer. Mr. Tompkins replied, he did when he had ammunition, but for some time past he had been without powder; that it was difficult to obtain a supply, and, consequently, abundant as were the deer, he had no venison to eat. Thereupon the Harpes, with affected generosity, made a liberal division of their stock of powder with Mr. Tompkins. It will be seen in the sequel that, by a most singular providence, Big Harpe was mortally wounded by his own powder, thus given to Tompkins.

"After dinner the Harpes resumed their journey toward the Ohio River. The first cabin passed was that of Moses Stigall, then occupied by his wife and child, he being from home. Stigall's settlement was five miles from that of Tompkins. The next settlement was Peter Ruby's, eleven miles from Stigall's. My informant, John B. Ruby, was at the house of Peter Ruby, and saw the Harpes as they passed. They were seen no more until after they had joined their wives and children.

"There were only two families living between Peter Ruby and the residence of the Harpe women, near the site of the city of Henderson. It may be that the Harpes passed around these two families so as to conceal themselves from observation. It is supposed they had determined to remove from Kentucky and locate somewhere in the South. It is certain, that on joining their wives, they lost no time in packing up and leaving. They camped for the night, a few miles from the residence of Stigall, who owed one of the women a dollar. Stigall met the party in the flats of Deer creek, as he was going to the Robinson lick, north of the Ohio, for salt, and told the woman to call on his wife and tell her to pay the dollar. He said his wife did not know where he kept his money, and, accordingly, sent proper directions. One or all of the wives of the Harpes went to the house of Stigall, and told his wife what her husband had said. She found his purse, which contained about $40 in silver, out of which she paid the woman the dollar due her. The wives told their husbands how much money seemed to be in the pile poured out of the purse, and this led to the perpetration, during the following night, of one of the most horrible tragedies ever witnessed on earth.

"Mrs. Stigall was a young woman with only one child. A man named Love was staying that night at the house. The two Harpes left their camp and went to the house of Stigall, got the money, murdered his wife and child and Mr. Love; then set the house on fire, and burnt up the murdered bodies and all that was in it. Two men named Hudgens and Gilmore, were returning from the lick with their packs of salt, and had camped for the night not far from Stigall's. About daylight the Harpes went to their camp, and arrested them upon pretense that they had committed robbery, murder, and arson at the house of Stigall. They shot Gilmore, who died on the spot. Hudgens broke and ran, but was overtaken by the Harpes and put to death. These things were stated by the women after Big Harpe's death.

"News of these murders spread through the scattered population with rapidity. Alarm and excitement pervaded every heart. The men assembled to consult and to act. The conclusion was universal, that these crimes were the deeds of the Harpes. Large rewards for their heads, dead or alive, had been publicly offered. The pioneers of the wilderness resolved to capture them. A company was formed, consisting of John Leeper, James Tompkins, Silas Magby, Nevill Lindsey, Mathew Christy, Robert Robertson, and the infuriated Moses Stigall. If there were any others, Mr. Ruby had forgotten their names. These men, armed with rifles, got on the trail of the Harpes and overtook them at their camp, upon the waters of Pond River; but whether in the present boundary of Hopkins or Muhlenburg County, I have not satisfactorily ascertained. About a quarter of a mile from camp, the pursuing party saw Little Harpe, and a man named Smith, who had been hunting horses in the range, conversing near a branch of water. (This word "range" was used by the early settlers of Kentucky to designate the natural pasturage of canebrake, wild pea-vine, and grass on which their livestock grazed.) Little Harpe charged Smith with being a horse-thief, and blew in his charger (a small implement with which the hunter measures his powder in loading his gun). The shrill sound, their usual signal for danger, soon brought Big Harpe to see what was the matter. The pursuing party and Big Harpe arrived at the branch, in opposite directions, nearly at the same time. Big Harpe came mounted on a fine gray mare, the property of the murdered Love, which he had appropriated. The pursuers, not doubting the guilt of those whom they had overtaken, without warning, fired upon them, badly wounding Smith, but not hitting either of the Harpes. Big Harpe was in the act of shooting Smith as those in front among the pursuers fired. He had already cocked his gun and told Smith he must die. But surprised by the volley, and by the rushing up of the persons, he reserved his fire, whirled Love's mare and galloped off to his camp. Little Harpe ran off on foot into a thicket, and was not seen afterward. "On reaching Smith, the pursuers were detained, listening to his explanation.

He was regarded as an accomplice of the Harpes, but soon demonstrated his innocence, and his life was spared. The pursuers hastened toward the camp, and saw Big Harpe hastily saddling the horses and preparing to take off the women with him. Seeing their rapid approach, he mounted Love's mare, armed with rifle and pistols, and darted off, leaving the women and children to provide for themselves. They were made prisoners; and Magby, a large, fat man, unfitted for the chase, and one other, were left to guard them. Love's mare was large and strong, and carried the 200 pounds weight of her rider, Big Harpe, with much ease, and he seemed to call on her to expend all her strength in his behalf. Tompkins, rather a small man, rode a thorough-bred, full-blooded bay mare of the best Virginia stock, and led in the pursuit. He had chased thieves before, and the only account he gave of one of them was, "that he would never steal another horse." Nance, his mare, exhibited both speed and bottom in this race of life or death. The other horses were nothing like equal to Nance, or to Love's mare, and their riders being large men, Big Harpe might entertain hopes of escape. In the first two or three miles he kept far ahead, no one trailing in sight except Tompkins. There was no difficulty in following, through the rich mellow soil of the wilderness, the tracks made by the horses of Harpe and Tompkins. Leeper was second in the chase, and the rest followed as rapidly as possible. As the race progressed, Big Harpe drove into a thick forest of large trees upon a creek bottom. As he approached the stream to cross it, he encountered a large poplar tree, four or five feet in diameter and one hundred feet in length, which had been blown down, its roots being at the perpendicular bank of the creek and its top extending back so as to make an angle between the creek and the tree of about forty degrees. The bank was so high and perpendicular that it was impossible to descend and cross the creek with safety, and alike dangerous to attempt jumping over the tree. He retraced his steps to the head of the tree, and there met Tompkins face to face, with some thirty steps between them. Each reined up his foaming steed and stopped. Neither attempted to fire. Tompkins told Harpe that escape was impossible, and he had better surrender. "Never!" was the brief reply. At that moment Leeper was in sight. Harpe dashed off at full speed, while Tompkins tarried for Leeper. As soon as he came up, he said, "Why didn't you shoot?" Tompkins replied "that his mare was so fiery he could not make a safe shot upon her, and he would not fire unless he was sure of execution."

"Leeper had fired upon the Harpes and Smith at the branch, and finding that his ramrod could not be drawn in consequence of its having got wet, told Tompkins he could not reload, that his horse was fast failing, and that Harpe would escape unless Nance could catch him. Tompkins replied, "She can run over him upon any part of the ground." Leeper said, "Let us exchange horses and give me your gun and shot-pouch, and I'll bring him down, if I can overtake him." They dismounted, exchanged horses and arms, and Leeper dashed forward after Big Harpe. The noble mare proved her ability to "run over him upon any part of the ground."

"Leeper crossed the creek, and, after passing through the thick tall trees in the bottom, came in sight of the fleeing Harpe as he reached higher ground, with its prairie grass and scattered trees. ‘The gray mare was (not) the better horse. Nance gradually gained upon her. When Leeper got up within thirty yards, Harpe warned him 'to stand off, or he would kill him.' Leeper replied, "One of us has to die, and the hardest fend off.' As the woods became more open" and interposed fewer obstructions, Leeper thought he had 'a good chance.' Suddenly putting Nance to her full speed, he rushed up within ten steps of Harpe, threw his leg over the mane and the bridle over Nance's head, jumped to the ground, took aim, and fired. Harpe reined up turned, presented his gun, and it snapped, all without dismounting. Leeper afterwards said, 'If Harpe's gun had not snapped, the ball would not have passed within twenty yards of me, so badly was it aimed.' Harpe then threw his gun down, wheeled the gray mare, and pushed on his course. From these circumstances, Leeper 'knew he had hit him.' He caught and remounted Nance, and soon overtook Harpe, who told him to keep off, or he would shoot him with a pistol. In a few seconds, Harpe ceased to urge the gray mare forward, and put both his hands to the pummel of the saddle to hold on. Leeper rushed alongside and threw him to the ground. Two balls had entered near his back-bone, and come out near the breast-bone. Harpe begged that he might be taken to justice, and not be put to instant death. Leeper told him his request was useless; that his wound was fatal, and he must soon die. Tompkins and the other pursuers came up, one by one. Stigall immediately presented his gun, with a view to blow his brains out; but Harpe moving his head backwards and forwards, so as to prevent it, Stigall placed the muzzle against his body as he lay on the ground, and shot him through the heart. "Thus perished the most brutal monster of the human race. His head was cut off by Stigall. Whether the body was buried or left a prey for wolves, I did not learn. The party intended to use the head in getting the large rewards which had been offered by the Governors of Kentucky and Tennessee, but the heat of summer rendered its preservation impracticable. A tall young tree, growing by the side of the trail or road, was selected, and trimmed of its lateral branches to its top, and then made sharp. On this point the head was fastened. The skull and jaw-bone remained there for many years, after all else had been decomposed and mingled with the dust. The' place where this tree grew is in Webster county, and is known upon the map of Kentucky as "Harpe's Head" to this day.

"Moses Stigall's character was very bad; he was afterwards killed for aiding Joshua Fleehart in running off with Miss Maddox. Peak Fletcher and a brother of the young woman followed the runaways, and overtook them in the now state of Illinois. They were found at night in a cabin, which was cautiously and silently approached; and, at a given signal, Maddox and Fletcher fired upon Fleehart and Stigall through the chinks, and killed them. Miss Maddox was sitting at the time in the lap of her lover, with an arm around his neck. "Thus the narrative made by Mr. Ruby is ended. But I deem it proper to add some facts which I learned from the late Major Wm. Stewart, of Logan County, who was one of the most extraordinary man I ever knew:
"At Russellville, on the 4th of April, 1839, Major Stewart told me that, in the years 1794-5, he was doing business for Jo. Ballenger, in Stanford, Kentucky. (When I was a boy I often heard this man spoken of and called Devil Jo. Ballenger.) In one of these years Ballenger raised a party, captured the Harpes, and committed them to jail in Stanford, for the murder of Lankford in the wilderness between the Crab Orchard and Cumberland Gap. They were afterwards removed to Danville for safer keeping; there broke jail, and got off, with their wives and children, and located them a few miles from the site of the city of Henderson. After that, they left the country, and were gone until the summer of 1799. Stewart confirmed the statement already made as to the murder of the youth Trabue, and of Mr. Dooley. They also murdered a man named Stump, on Big Barren River, below Bowling Green.

"In 1799, after Big Harpe was killed and Little Harpe had fled from the State, their wives and children were brought to Russellville, in Logan County, where the women were tried as accomplices of their husbands, and acquitted. Stigall and a party of his associates intended to murder the women, after their acquittal. This evil design was detected, and its accomplishment prevented, by the wise conduct of Judge Ormsby, and of Major Stewart, who was then sheriff. The judge ordered the sheriff to put them in jail, as though it would never do to turn such characters loose upon society, but secretly told Stewart he might remove them, after night, to any place of safety. Accordingly, Major Stewart put them in jail, but, soon after dark, removed them, and hid them in a sink. The next night he sent them about five miles from Russellville, to a cave, where he kept them supplied with food. Stigall and his party remained in Logan County some days after the trial of the women, hunting for them in every direction. Major Stewart said each of the three women had a child; that Big Harpe's two wives were coarse women, but that Little Harpe's wife was a beautiful young woman, and had been well raised. The wife of Little Harpe, after he was hung in Mississippi, married a highly respectable man, and raised a large family of children, all much esteemed for honesty, sobriety, and industry. I asked the Major the name of the man she married. He could not be induced to divulge it, because a silly world might take occasion to reflect upon her children in consequence of her connection with Harpe.

"Major Stewart said the women seemed grateful to him, and related with apparent candor the story of their lives and their connection with the Harpes. They told him their husbands had once been put in jail at Knoxville, Tenn., upon suspicion of crime, when they were innocent; when released, they declared war against all mankind, and determined to murder and rob until they were killed. They said they might have escaped after the murder and robbery at Stigall's, but for the detention at the branch where Smith was shot. Big Harpe, expecting to be pursued, proposed that the three children be killed, that the others might flee without that incumberance. His two wives and brother consented, after some discussion; but the wife of Little Harpe took her child off to the branch, where she had seen a projecting, shelving rock, under which she placed it and laid down at its outer side, determined to remain and die with her child. As her husband came to the branch to let her know they had concluded to put the children to death, he saw Smith, the horse hunter, approaching. He moved towards him, and sounded the shrill whistle on his 'charger' the understood signal of impending danger. Big Harpe almost in a moment made his appearance at the branch mounted on Love's mare, when the firing commenced. Smith was shot down, and the Harpes fled. Big Harpe did not go directly to the camp, but circled around it, fearing the pursuers might already have taken it. These sudden and unexpected events saved the lives of the children, by allowing no time for their execution. Little Harpe's wife and child hastily returned to the camp, when the firing took place a little distance below the shelving rock, and were made prisoners, with the wives and children of Big Harpe.


"What I have written was communicated to me as coming directly from eye-witnesses and participators in the transactions related." "Harpe's Head" became so noted a place that even the line of Union County, when formed, was made to run by it "in a direct and straight line." [4 Littell's Laws, p. 213.]

An Old Fort, or fortification, on a high and rocky hill, about 4 miles from Madisonville, is an object of curious interest. The wall is of stone, and contains an area of ten acres. No one living can tell when or by whom it was built.


Source: History of Kentucky, Volume II, by Lewis Collins, Published by Collins & Company,
Covington, Kentucky, 1874



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