THE FORD BAND OF DESPERADOES
Part 3 of 5
Source: The Crittenden Press. (Marion, Ky.) 1919-Current, December 10, 1920, Edition 1, Image 7 - Chronicling America - The Library of Congress.
Written for the Press by R. C. Haynes
At the time of which we write Mike Fink was well known from Cincinnati to New Orleans, being owner and captain of the popular boat, the Lightfoot. He was a big, strong and fearless Irishman, and his crew were similarly constituted and of the same nationality. They were a jovial set of fellows, full of fun and fond of their toddy. In fact when not on duty, they often indulged to excess.
One day the Lightfoot was floating down the river with its crew and several passengers. When the boat had reached a point a short distance below old Shawneetown, a man standing on the Illinois shore beckoned the captain to send the boat ashore, saying he wanted to take passage. The vessel was rowed to the shore and the man came aboard.
The stranger was a sinister looking fellow, but was well dressed and behaved himself decorously, and neither the crew nor passengers, it seems, suspected any evil design in him. When they had reached a point in the river near Fords Ferry the stranger asked to be put ashore on the Illinois side. As he was willing to pay well for his passage he was put ashore and was, for the time, forgotten.
A dozen passengers, perhaps, occupied the cabin, or upper department of the Lightfoot. The names of only three are known to the writer, a man by the name of Fontin and his daughter, Aurelia, handsome girl of eighteen years; also a young man whose given name was Maurice. These three passengers were residents of New Orleans and were on their way home.
When the boat had neared Cave-in-Rock night had set in, heavy clouds had gathered in the sky and soon the darkness was appalling. Lest the boat should run against a snag or a clift of rock and be destroyed, Captain Mike fink gave orders to run ashore for the night.
The boat being run ashore, the passengers began to pass away the time the best they could by conversing with each other, or relating experiences of a more or less exciting nature; while Mike Fink and his crew gathered on deck and proceeded to make merry in the only available way.
On that same evening all was not well among the band of outlaws around Cave-in-Rock. One member of the band, a man by the name of Brown, was accused of being a traitor to his comrades, was condemned to death. Whether Major Ford was present in person on this occasion is not known to the writer, however, it seems likely that he had deputised another, one Camilla, to act as leader in the contemplated bloody mission. The hands of the condemned man were tied behind him and a man named Pittman was deputed to do the execution. He was directed to take Brown to the river, shoot him to death and throw his body into the water.
The two men took their way thru the dense darkness toward the river. When nearing the bank Pittman stumbled and fell, and Brown, with his hands still tied, fled toward the point where the Lightfoot was moored.
The gang of bandits were all congregated, waiting for the return of Pittman. In a short time he entered their midst, pale and trembling, and stammered out that Brown had escaped and had fled to alarm the boatmen.
Without asking a question or seeking an explanation, Camilla drew a weapon from his belt and shot Pittman, and as he fell dead the whole band of desperadoes sprang over the prostrate body, out into the night and darkness and rain, all bent on a terrible mission of death.
While Mike Fink and his jolly crew were still making merry on deck the Lightfoot, a man suddenly issued from out the darkness on to the boat and, seeing their condition, shouted:
“Holy Mither protect yer! In five minutes Camilla and his band will attack the boat and murder yer all.”
“Go it right, loose or tight, the Snapping Turtle's out to night, fi, di, diddle dol, da.” sang Mike Fink, too drunk to fully realize what the stranger had said. The term “Snapping Turtle,” applied to himself, he was often so designated because of his being always ready for a fight.
“Yer blubberin' idiots,” again shouted the stranger, “Will yer all stand like fools and be murdered?” and as he spoke he picked up a bucket of water and dashed the contents into the face of Mike Fink; then taking up another bucket he gave a number of the crew a similar sousing. Having done this he grabbed up a couple of pistols lying on a table and rushed up to the cabin to alarm the passengers. Dashing into their midst, he exclaimed:
“In the name of the Holy Mither, arm yerselves! Camilla and his band are on the way to attack the boat.”
By the time the alarmed passengers could gather their weapons the sound of the approaching bandits could be heard outside. Fondit[Fontin], placing his daughter in the safest place available, joined the rest of the passengers and the escaped bandit met them at the entrance with determined resistance. Though greatly outnumbered by the outlaws they would fight dearly for their lives.
A desperate encounter ensued, and in the onslaught a number of both bandits and passengers lost their lives. By force of numbers the passengers were driven back, the outlaws finally gaining the cabin. At this time Mike Fink and his boatmen sobered by the drenching, rushed up from below.
“Let us to the devils,” cried Mike as they pushed their way to the front. Each boatman was armed with a heavy iron club and they wielded the weapons left and right.
“The Snapping Turtle's out to night,” again cried Mike Fink, as he dextrously brought his deadly club on to the heads of the battling outlaws.
Fontin had been killed in the attack. Camilla, seeing the fierce battle being waged by the boatmen, now grabbed Aurelia in his arms and fled from the boat followed by his band. The young man, Maurice, seeing that Aurelia had fallen into the hands of the outlaws, with a pistol in his hand dashed wildly from the boat in pursuit of her captors.
“The cowardly devils,” said Mike, when he discovered the outlaws had beaten a hasty retreat. “It's a shame that they should run just as I was getting in good workin' order.”
He then gave orders for the cabin cleared of its dead. The dead outlaws were to be thrown overboard into the river, and the passengers who had lost their lives were to be prepared for burial.
In order to prevent a second attack from the bandits the boat was unanchored and soon the Lightfoot was again gliding down the Ohio. After boating down four or five miles the boat was again anchored for the night.
Early the next morning the dead were taken from the boat and buried. Then a consultation was held between the boatmen and passengers as to whether they would go back to Cave-in-Rock and undertake to rescue the captured girl. Though they knew it was a desperate undertaking, they unanimously decided to go.
Running the Lightfoot into the mouth of a creek, they left her there and, led by the escaped bandit, Brown, they set out through the woods afoot, determined to rescue the poor girl, Aurelia, or loose[lose] their lives in the attempt. They must attack a desperate band of outlaws in their stronghold.
(Continued next week)