THE FORD BAND OF DESPERADOES
Part 4 of 5
Source: The Crittenden Press. (Marion, Ky.) 1919-Current, January 7, 1921, Edition 1, Image 2 - Chronicling America - The Library of Congress.
Written for the Press by R. C. Haynes
On the morning after the attack on the Lightfoot the bandits around Cave-in-Rock were astir early. The body of Pittman, who it will be remembered was shot and killed by Camilla for allowing Brown to escape and warn the boatmen, was placed into a skiff, weighted with a big stone, rowed out into the middle of the river and thrown overboard.
In a cabin back of the cave, hidden from view of the river by a dense wood was the prisoner, Aurelia. With her in the cabin was Celia, the daughter of Camilla, a beautiful girl of about the same age as Aurelia. In another room was the young man, Maurice, who had been captured the night before in his endeavor to rescue Aurelia from the hands of the bandits.
The girl had recognized her captor as being the man who had gotten aboard the Lightfoot near Fords Ferry the day before. Aurelia had been informed that the object of her capture was that she become the wife of Camilla, the murderer of her father. This she indignantly refused to do. Camilla, angered by her refusal, said:
“Aurelia, you know not into whose hands you have fallen. Marry me and I will leave this band of desperadoes and lead a respectable life. If, however you persist in your refusal the young man, Maurice, will die a horrible death before your eyes.” With these words, the bandit leader left the cabin and took his way toward the cave.
When Camilla had gone Celia sat beside the trembling girl and tried to comfort her. “Be not so disconsolate, Aurelia.” she said. “I had a good mother and I believe in a Great Father who will take care of his children who put their trust in Him. I have some influence with my father and will do all I can to save you, if I die in the attempt.” and the two unfortunate girls wept in each others arms.
It has been said that there is “honor among thieves” and it might also be added that there is justice of a certain kind among the most desperate outlaws. It was so with this band around Cave-in-Rock. After they had sunk the body of their murdered companion, Pittman, in the river the outlaws met to hold a consultation. They were not pleased with the outcome of the attack on the Lightfoot. As a result of this conference two charges were preferred against the leader, Camilla. First, the killing of Pittman “while discharging his duty to the best of his ability;” and, secondly, of taking two prisoners from the boat, which was a violation of their laws.
A man named Salmon was made speaker for the band as, they said, he had a better education than the rest of his companions. They met Camilla in the cave and Salmon informed the leader as to the result of their conference.
“Well, d—n you” replied Camilla with an oath, “prefer your charges.”
“First, then,” said Salmon, “you are accused of willfully, maliciously and unlawfully of taking the life of Pittman while performing his--
“Hold on,” interrupted Camilla, “I have no time to listen to you now, but meet me here in the cave in half an hour and I will answer your charges satisfactorily.”
To this Salmon, after consulting his companions agreed and the men marched out, leaving only Camilla in the cave.
What the leader of the band did during their absence, the outlaws did not know, but in half an hour they returned to the cave and found Camilla seated waiting for them.
“Now, gentlemen,” he said good naturedly, “you may repeat the charges against me. I am prepared to answer any charge you see fit to prefer.”
“First, then,” repeated Salmon, “you are charged with willfully, maliciously and unlawfully of taking the life of Pittman, while he was performing his duty to the best of his ability. What have you to say in your defense?
“Nothing, whatever at present,” answered Camilla. “Go on.”
“Secondly, then,” went on Salmon, “you are charged with violating our laws by taking a couple of prisoners from the boat, which, as you know, is without a precedent. What have you to say in defense of this charge?”
“That is none of your d—n business!” answered Camilla, springing to his feet with an oath and, before the assembled court had time to think, the bandit leader uncovered a keg of powder; then drawing a pistol from his belt, cocked it, pointing the weapon to the powder in the keg.
“Fools!” he cried; “you low down mongrels! Do you think you can pass sentence on me—Camilla? I'll show you who is the executioner. It is only the touch of a trigger, a click and a flash and we go into the Great Beyond together!” and he placed the weapon's muzzle down into the keg of powder.
“Hold! For God's sake, hold!” cried several of the outlaws, as they sprang toward the ladder leading to the compartment above.
Others quickly followed and soon the whole company of outlaws had ascended the ladder, leaving only Camilla below. When the last bandit had disappeared Camilla, placing the pistol in his belt, ascended the ladder and swung the trap door and locked it, thus closing the exit from above and making almost the whole band prisoners!
When he had done this, Camilla left the cave and whistled for the remainder of his band. Only four or five men answered the call. After conversing with the men a short time he dismissed them and took his way toward his cabin.
“She must be mine!” he muttered to himself. By –– there's no power on earth, in heaven or h—l to take her from me. I'll kill–”
Camilla was interrupted here by one of his band, who came running toward him from the woods.
“Call the band to arms!” cried the man. “In two minutes Mike Fink and the boatmen will attack us!”
Camilla evidently was not expecting an attack from the boatmen, else he would not have had most of his band locked up in the cave. Placing a whistle in his mouth, he sent forth a shrill call for help. Four outlaws answered.
“Two of you run to the cave and release the men!” he shouted. Be quick, by – or I'll shoot you down!” The two men designated by name made off and ran at full speed toward the cave.
At this juncture Mike Fink and his men, yelling like bloody Indians, emerged from the woods and made a rush toward the cave.
“Halt!” cried Mike, to the two fleeing bandits. This they refused to do, and two bullets sped from the rank of the boatmen, and the two outlaws fell to the ground dead. This prevented the imprisoned outlaws from being released from the cave to aid their companions in the attack from the boatmen.
When the boatmen and passengers rushed from the woods they expected to be met in deadly combat with the full force of the desperadoes, but finding no one about the cave Fink directed his men to search around the huge cliffs of rock for the bandits who had attacked his boat.
As Mike Fink and one of his boatmen named Flanagan approached the cabin, Camilla and the one remaining bandit sprang from behind a clump of bushes. The outlaw leader leveled a piston at the breast of Mike Fink, while the other bandit pointed his weapon at the head of Flanagan. A report of a pistol rang out and a ball pierced the ear of Flanagan. The outlaw then took to his heels and disappeared in the dense woods just as a bullet from Flanagan's pistol sped in the direction of the fleeing outlaw. Mike Fink, who is said to have borne a charmed life, by a dextrous movement, so placed his iron club that when Camilla's weapon was discharged the bullet struck the iron weapon and fell harmless to the ground.
“I know you, you murderous villain!” cried Mike, and as he spoke he wrenched the pistol from the hand of the bandit leader with one hand, while with the other hand he dealt Camilla a blow that sent him unconscious to the ground.
“Here, Flanagan,” said Mike, “bind the villain hand and foot. He's the scoundrel who boarded our boat up the river yesterday—wanted to find out our fighting strength. He underestimated us, didn't he?”
While the boatmen were thus conversing Camilla suddenly sprang to his feet and made a break for the woods. As the fleeing bandit leader was nearing the cabin the ex-bandit, Brown, coming up, fired, and Camilla fell dead to the ground.
“Aye, captain,” said Brown, “he's the desperate villain that passed sentence of death on me for releasing a poor prisoner and sending him down the river in a skiff to home and safety. I am avenged.”
As Brown was speaking, Celia came rushing from the cabin and fell fainting on the bosom of her dead father. Desperado that he was, and devoid of all the better feelings of humanity, there was one human being that still loved him.
Mike Fink gently lifted the prostrated girl into his arms. “Here Flanagan,” he said, while unaccustomed tears stood in the eyes of the hardy boatmen, “take the poor unfortunate girl to the cabin and bather her face with water.”
As Flanagan departed the sad, pale face of Aurelia appeared in the door of the cabin. Seeing Mike fink standing near, her tear-dimmed eyes suddenly lit up with a joyous light of recognition and she came bounding from the cabin toward him.
“Oh, my good, brave Captain Fink!” she cried, and to the captain's surprise she threw her arms impulsively around the neck of the sturdy boatman.
“Faith and bejabbers,” he said, somewhat embarrassed—for Mike was a bachelor–”who says that I'm not amply paid for any kind of risks by getting such a friendly hug as that?”
“The only regret I have,” he went on, “is that we could not find more of the bloody villains.” and he took her hand and led her back to the cabin out of danger of the bullets of the treacherous outlaws.
When they entered the cabin they found the young man, Maurice, who had been released by Flanagan. He grasped the hand of the boatman and expressed his thankfulness for his timely rescue.
“And Maurice,” spoke up Aurelia, “I can never repay you for your bravery in risking your life in your attempt to rescue me from the dreadful hands of the outlaws.”
“Oh, yes, you can,” answered the young man, looking with loving eyes at the beautiful girl. “We will talk about that later on.”
All the boatmen and passengers had now gathered into the cabin and the two rescued prisoners clasped each one by the hand to express their gratitude for his share in saving them from a fate worse than death.
“Well my friends,” said Mike, “we have accomplished our mission, and I would have been glad to clean out this desperate band of murderers, but we must now leave here and get aboard the Lightfoot.” “Oh, Celia,” going to the girl and taking her by the hand, “you must go with us. With your father dead we can not leave you here among these desperate men. Go home with me and I will always be your sister.” said Aurelia.
With tears in her eyes the lovely daughter of the dead bandit clasped Aurelia in her arms. “There's nothing else I can do,” she said. I gladly accept your offer and escape from this dreadful place and this wretched life.”
Mike Fink, followed by the others, left the cabin and took their way toward the place where the Lightfoot was anchored. Keeping near the river, they thus avoided the woods and after traveling for perhaps two hours they again boarded the Lightfoot and soon the boat was floating tranquilly down the beautiful Ohio.
The next installment will give an account of the murder of Col. Simpson and the events leading up to the death of Major Ford.
(To be continued.)