Part 5 of 5

Source:  The Crittenden Press. (Marion, Ky.) 1919-Current, January 28, 1921, Edition 1, Image 3 - Chronicling America - The Library of Congress.


Written for the Press by R. C. Haynes


The story of Mike Fink and his boatmen and the attack on the Lightfoot as told in the last two installments shows to what dangers the early boatmen of the Ohio river, were exposed by the depredations of this Cave-in-Rock band of outlaws. Many other attacks on other boats were doubtless made which were never known to the public, owing to the fact that “dead men tell no tales.”

But as we have said, this band of murderers and outlaws did not confine their depredations to the river. They infested all the roads to and from what was then known as Barkers Ferry. This is shown by the attack on Abram Wright, an account of which has already been given.

It happened one day that a traveler whose identity has never been known, was journeying on the Fords Ferry road, somewhere near Pickern Hill. He was suddenly attacked from ambush and shot, falling fatally wounded by the roadside. Shortly afterward a woman, whose name also the writer does not know, passing along the road was attracted by the groans of the wounded man. When she reached the man he told her he was a traveler, and that he was attacked by a band of highwaymen, shot and robbed of what money he had. He also told her that he was dying and begged her for a drink of water. Although there was a running stream not far away the woman had no bucket nor dipper in which to convey water from the spring and the nearest residence was miles away. But it seems, being a resourceful woman, she kindly pulled off one of her slippers and went to the spring and filled it with water to appease the thirst of the dying stranger. The man died soon afterward. He had no baggage and no mark of identification was found in his clothing. The woman notified the neighbors and the stranger was buried it is said, near the place at which he was killed. With the lapse of time the burial place has been forgotten. The names of the murdered man, his benefactress and his murderer will, perhaps, never be known until the day when the graves give up their dead.

The country now was becoming more thickly settled on both sides of river. The settlers were a lot of brave and honest men, who believed in the “majesty of the law” and this made it harder for the outlaws to do their depredations unmolested.

One incident, more than anything else, led to the death of Major James Ford and the ousting of the band of desperadoes from their rendezvous at Cave-in-Rock. This was the murder of Col. Vinson B. Simpson.

Col. Simpson was a prominent citizen of Crittenden county, and was well known on both sides of the river. He lived with his family, on his farm near where Rosebud church now stands. He also owned a farm on the other side of the river, in Hardin county, Illinois. It is said that he had rented from Major Ford the ferry at the crossing where the town of Fords Ferry now stands. It is also said that Col. Simpson and Major Ford had had a falling out of some kind and that in a personal combat between the two Ford had come out second best.

One day soon after this, Col. Simpson in company with his wife crossed the river to make a visit to his Illinois farm, which lay a few miles back of the river. How long they remained at the farm is not known, but on their return Col. Simpson was shot by someone hidden along the road, falling from his horse fatally wounded. He died of his injuries soon afterward. His murder aroused great indignation on both sides of the river. Whether Simpson or his wife or both recognized his assailant, or what the evidence was the writer does not know. But suspicion strongly pointed to Henry C. Shouse, a reputed member of the band of outlaws as being the murderer.

Soon after the death of Col. Simpson Shouse was arrested on this side of the river by officials of the law, charging him with the murder of Simpson, taken to Smithland and lodged in jail. While in jail it is either before or after his trial, Shouse made a confession, acknowledging the killing of Simpson and implicating Major Ford and other members of the band. This confession however if made, for some reason was never made public. Shouse was tried in the Livingston Circuit court, at what date is not known to the writer, though of course the records of the Circuit Clerk of that county will doubtless show, found guilty of willful murder, sentenced to death by the court and executed by hanging. Thus one member of the band at least had suffered for his crimes, the extreme penalty of the law. This it must be remembered, occurred before Crittenden was made a separate county and Marion established as the seat of government.

Col. Vinson B. Simpson was, as we said an influential citizen of the county, widely known and respected. He had a large family and several of his descendants are now citizens of this county. He was the grandfather of Mrs. J. M. McChesney and the great-grandfather of Mrs. Chas. Daughtrey, both of this city.

After the murder of Col. Simpson and the execution of Shouse, things did not go well with the Cave-in-Rock band of desperadoes. Publicity then as now wielded a great beneficial and enlightened influence. Officials whose duty it was to uphold the “Majesty of the law” and the friends of the murdered man made an earnest effort to rid the country of highwaymen, robbers and murderers.

There are several versions as to how Major Ford met his death and at this date it is difficult to tell which version is the correct one. The late W. C. Watts a Livingstone County man and author of “Chronicles of a Kentucky Settlement,” states that he was killed while setting on the porch of his own home by an unknown assailant, probably a member of the band of outlaws. From consulting some of our oldest citizens we are led to believe that this account is not in all respects correct. The reputed leader of the outlaw band was probably killed while away from home, at the river crossing, where now is located the town of Fords Ferry.

Jonathan Brown, William C. Blakely and Richard McConnell were residents of Hardin county, Illinois just across the Ohio river and a few miles back from Cave-in-Rock. Their farms lay in the neighborhood of the one owned by Col. Simpson. They were all friends of, and one or more of them related by marriage to the murdered man. They therefore became active in aiding the authorities on this side of the river in bringing to justice, not only the murderer, but also the instigators of the crime.

One day while Brown and Blakely were over on this side of the river they met up with Major Ford somewhere near Fords Ferry and arrested him, whether with or without a warrant, it is not known to us. Ford denied all knowledge of the crime, made no objection to going with them and said he was willing to be taken to Smithland for an examining trial.

He was taken to Fords Ferry by his captors, it is said, to the home of the ferryman, who occupied the house at that time is not known to the writer. It was late in the afternoon and while Ford, Brown and Blakely, with perhaps some members of the family occupying the house, were sitting on the porch it was announced that supper was served. Ford told the others that he was not hungry and that he did not wish any supper. The others then went into the dining room, leaving Ford alone on the porch. While they were eating the meal they heard a pistol shot, and rushing to the porch, they found Ford dead in his chair, having been shot through the heart. Who it was that fired the fatal shot has never been known to the public.

Thus passed away from earth Major Ford, a very bad man, or else a maligned one. As has been said, no incriminating evidence had ever been found against him by the upholders of the law. There were people then who believed he had no connection with the Cave-in-Rock band of outlaws, and there are a few persons who so believe today; but it was generally conceded that he was the leader of the noted band of desperadoes that has ever since borne his name. His family was highly respected, his son and daughter married into prominent families and were useful and prosperous citizens.

The body of Ford was buried in the family graveyard, near Hurricane, beside the grave of his oldest son. A monument was erected thereon which was inscribed the epitaph: “His benevolence caused orphans and widows to smile, and his firmness his enemies to tremble. He was envied while living and much slandered since death.”

After the death of Major Ford the Cave-in-Rock outlaws apparently disbanded, as their depredations ceased. Today, as we have said, Cave-in-Rock is an up to date town, inhabited by useful and prosperous citizens; while the town of Fords Ferry, a few miles below and on this side of the river, is filled up with as good a lot of people as there are in Crittenden county, or elsewhere.

(The End)

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