Part 2 of 5
Source: The Crittenden Press. (Marion, Ky.) 1919-Current, December 3, 1920, Edition 1, Image 11 - Chronicling America - The Library of Congress.
Written for the Press by R. C. Haynes
“As I have said, the night was intensely dark. Great threatening clouds hung, like a canopy, over the earth. Only a narrow strip of sand lay between the waters of the river and the thick growth of trees and underbrush that lined the river bank.
“I took my way noiselessly along, stepping on the soft sand and dodging now and then an overhanging limb. Not a sound did I hear emanating from the direction of the cave. As I neared the place where I had last seen my companions I could see no light or sign of life. What, I meditated, had been the fate of the boatmen?
“As I was picking my way thru the darkness two men suddenly sprang from behind a thick cluster of underbrush and seized me. Before I could draw a weapon in my defense I was thrown to the ground and bound hand and foot. I was then disarmed, robbed of what money I had and a gag placed in my mouth.
“Without saying a word, the two men then carried me to the river and placed me in the bottom of the skiff.
The rain was now falling in torrents and I could not see even the forms of my abductors. I could tell, however, from the sound of the oars and the movements of the skiff that one of the men had taken oars and that we were leaving the shore. I soon discovered also that the other man in another skiff was following close behind. After we had rowed out into the river for some distance and, as I judged, had reached the middle of the stream, the oarsman leaned over and whispered in my ear.
“D—n you,” he said, “I'm going to disobey orders. We are instructed to kill you and let your body float down the river in this skiff, as “Dead men tell no tales.” But By – I'm going to spare your life if you act sensibly. You must lie in the bottom of the skiff for at least an hour without moving or making the slightest noise, otherwise you will be killed, as you will be watched. In doing this I run the risk of losing my own life. Not even my companion must know that you are not dead. Don't try to land on either side of the river but put as many miles between you and this place as you can.”
“When he had whispered these words to me, with a knife he severed the cords that bound my wrists, then taking the oars from the locks, he sprang into the other skiff and I could hear the two men rowing back toward the cave.
“The rain was still falling in torrents, and the wind blew in fitful gusts as I lay there silently floating down the river. I could feel the water rising in the skiff against my body, not daring to move lest somehow I should be shot to death. I knew it would be only a matter of time until the water would fill the boat and the skiff would sink under its weight.
“In the darkness I had no way of measuring time, but after the lapse of what seemed to me much longer than an hour I raised myself to a sitting posture.
“The darkness was so dense I could not see an inch before me. With my free hand I took the gag from my mouth and unbound the cords that held my feet together. I then took my hat and, the best I could, baled the water from the skiff.
“Feeling around with my hands I discovered there were no oars left in the skiff. Drenched to the skin, my companions perhaps murdered, I was left in an oarless craft to float down the river aimlessly, without money or food, friendless and unarmed and apparently in a lawless country.
“Though I had so far escaped with my life, I was in no enviable state of mind, and I was tempted to jump into the river and thus end my troubles.
“However, thinking of other friends at home, I desisted. How far I had floated down in the darkness I could not even surmise. The time seemed as ages to me as the boat moved slowly on with the current.
“Just as the light of day was breaking in the east I saw a light in the distance. As the boat drew nearer I discovered that the light emanated from a candle shining through the window of a cabin on what I afterwards found to be Hurricane Island. Whether I would find friend or foe, I knew not, but I resolved to take the risk and tell the occupants of the cabin my story.
“Paddling with my hands, I rowed the skiff toward the shore and finally landed. The man, who was a farmer, met me in a friendly way and after I had briefly told my story the wife prepared breakfast for me. I do not know the names of these people, but they proved to be friends to me.
“After we had eaten breakfast the man kindly furnished me with a pair of oars and the good wife gave me provisions enough to last me several days. Bidding the Islanders good bye, I rowed off down the river. The rain had ceased and the sky was once more clear. Meeting with no further mishap, in a few days I reached St. Louis where I found friends and work. I never afterward heard of the boatmen. They, were probably murdered in the cave and the boat, manned by a crew of the robber band, taken down the river to New Orleans, where the vessel with its cargo was sold.”
Many other stories have been told of the depredations of this band of robbers and murderers, though, as we have said, while being strongly suspected of being the leader of the band, nothing satisfactory to the law could be proven against Major James Ford. It was always easy enough to prove an alibi when such witnesses as this band of desperadoes could be had to swear in his defense.
Mr. W. C. Watts, already referred to, in his romantic story of the early settlement of Livingston county, (before Crittenden county was made a separate political division) recounts some of the doings of this lawless band, though, “for obvious reasons,” as he says in his preface, he designates the leader as Major James Wilson.
A Kentucky History, giving an account of this band of outlaws, also gives the name of the leader as Major James Wilson. Where the historian obtained his facts is not known to the writer. From the best information obtainable from the oldest citizens of the county, no such a man as Major James Wilson ever resided in that part of the country at that time or since.
Some of our readers, perhaps have heard of the story of “Mike Fink” and his crew of jolly boatmen. Mike Fink was a well known river man at that time, and was called “the last of the boatmen” because the invention of Robert Fulton drove Mike's style of boat out of use.
How Mike, in his boat the “Lightfoot” with his crew and a number of passengers, while floating down the river was attacked by this murderous gang of bandits at Cave-in-Rock will be given in another installment.
(to be continued)