National Geographic : 1968 Nov
CHROME(ABOVE)BI Mississippi River to the Spanish side, where they shifted their tactics to boarding Natchez bound rafts and heisting whatever they found of value-after massacring all hands to re move witnesses. Finally the Spanish governor surrounded their camp and took in the entire band for trial at New Madrid, in what is now the State of Missouri. Bandits Get an Unexpected "Reward" At Jackson, Mississippi's capital, just east of the Trace, I read the verbatim account of the Mason gang's trial in the handwriting of the original court reporter. Miss Charlotte Capers, Director of the state's Department of Archives and History, dug up the vellum bound ledger for me. From behind the fading brown ink, florid penmanship, water stains, and legalistic gobbledy-Gallic of the manu script emerged a lurid story of dishonor among thieves. The redoubtable Mason and the dreaded 658 Little Harpe tried to curry favor with the court by sniveling detailed accounts of each other's misdeeds. Between them they cleared up the unsolved crimes of three years of pira cy on Trace and river. They even revealed the identity of their informant in Natchez, a re spected merchant named Anthony Glass. It was he who spied on travelers in local taverns and slipped word to the bandits when an especially well-heeled party of Kaintucks left for Nashville and home. Because most of the crimes had been com mitted within American jurisdiction, the whole band was extradited to Natchez. But on the way the culprits escaped and hid in the woods. Harpe and another robber, brood ing over their leader's treachery, waited till Mason fell asleep, then drove a tomahawk into his skull. They lopped off his head, and, with impressive gall, carried it to the nearest courthouse to collect the reward "for remov ing a threat to the peace of Mississippi."