|The mighty Ohio River (looking across to Kentucky from Illinois)|
And then there are the interesting subjects who fall somewhere in the middle.
Such was the case of Samuel Mason, former captain of the American Revolution, who became a river pirate.
Until the opening of the Wilderness Road to wagon traffic in 1795-96, travel down the Ohio River was regarded as the easiest method of travel into western lands during the Federal era—if the most dangerous because of the threat of attack by natives. But the danger was by no means limited to by that from the Shawnee, because as soon as the native tribes migrated west, others found travelers a too-easy target as settlers poured into the frontier by both land and waterway.
|Cave-in-Rock State Park, Illinois|
Mason was later credited with being shrewd but not bloodthirsty, bragging that he never took a life “unless necessary” (self defense and avenging family members seemed to be included in that). This was in contrast to the notorious Harpes, a pair of men who although called brothers were likely cousins, and who wreaked mayhem all up the Wilderness Road and across Kentucky and Tennessee. (The saga of their murder spree in 1798-99 provides the background for my upcoming release, The Blue Cloak, #5 of Barbour Publishing’s True Colors series.)
|Keelboats and flatboats, both popular with settlers|
It was around this time—again, no one is really sure—that Mason abandoned Cave-in-Rock and drifted over to the Natchez Trace, a road which connected Nashville, Tennessee, with towns farther south in Mississippi Territory and eventually reached New Orleans. His fate is later tied up with the Harpes in a most bizarre manner, but the man had a wife who apparently did not approve of his activities, and sons who joined him at least occasionally.
Robbery and murder were not the only criminal acts taking place on the frontier. Counterfeiting became big business as well, and a sort of mafia-like “protective” service offered by some.
And how did folk on the frontier deal with such things? Well, more on that later. :-)