Part Two: Forgotten Highwaymen
Highwaymen were a special breed of folk hero. They took risks and lived dangerously. Thanks to them the roads weren’t safe. As was noted in American Highwaymen Part I, they could live outside the law – in some cases, create the law to suit them. Some of them had been outstanding citizens before turning to lives of thievery, and their reasons for doing so might surprise you. Here is look at another group of forgotten American folk “heroes”.
The Harpe Brothers: Often referred to as America’s first true serial killers, the Harpe Brothers left an endless trail of death and destruction behind them as they traveled throughout Kentucky and Tennessee in the late 18th century. Some reports suggest that even fellow outlaws feared these men, “Big Harpe” and “Little Harpe”, because of how ruthless they were. The Harpe Brothers murdered not for financial gain, but for the love of the sport, and held no discrimination towards age, gender, or race. Anyone was fair game. The total death count has been estimated to be somewhere around 50, although the actual number remains unknown.
Michael Martin: A 20-year old Martin partnered up with a known highwayman, Captain Thunderbolt, and began robbing travelers in Ireland in 1916. Known for his quick feet, Michael Martin was often referred to as Captain Lightfoot. The two “Captains” formed a chivalrous thieving duo, vowing never to steal from women or the poor. They found success wherever they went until Martin decided it was time to start a new life in America. He began his old ways by robbing unsuspecting people when he arrived, until his eventual capture. In 1821. He became the first and last person to be hanged in Massachusetts for highway robbery.
James Ford: Described as “Satan’s Ferryman”, the ex-county Sherriff, Justice of the Peace, and overseer of the poor had what some had described as an evil lurking deep within him. Known for creating the “Ford’s Ferry Gang”, James Ford and a group of degenerates would prey on any unsuspecting traveler in their vicinity during the 1820’s. Ford’s reign of terror would come to a sudden end when a group of vigilantes decided to take up the law in their own hands and assassinate the leader himself, dismantling the gang entirely.