Hello again to my friends and others! It is good to be back again. I wrote this article yesterday and somehow lost it in the computer overnight, so, here I go writing it all over again. Maybe I will do better this time.
No storey about Logan County is more intriguing than that about the Harpe brothers, Micajah and Wiley or as they were better known – Big Harpe and Little Harpe. The Harpe brothers were the sons of a Tory or British sympathizer during the Revolutionary War. In the late 1790s they moved to Knoxville, Tennessee and Micajah, Big Harpe, took in effect, two wives. Susan and Betsy Roberts. Susan was the principal wife and Betsy was called the “supplementary” wife. Both women mothered children for Micajah.
In 1798 Wiley Harpe or Little Harpe married Sally Rice, the daughter of a local Knoxville minister. They also were reputed to have had several children. They lived a few miles outside of Knoxville and from there began a series of robberies and murders that eventually led the Harpes to being called the first mass murderers in American history.
Eventually the Harpe brothers and their women began moving through Tennessee and into Kentucky. They also spent short amounts of time in other states but always seemed to return to central and western Kentucky. All along the way they robbed and murdered. Men, women, children, young and old made no difference. They stole whatever they wanted. Food, clothing, money or just what ever took their fancy. Usually they left no one alive to tell what had happened. No one in American history had ever been reported to have been so blood thirsty.
They used guns, knives, tomahawks, hammers, clubs or whatever was handy to attack and kill whoever they wanted to take from. They were also known to drown several of their victims. The murderous ways of Big Harpe and Little Harpe spread far and wide. There were many rewards offered for these two evil marauders.
There were stories of the Harpes killing for a sack of flour, or murdering people who showed them acts of kindness, or forcing people off bluffs blind folded. Variety seemed to be the order of the day.
No story seems worse than Big Harpe becoming irritated at his own baby who was crying and simply killing it. He was reported to have bashed its’ brains out against a tree in the yard. What a terrible man!
In 1799 the Harpes were given food and a place to spend the night. They intern killed the family who were hosting them including a four month old baby. They then burned down the house to try to cover up the murders. As a result of these murders a posse was formed and the Harpes were chased down. Micajah, Big Harpe, was beheaded and his head stuck on top of a poll for all to see. The head was reported to have remained on the poll for several years. The women were later tried but let off and sent home. Wiley, Little Harpe, escaped and fled the state.
In 1802 Wiley Harpe was captured and sent to Mississippi for trial. In early 1803 Wiley Harpe was tried and convicted in Greenville, Mississippi. He was then hung, his head cut off and placed on a post for all to see. Thus ended the saga of the infamous Big and Little Harpe. Who would have ever guest that these two men would have become the worst mass killers in American History and that several of their terrible murders would have happened here in Logan County.
Time to go. Till next week.
Good night Mrs. Costello where ever you are.
To contact Dick Dickerson about the Logan County News, call 615-389-5495 or email [email protected]