Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Harpes: Zeroing in on the Truth

To the left is a photo of a bridge that is close to mile marker 24 on the Natchez Trace.  Friends of mine who cycle (that's bi-cycling!) the trace with me know this bridge very well.  It is not far from a site that has very significant interest for one of our characters that we are researching, related to King's Tavern.  Read on...

It is amazing once you get on the trail of something, what you can find in your research. Information starts popping out everywhere, suddenly rewarding the often frustrating process.  Using Kentucky historical sources from the two counties that I had identified earlier as to where the end to Big Harpe occurred, I have now found out some amazing documentation of the very end of Micajah (Big) Harpe, as well as updated (shocking!) information on Wiley (Little) Harpe. 

We now know the exact location and dates of the murder of Major William Love for snoring, then the subsequent murder of the Stegall baby and Mrs. Stegall the next morning (which I outlined in an earlier blog post).  This all happened at the Stegall cabin about 5 miles east of Dixon, Kentucky, on August 20, 1799.  Using calendar programs on the Internet I found out that this was on a Tuesday night.  The next morning, Wednesday, the Harpes slit the baby's throat and killed Mrs. Stegall.  I am getting more and more information that they passed themselves off as brothers but that they were actually cousins - don't know for sure yet.  I still have not been able to find out Mrs. Stegall's first name. 

After beheading Big Harpe and putting his head in a saddlebag, Moses Stegall took the head back and placed it in a tree about 3 miles north of Dixon.  The place is still called "Harpes Head."  I have found and ordered a copy of this history book (not a folktale book at all) that recounts much information on this, and records the eyewitness account of an old woman who said that she was a child that lived near the scene when Big Harpe was killed by the posse.  She remembers looking down at the headless body of Micaja Harpe.  This information is further backed up by the official Encyclopedia of Kentucky History. I am adding the former book to my (quickly growing) historical collection.  I also downloaded a map of the State of Kentucky that shows the counties.  Hopkins County, where the murders occurred that led to Big Harpes demise, is in western Kentucky (the cabin near Dixon).  They fled trying to escape east into present day Muhlenberg County (the County just east of Hopkins County), and that is where Micajah was caught and beheaded. 

Shocking News:
In an earlier post (below) I stated that Little Harp (Wiley) was executed in Greenville, Mississippi at a place called Gallows Field.  I assumed that the Greenville was modern-day Greenville, but I have found out that this is not so.  The Greenville that is where Wiley was hung and beheaded was a town in Jefferson County, half-way between Natchez and Port Gibson!  It is close to Rodney, and I am trying to find out exactly where this Gallows Field is so I can go there.  This puts much more credence into Wiley (Little Harp) being a regular around Natchez, and that for sure he was probably in and around King's tavern quite a bit.  So, we now have solid historical evidence that is multiple source cited that puts Little Harpe - Wiley (and not Big Harpe - Micaja, or Micajah as his name is sometimes spelled) in and around Natchez as a regular.  Jeepers, I think I'm becoming a Harpe expert.  I also found an old book (and ordered it) that has a very old sketch of the Gallow's Field, drawn around 1917 by J. Bernhard Alberts, before the community of Greenville died out to being just woods and fields in Jefferson County.  Wouldn't you love to take a metal detector out there?!

I am trying to find a date of Wiley Harpe's execution, so we could pin down the time of his being in Natchez to a "time window."  We know it was after August of 1799 because that is when Big Harpe was killed and Wiley fled to Natchez.  That fits with the time-line of King's Tavern being constructed and operating as a Tavern at that time (Summer's finding that Richard King applied for a license to operate a tavern in 1798).  So, let's continue with constructing the elements of the time-line and adding pieces to the puzzle.  We also have the alleged 1930 discovery of bodies in the fireplace.  Someone needs to start researching the Bledsoe angle - why the house is also called the Bledsoe House.  Update:  Wiley "Little" Harpe was executed on Wednesday, February 8, 1804 by hanging, then his head was placed on a pole on the Trace.  This occurred at Gallow's Field, Greenville, Mississippi, about 24 miles north of Natchez.


  1. Because the Bledsoe / Postlethwaite family acquired the property in 1861

  2. Mike, you might want to contact Mr Eric Glatzer of Natchez related to an old cemetery on the traceway near Rodney. I was told by my Dad who lived in Natchez for about 15 years that there is an old ghost town marked now only by a lone iron safe that sits out in the woods near a waterfall and an old cemetery located out in the woods past where the safe sits that has Harpe and Starnes Gravestones in it. It might not be relative to your Harpe research but, then again you never know. Eric Glatzer is a Natchez Citizen who also knows alot about Natchez History and he might be able to give you some leads or clues related to your research efforts.
    If you would like his contact information please email me and I will be happy to share it with you.
    Angela- MSSPI