The Wilderness and road that created our beloved county took some time and holds numerous stories. Some unheard of, some unproven, and some almost too gruesome to relive.
One in particular that is nearly unheard of, is the Harpe Brothers, America’s first true serial killers.
Micajah “Big Harpe” and Wiley “Little Harpe”, roamed Tennessee on their way to Kentucky from North Carolina committing many of their crimes. But what is unknown to many here in Cumberland County, is that one of their victims found their fate along the Walton Road near Crab Orchard, TN.
Their reign of terror mostly in the 1790s. “According to several written accounts from the 1800s, it was in December 1798 that the brothers entered the Gap, heading for Crab Orchard, a point where roads diverged to Louisville and Cincinnati. By this time, all three women (their wives) were pregnant. The group entered John Farris’s tavern, looking for food, but they were turned away because they had no money. Stephen Langford from Virgninia took pity on the miserable looking troupe and bought them breakfast. He then asked if the party wanted to join him along the Wilderness Trail. Historians report that Langford’s remains, mutilated almost beyond recognition, soon were found along the trail.” (Kelly Kazek, Forgotten Tales of Tennessee, p. 20-21)
The Harpes and their wives were eventually captured and taken to jail in Danville, KY, but true to their reputations, the men escaped leaving behind their wives. Despite being left behind, the women all gave birth, and were then acquitted for their crimes returning to their men on the run.
A pose of men who’s families had been murdered by the Harpe brothers formed and trailed them till each brother was dead. Their wives moved on, remarrying and retiring from their life of crime.