The Outlaw Years: The History of the Land Pirates of the Natchez Trace

The Outlaw Years: The History of the Land Pirates of the Natchez Trace

The Outlaw Years: The History of the Land Pirates of the Natchez Trace

The Outlaw Years: The History of the Land Pirates of the Natchez Trace

Synopsis

The Natchez Trace is remarkable in American history for the legends and tales surrounding it. During the first half of the nineteenth century, travelers--traders, settlers, and the occasional war party or fugitive from justice--followed its course from the Appalachians to the lower Mississippi, from Knoxville to Natchez. In this vibrant and energetic account, the author has mined both history and legend for startling tales of the near-mythical thieves, cutthroats, and confidence men once reported to have stalked their unsuspecting victims along this frontier trail--the terrible Harpe brothers, who came to a satisfactorily bad end; Samuel Mason, a thief done in by other thieves; and John Murrell, whose reputed schemes threw the South into a paroxysm of fear. Robert M. Coates retells the stories of these and other "land pirates" in chilling and ominous detail, preserving for us the tales once whispered on the edges of the dark southern woods nearly two centuries ago.

Excerpt

By John D. W. Guice

"He has written a book that boils over with excitement, and he has written it with life and speed and skill." These words of praise in the New York Evening Post were typical of the accolades showered upon The Outlaw Years at its publication in 1930. Clearly the reading public agreed with reviewers. Robert M. Coates's book on the land pirates of the Natchez Trace enjoyed instant and lasting popularity. A Literary Guild selection, The Outlaw Years went through several printings and remains a half-century later the best-known account of the Trace. Whether or not, as one reviewer suggested, it has provided "an excellent cure for many of our civilized naïvetés," the time is ripe for a Bison reprint of this frontier classic.

No trail east of the Mississippi, not even the one Daniel Boone blazed through the mountains into Kentucky, has had more historical and literary attention focused upon it than the Natchez Trace. Old military and commercial routes have always fascinated subsequent generations, and that is the case with this trail connecting the more settled portions of the young republic with its distant but important outposts. When Winthrop Sargent, first governor of Mississippi Territory, arrived in Natchez in 1798, it took as long to get a dispatch to the nation's capital as it did from Philadelphia to London. Sandwiched between Spanish Louisiana and several formidable Indian tribes, he must have felt an uneasy loneliness. Surely Sargent heaved a sigh of relief when he succeeded in impressing his superiors with the strategic importance of linking Natchez to Tennessee with a post road. However, he was out of office by the time Congress authorized the road, the Choctaw and Chickasaw granted permission to cross their lands, the route was surveyed, and the crude road was hacked out between Natchez and Nashville. The route followed an ancient Indian path long known as the Chickasaw Trace. Beginning at Nashville, it crossed the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals, cut . . .

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