Research Publications

Harpe Brothers - The beginning: Tennessee

 The Gory Career of the Harpes

1. The Beginning: Tennessee

The Harpes probably committed their first murder during their early migrations. The apparent victim was Moses Doss, a rowdy who seemingly was one of their fellows. Quite likely he became interested in one or both of the Roberts sisters. His mutilated body was discovered in 1797 on an isolated road near a Cherokee village in eastern Tennessee. Indians were not suspected. The furious hacking and slashing of the bodies would become the trademark of the Harpes. Besides, the Harpes had apparently spent some time with these Indians and very likely had been near the site of the murder. Hence, they remain prime suspects.

         Once established in Knoxville area, the Harpe brothers began a business of supplying a merchant named John Miller with meat. However, the supply's source was stolen sheep and pigs. The Harpes graduated in their business enterprises to horse stealing. A farmer named Tiel suspected them of stealing two of his horses and gathered a band of regulators (a volunteer posse) to capture the Harpes. The brothers, however, fled. The three Harpe women likewise abandoned the small farm near Beaver Creek and journeyed on a separate course to meet the brothers at a predetermined hideout. This is the first of two occasions where these women had the opportunity to escape from the brothers but instead journeyed miles through the wilderness to rejoin them.

         Meanwhile, the Harpes were captured by Tiel and his fellows but managed to escape. Sometime later they burst into an inn near Knoxville and kidnapped a man named Johnson, who might well have reported the brother's nefarious businesses to Tiel and others. Johnson was brutally murdered, his body eviscerated, his stomach filled with stones, and the corpse hurled into the Holston River. However, some of the rocks became dislodged, and the corpse bobbed to the surface.