Research Publications

Harpe Brothers - End of the Reign of Terror

6. The End of the Reign of Terror

         With these events, the Harpe's reign of terror ended. The vigilantes returned to the area around Robertson's Lick, and Stegall after sharpening a tree branch, jammed Micajah Harpe's head on it, leaving the grisly souvenir as a warning to other outlaws. The road leading south toward the present town of Dixon, Kentucky, for a long time thereafter was known as "Harpe's Head Road."

         The Harpe women were tried for the murders at the Stegall cabin. Again they were acquitted. Betsey Roberts eventually married a John Hufstetter. The couple settled, along with her son, as tenants on the plantation near Russellville of Colonel Anthony Butler. Susan and her daughter, Lovey, took a cabin on the plantation, but the widow did not remarry. Sally Harpe apparently remarried. Some years later she was seen with a grown child, her father, Parson Rice, and a man, apparently her husband, migrating into Illinois.

         Of course, Wiley Harpe was still at large. He changed his modus operandi and teamed up with Samuel Mason. Assuming the name of James Setton, Wiley Harpe traveled about with James May, another outlaw, committing robberies along the Natchez Trace. Eventually the price on Mason's head became too tempting. Harpe and May betrayed Mason and brought the outlaw's head to the authorities. However, a John Bowman, a former antagonist of Wiley Harpe, happened to be in town and recognized the criminal. He claimed that if Setton were indeed Harpe, a scar left by a knife wound would be on his left breast. For Bowman himself had given Harpe the wound. Harpe was forced to remove his shirt; the scar was discovered, and Harpe and May were incarcerated. However, both escaped. They were captured some time later, and their heads were mounted along the Trace as a warning to other outlaws.Historical marker in Dixon, KY, marking the place where Harpe's head was hung