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    Chapter 29

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    Chapter 29
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    Chapter 29
    A Few Specimen Bricks

    WE passed through the Plum Point region, turned Craighead's Point,
    and glided unchallenged by what was once the formidable Fort Pillow,
    memorable because of the massacre perpetrated there during the war.
    Massacres are sprinkled with some frequency through the histories
    of several Christian nations, but this is almost the only one
    that can be found in American history; perhaps it is the only one
    which rises to a size correspondent to that huge and somber title.
    We have the 'Boston Massacre,' where two or three people were killed;
    but we must bunch Anglo-Saxon history together to find the fellow
    to the Fort Pillow tragedy; and doubtless even then we must travel
    back to the days and the performances of Coeur de Lion, that fine
    'hero,' before we accomplish it.

    More of the river's freaks. In times past, the channel used
    to strike above Island 37, by Brandywine Bar, and down towards
    Island 39. Afterward, changed its course and went from
    Brandywine down through Vogelman's chute in the Devil's Elbow,
    to Island 39--part of this course reversing the old order;
    the river running UP four or five miles, instead of down,
    and cutting off, throughout, some fifteen miles of distance.
    This in 1876. All that region is now called Centennial Island.

    There is a tradition that Island 37 was one of the principal abiding
    places of the once celebrated 'Murel's Gang.' This was a colossal
    combination of robbers, horse-thieves, negro-stealers, and counterfeiters,
    engaged in business along the river some fifty or sixty years ago.
    While our journey across the country towards St. Louis was in
    progress we had had no end of Jesse James and his stirring history;
    for he had just been assassinated by an agent of the Governor of Missouri,
    and was in consequence occupying a good deal of space in the newspapers.
    Cheap histories of him were for sale by train boys. According to these,
    he was the most marvelous creature of his kind that had ever existed.
    It was a mistake. Murel was his equal in boldness; in pluck; in rapacity;
    in cruelty, brutality, heartlessness, treachery, and in general and
    comprehensive vileness and shamelessness; and very much his superior
    in some larger aspects. James was a retail rascal; Murel, wholesale.
    James's modest genius dreamed of no loftier flight than the planning
    of raids upon cars, coaches, and country banks; Murel projected
    negro insurrections and the capture of New Orleans; and furthermore,
    on occasion, this Murel could go into a pulpit and edify the congregation.
    What are James and his half-dozen vulgar rascals compared with this
    stately old-time criminal, with his sermons, his meditated insurrections
    and city-captures, and his majestic following of ten hundred men,
    sworn to do his evil will!

    Here is a paragraph or two concerning this big operator,
    from a now forgotten book which was published half a century ago--

    He appears to have been a most dexterous as well as consummate villain.
    When he traveled, his usual disguise was that of an itinerant preacher;
    and it is said that his discourses were very 'soul-moving'--interesting
    the hearers so much that they forgot to look after their horses,
    which were carried away by his confederates while he was preaching.
    But the stealing of horses in one State, and selling them in another,
    was but a small portion of their business; the most lucrative
    was the enticing slaves to run away from their masters, that they
    might sell them in another quarter. This was arranged as follows;
    they would tell a negro that if he would run away from his master,
    and allow them to sell him, he should receive a portion of the money
    paid for him, and that upon his return to them a second time they would
    send him to a free State, where he would be safe. The poor wretches
    complied with this request, hoping to obtain money and freedom;
    they would be sold to another master, and run away again, to their employers;
    sometimes they would be sold in this manner three or four times,
    until they had realized three or four thousand dollars by them;
    but as, after this, there was fear of detection, the usual custom was
    to get rid of the only witness that could be produced against them,
    which was the negro himself, by murdering him, and throwing his body into
    the Mississippi. Even if it was established that they had stolen a negro,
    before he was murdered, they were always prepared to evade punishment;
    for they concealed the negro who had run away, until he was advertised,
    and a reward offered to any man who would catch him. An advertisement
    of this kind warrants the person to take the property, if found.
    And then the negro becomes a property in trust, when, therefore,
    they sold the negro, it only became a breach of trust, not stealing;
    and for a breach of trust, the owner of the property can only have redress
    by a civil action, which was useless, as the damages were never paid.
    It may be inquired, how it was that Murel escaped Lynch law under
    such circumstances This will be easily understood when it is stated
    that he had MORE THAN A THOUSAND SWORN CONFEDERATES, all ready at
    a moment's notice to support any of the gang who might be in trouble.
    The names of all the principal confederates of Murel were obtained
    from himself, in a manner which I shall presently explain.
    The gang was composed of two classes: the Heads or Council, as they
    were called, who planned and concerted, but seldom acted; they amounted
    to about four hundred. The other class were the active agents,
    and were termed strikers, and amounted to about six hundred and fifty.
    These were the tools in the hands of the others; they ran all the risk,
    and received but a small portion of the money; they were in the power
    of the leaders of the gang, who would sacrifice them at any time by handing
    them over to justice, or sinking their bodies in the Mississippi.
    The general rendezvous of this gang of miscreants was on the Arkansas
    side of the river, where they concealed their negroes in the morasses and

    The depredations of this extensive combination were severely felt;
    but so well were their plans arranged, that although Murel,
    who was always active, was everywhere suspected, there was no proof
    to be obtained. It so happened, however, that a young man of the name
    of Stewart, who was looking after two slaves which Murel had decoyed
    away, fell in with him and obtained his confidence, took the oath,
    and was admitted into the gang as one of the General Council.
    By this means all was discovered; for Stewart turned traitor,
    although he had taken the oath, and having obtained every information,
    exposed the whole concern, the names of all the parties, and finally
    succeeded in bringing home sufficient evidence against Murel,
    to procure his conviction and sentence to the Penitentiary
    (Murel was sentenced to fourteen years' imprisonment); so many
    people who were supposed to be honest, and bore a respectable
    name in the different States, were found to be among the list
    of the Grand Council as published by Stewart, that every attempt
    was made to throw discredit upon his assertions--his character
    was vilified, and more than one attempt was made to assassinate him.
    He was obliged to quit the Southern States in consequence.
    It is, however, now well ascertained to have been all true;
    and although some blame Mr. Stewart for having violated his oath,
    they no longer attempt to deny that his revelations were correct.
    I will quote one or two portions of Murel's confessions to
    Mr. Stewart, made to him when they were journeying together.
    I ought to have observed, that the ultimate intentions of Murel
    and his associates were, by his own account, on a very extended scale;
    having no less an object in view than RAISING THE BLACKS AGAINST
    a few extracts:--

    'I collected all my friends about New Orleans at one of our friends'
    houses in that place, and we sat in council three days before we
    got all our plans to our notion; we then determined to undertake
    the rebellion at every hazard, and make as many friends as we
    could for that purpose. Every man's business being assigned him,
    I started to Natchez on foot, having sold my horse in New Orleans,--
    with the intention of stealing another after I started.
    I walked four days, and no opportunity offered for me to get a horse.
    The fifth day, about twelve, I had become tired, and stopped at a creek
    to get some water and rest a little. While I was sitting on a log,
    looking down the road the way that I had come, a man came in sight
    riding on a good-looking horse. The very moment I saw him, I was
    determined to have his horse, if he was in the garb of a traveler.
    He rode up, and I saw from his equipage that he was a traveler.
    I arose and drew an elegant rifle pistol on him and ordered him to dismount.
    He did so, and I took his horse by the bridle and pointed down the creek,
    and ordered him to walk before me. He went a few hundred yards
    and stopped. I hitched his horse, and then made him undress himself,
    all to his shirt and drawers, and ordered him to turn his back to me.
    He said, 'If you are determined to kill me, let me have time to pray
    before I die,' I told him I had no time to hear him pray. He turned around
    and dropped on his knees, and I shot him through the back of the head.
    I ripped open his belly and took out his entrails, and sunk him in the creek.
    I then searched his pockets, and found four hundred dollars and thirty-seven
    cents, and a number of papers that I did not take time to examine.
    I sunk the pocket-book and papers and his hat, in the creek.
    His boots were brand-new, and fitted me genteelly; and I put
    them on and sunk my old shoes in the creek, to atone for them.
    I rolled up his clothes and put them into his portmanteau, as they were
    brand-new cloth of the best quality. I mounted as fine a horse as ever
    I straddled, and directed my course for Natchez in much better style
    than I had been for the last five days.

    'Myself and a fellow by the name of Crenshaw gathered four good
    horses and started for Georgia. We got in company with a young
    South Carolinian just before we got to Cumberland Mountain,
    and Crenshaw soon knew all about his business. He had been
    to Tennessee to buy a drove of hogs, but when he got there pork
    was dearer than he calculated, and he declined purchasing.
    We concluded he was a prize. Crenshaw winked at me; I understood
    his idea. Crenshaw had traveled the road before, but I never had;
    we had traveled several miles on the mountain, when he passed
    near a great precipice; just before we passed it Crenshaw asked
    me for my whip, which had a pound of lead in the butt; I handed
    it to him, and he rode up by the side of the South Carolinian,
    and gave him a blow on the side of the head and tumbled him
    from his horse; we lit from our horses and fingered his pockets;
    we got twelve hundred and sixty-two dollars. Crenshaw said
    he knew a place to hide him, and he gathered him under his arms,
    and I by his feet, and conveyed him to a deep crevice in the brow
    of the precipice, and tumbled him into it, and he went out of sight;
    we then tumbled in his saddle, and took his horse with us, which was
    worth two hundred dollars.

    'We were detained a few days, and during that time our friend went
    to a little village in the neighborhood and saw the negro advertised
    (a negro in our possession), and a description of the two men of whom
    he had been purchased, and giving his suspicions of the men.
    It was rather squally times, but any port in a storm:
    we took the negro that night on the bank of a creek which runs
    by the farm of our friend, and Crenshaw shot him through the head.
    We took out his entrails and sunk him in the creek.

    'He had sold the other negro the third time on Arkansaw River for upwards
    of five hundred dollars; and then stole him and delivered him into the hand
    of his friend, who conducted him to a swamp, and veiled the tragic scene,
    and got the last gleanings and sacred pledge of secrecy; as a game of that
    kind will not do unless it ends in a mystery to all but the fraternity.
    He sold the negro, first and last, for nearly two thousand dollars,
    and then put him for ever out of the reach of all pursuers; and they can
    never graze him unless they can find the negro; and that they cannot do,
    for his carcass has fed many a tortoise and catfish before this time,
    and the frogs have sung this many a long day to the silent repose
    of his skeleton.'

    We were approaching Memphis, in front of which city, and witnessed by
    its people, was fought the most famous of the river battles of the Civil War.
    Two men whom I had served under, in my river days, took part in that fight:
    Mr. Bixby, head pilot of the Union fleet, and Montgomery, Commodore of the
    Confederate fleet. Both saw a great deal of active service during the war,
    and achieved high reputations for pluck and capacity.

    As we neared Memphis, we began to cast about for an excuse to stay
    with the 'Gold Dust' to the end of her course--Vicksburg. We were
    so pleasantly situated, that we did not wish to make a change.
    I had an errand of considerable importance to do at Napoleon, Arkansas,
    but perhaps I could manage it without quitting the 'Gold Dust.'
    I said as much; so we decided to stick to present quarters.

    The boat was to tarry at Memphis till ten the next morning. It is a
    beautiful city, nobly situated on a commanding bluff overlooking the river.
    The streets are straight and spacious, though not paved in a way to incite
    distempered admiration. No, the admiration must be reserved for the town's
    sewerage system, which is called perfect; a recent reform, however, for it
    was just the other way, up to a few years ago--a reform resulting from
    the lesson taught by a desolating visitation of the yellow-fever. In
    those awful days the people were swept off by hundreds, by thousands;
    and so great was the reduction caused by flight and by death together,
    that the population was diminished three-fourths, and so remained for a time.
    Business stood nearly still, and the streets bore an empty Sunday aspect.

    Here is a picture of Memphis, at that disastrous time,
    drawn by a German tourist who seems to have been an eye-witness
    of the scenes which he describes. It is from Chapter VII,
    of his book, just published, in Leipzig, 'Mississippi-Fahrten, von
    Ernst von Hesse-Wartegg.'--

    'In August the yellow-fever had reached its extremest height.
    Daily, hundreds fell a sacrifice to the terrible epidemic.
    The city was become a mighty graveyard, two-thirds of the population
    had deserted the place, and only the poor, the aged and the sick,
    remained behind, a sure prey for the insidious enemy.
    The houses were closed: little lamps burned in front of many--
    a sign that here death had entered. Often, several lay
    dead in a single house; from the windows hung black crape.
    The stores were shut up, for their owners were gone away or dead.

    'Fearful evil! In the briefest space it struck down and swept away
    even the most vigorous victim. A slight indisposition, then an hour
    of fever, then the hideous delirium, then--the Yellow Death !
    On the street corners, and in the squares, lay sick men, suddenly overtaken
    by the disease; and even corpses, distorted and rigid. Food failed.
    Meat spoiled in a few hours in the fetid and pestiferous air,
    and turned black.

    'Fearful clamors issue from many houses; then after a season
    they cease, and all is still: noble, self-sacrificing men come
    with the coffin, nail it up, and carry it away, to the graveyard.
    In the night stillness reigns. Only the physicians and the
    hearses hurry through the streets; and out of the distance,
    at intervals, comes the muffled thunder of the railway train,
    which with the speed of the wind, and as if hunted by furies,
    flies by the pest-ridden city without halting.'

    But there is life enough there now. The population exceeds forty thousand
    and is augmenting, and trade is in a flourishing condition. We drove
    about the city; visited the park and the sociable horde of squirrels there;
    saw the fine residences, rose-clad and in other ways enticing to the eye;
    and got a good breakfast at the hotel.

    A thriving place is the Good Samaritan City of the Mississippi:
    has a great wholesale jobbing trade; foundries, machine shops;
    and manufactories of wagons, carriages, and cotton-seed oil;
    and is shortly to have cotton mills and elevators.

    Her cotton receipts reached five hundred thousand bales last year--
    an increase of sixty thousand over the year before. Out from
    her healthy commercial heart issue five trunk lines of railway;
    and a sixth is being added.

    This is a very different Memphis from the one which the vanished
    and unremembered procession of foreign tourists used to put
    into their books long time ago. In the days of the now
    forgotten but once renowned and vigorously hated Mrs. Trollope,
    Memphis seems to have consisted mainly of one long street of
    log-houses, with some outlying cabins sprinkled around rearward
    toward the woods; and now and then a pig, and no end of mud.
    That was fifty-five years ago. She stopped at the hotel.
    Plainly it was not the one which gave us our breakfast.
    She says--

    'The table was laid for fifty persons, and was nearly full.
    They ate in perfect silence, and with such astonishing rapidity
    that their dinner was over literally before ours was begun;
    the only sounds heard were those produced by the knives and forks,
    with the unceasing chorus of coughing, ETC.'

    'Coughing, etc.' The 'etc.' stands for an unpleasant word there,
    a word which she does not always charitably cover up, but sometimes prints.
    You will find it in the following description of a steamboat dinner
    which she ate in company with a lot of aristocratic planters;
    wealthy, well-born, ignorant swells they were, tinselled with the usual
    harmless military and judicial titles of that old day of cheap shams
    and windy pretense--

    'The total want of all the usual courtesies of the table;
    the voracious rapidity with which the viands were seized
    and devoured; the strange uncouth phrases and pronunciation;
    the loathsome spitting, from the contamination of which it
    was absolutely impossible to protect our dresses; the frightful
    manner of feeding with their knives, till the whole blade
    seemed to enter into the mouth; and the still more frightful
    manner of cleaning the teeth afterward with a pocket knife,
    soon forced us to feel that we were not surrounded
    by the generals, colonels, and majors of the old world;
    and that the dinner hour was to be anything rather than an
    hour of enjoyment.'
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