The Ohio River has had a big impact on Southern Illinois’ history. It helped with the expansion west and also helped with the early economy and market. The Ohio River became more trafficked by flatboats in the late eighteen hundreds early nineteen hundreds. The Ohio River is an English name. It came from the Iroquois word “O-Y-O,” meaning “the great river” . It was used as a faster way to transport goods to New Orleans and also to aid settlers on their pilgrimage west. 1765-1820 was considered the Golden Age of Flat Boating because of the high amounts that they were being used for transportation.
For most of its history, the Ohio River was peaceful with very little amounts of violence. Yet, the Ohio River in Southern Illinois has had its share of violence with river pirates and outlaws. Despite all the good the Ohio River has done for Southern Illinois, it has had its downfalls. For the most part the Ohio River has been a peaceful but in the early eighteen hundreds a series of 3 major outlaw groups took over the area that is known as Cave-in-Rock today and how it affected that area.
History of Southern Illinois The state is named after the Illini Indians who came to the area around 1500 AD. The natives left behind many artifacts including the structures called stone forts or pounds. In about 1673 the French arrived and started settlements. The French were welcomed and were the ones to named the land Illinois after the Native Americans. Soon, after in the early 1800s more Europeans settled in Illinois which increased the diversity of the land. In 1818 Congress approved Illinois as the 21st state of the union.
The Jim Wilson Family It was in the early 1800s that Jim Wilson and his family moved to the Cave-in-Rock area. He set up “Wilson’s Liquor Vault and House of Entertainment” which was used as a decoy to lure in people passing by. The Wilson Gang would then rob and sometimes even kill the passenger for the cargo they carried on their flatboats down the river. This happened for a while until rumors got out about the outlaws and what they did. When the Wilson Gang heard of these rumors most fled in fear of what would happen if they stayed and the ones who stayed were later arrested for their wrongdoings.
In the midst of all the chaos Jim Wilson was killed by his own men in exchange for the reward. The death of Wilson opened up a spot for a new outlaw to come into play. Samuel Mason Not long after his death the next outlaw took advantage of the open spot in 1797. His name was Samuel Mason, a former officer in Washington’s army. He was born in Norfolk, Virginia then, later moved west to Illinois. Samuel used some of the same luring techniques that the Wilson Gang did such as the “Wilson’s Liquor Vault and House of Entertainment”.
Mason also though introduced his own was to lure in his “prey” by using men posed as guides along the river and “distressed” women on the banks crying out for help. Once the passengers were on shore he too like Wilson robbed and murdered his victims. He disposed of the bodies by weighing them down with rocks replaced the crew with his own men and sent them to New Orleans. On the return trip most of the time cargo and money was re-stolen from the Mason Gang on the Natchez Trace. The Natchez trace was an area that ran through the Choctaws and the Chickasaws land which was also ran by outlaws.
The Masons abandoned the cave in 1799 to move to the Mississippi River. Samuel was then caught along with Harpe who were both charged with murder. Once they escaped Harpe killed Mason and turned in his head for the $1000 reward. He was soon recognized by a past victim and was once again caught. From there Harpe escaped once again. The Harpes Micajah “Big” Harpe and Wiley “Little” Harpe then took over as the main outlaws. The brothers had first lived in Virginia with their family but then traveled west to Illinois.
On their journey west to Illinois they killed about 40 people consisting of men, women, and children. The family arrived at Cave-in-Rock in the spring of 1799. The Harpes were very violent people even compared to other outlaws at the time. When they arrived there was a small group operating at the cave. They did harsh things to many of their prisoners and showed mercy to no one. They were soon run out of the area by members of the surrounding areas. They met up with their wives and headed to Tennessee.
Mark on Today’s Life Today at Cave-in-Rock many things are named after the outlaws that once claimed the land. There is a road called “Harpe’s Head Road” where Big Harpe’s head was displayed as a warning to other outlaws. Also there is a hill named “Harpe’s Hill” where Big Harpe was found dead and, a rock called “Harpe’s House” which is where the Harpes camped out. All these places played a big role in the past development of this area. Conclusion Today the Ohio River plays a big part in today’s economy and surrounding communities.
It is the source of drinking water for over 3 million people who live along the river. Over 25 million people (10% of the US population) live within the Ohio River basin. It is regulated by a series of ten dams controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers. This helps provide many jobs to citizens in the US. The downfall to the dam system though is the negative effects it has on the river habitat. One example of this is the mussel species that live in the river. At one time there were 80 species of mussels living in the river, but today there are only 50 with 5 species in danger of becoming extinct.
Even with the bad effects the river is starting to have it still is a great way to transport goods and services toward the west of the country. The Southern Illinois that most know of today is nothing like it was back then. Today Illinois is a friendly place for the whole family to visit. There are many different things to do and see. At a glance the Ohio River has definitely played a big role in Southern Illinois, despite the violence that came along with the river. The area has changed a lot since the early eighteen hundreds and will continue to change as time goes on.