The Pirates

In 1869, freshly released from Jefferson Barracks, and discharged from the Union Army, my great grandfather, D.W.,  purchased a farm in Western Missouri. He called it Tanglewood. Though there is no written record, I suspect the name came about because his 360 acres were so overgrown, abandoned, as it were. The reason for the condition in which he found this farm was largely because it lay within the confines of  a no-man’s-land.

In the midst of the American Civil War the Missouri-Kansas border was the scene of another conflict – the Border War. The hostilities were probably a direct result of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, a law preventing the spread of slavery beyond the western border of Missouri. James Quantril, the Younger Brothers, Border Ruffians, Red Legs, and Jesse James himself are responsible for these sorties across the border. So many dire problems occurred that President Lincoln dispatched General Thomas Ewing to the scene with orders to curtail the war using whatever means he deemed necessary. Several preventive measures failed. As a last resort, Ewing evoked Order Number 10 – allowing the Missouri residence 15 days to evacuate before he burned all the structures in the four southern counties leaning against the Kansas border. This action created a no-man’s-land, and remained an extremely dangerous place for several years after the close of the Civil War.

Even though land was inexpensive D.W. mortgaged the larger part of his purchase of Tanglewood. One of the ways he raised cash to satisfy this mortgage was by cutting timber on on the farm and selling it to a ready market in Nashville, Tennessee. After building a log raft, perhaps many rafts (there is no way of knowing the number for certain) he floated it down Walnut Creek, then into the Marais des Cygnes River, then the Osage, the Missouri, and finally into the Mississippi and down to Nashville. Apparently, he then walked back to Tanglewood.

I had my doubts that such a project was possible. However, The History Channel, in recent years, has published a series showing the present day harvesting of logs that broke away from their rafts and sunk to the bottom of many waterways.

Recently, I discovered Wicked River, a book written by Lee Sandlin. It is a fascinating compilation of tales and facts concerning the Mississippi River. There have always been sandbars that changed on a daily basis, banks caving into the river, and the river changing course with little warning. I’m sure D.W. knew about those hazards. But did he know about the pirates?

Closer to New Orleans than St. Louis was a series of caves called the Crows Nest – a haven for pirates. A bad sort, they were, those who waited for something of value to float past. Sandlin states how the pirates gutted their victims, then filled the cavity with rocks and sewed them shut again before tossing them back into the river.