Reproduced with permission of
John Marion Belt by William J. Belt
copyright 1980 by Johm M. Belt
Who Killed Logan Belt
HELL ON THE OHIO
Back in the late 1870s, newsmen that covered Hardin County, particularly around Cave-in-Rock, called the area "Hell on the Ohio". This lawlessness was established by the Harps brothers, Ford and his gang, followed by the Belts, Oldhams and other small factions. It seems as if it receded somewhat as the area began to develop, roads were built, telephone lines installed, and finally a railroad was projected into Rosiclare. Very few people realize that Hardin County is the only county in the state of Illinois that does not have a railroad coming to the county seat, Elizabethtown. Some of the factions in the county were considered murderers, thieves, and desperadoes in general. Ever since Illinois was settled and this portion was invaded by the whites in very early days, the southern tier of counties has been the resort and home of criminal and desperate characters. Hardin County and that part of Kentucky immediately opposite Hardin County was the center of the class. Above the town of Cave-in-Rock is a phenomenon known-as the Cave-in-Rock. The town was named after this cave. As the traveler on a steam-boat passed the point, he saw on the Illinois side a large arched doorway about eight feet high in the side of an immense rock. This doorway was the entrance to a cave in the rock, which ran about one hundred feet back and was much higher than an ordinary room. The cave played an important part in the early criminal history of the state, having been for a long time a den of notorious gangs of counterfeiters that flooded the country with their bogus money, and also a headquarters and refuge of horse thieves, river pirates, murderers and other dangerous men. It is now a state park and thousands of people visit each year for a view of this Cave-in-Rock.
Above Cave-in-Rock is what is known as Fords Ferry, which gets it name from a man who was one of the noted criminals of pioneer history. He lived in Kentucky about two miles up the river from Cave-in-Rock and was a farmer, owning a large tract of land. He also ran a hotel, and many that knew about it thought of it with horror. Ford was always surrounded by desperate men, highwaymen and murderers, such as Ledbetter, Schause and others, and, while nothing was ever proved on him, he was looked upon as equal to his companions in guilt. He was a robber of flatboats and of immigrants. Dead bodies were found near his house, and freshly made graves were discovered in the neighborhood. Many people crossed the river at Fords Ferry. In fact, that's where it got its name.
Potts' Inn was also associated with Ford and his gang. Ford had a good reputation among friends, as he would go to bat for them when trouble arose. If anyone who worked for him was caught or recognized, they would be reported to Ford. He kept favor with the people of the area by ordering the accused person to disappear. the story is that Potts' son was recognized by someone and when he was reported, Ford ordered Potts to leave and not come back. After a few years, Potts' son and a neighbor friend came back for a visit. It is not known where young Potts had been, but probably not far away as there was no need. The young men decided to play a trick on his parents. They arrived in the night, not identifying themselves. Young Potts asked for a drink of water. The boy's father escorted him to the spring near the house. Young Potts was familiar with the surroundings, but never let on that he was playing a joke. When he bent to drink out of the spring, his father hit him in the head, killing his own boy. He put the body away, salvaging his horse and saddle, together with other personal effects. Evidently he had no means of identification, because the next morning young Potts' friend came over as they had agreed the day before. When he inquired about his friend, Potts and his wife knew nothing about him. The friend told them he was sure he was around and told them the understanding they had the day before.
When he related the whole story, Mrs. Potts said to her husband, "You have killed our son." This broke up the place called Potts' Inn. This was a place for travelers to stop on their way north, providing Ford's gang didn't get them before they got there.
Years later, Joe Hindall and his wife acquired the farm and rented part of it to sharecroppers. My grandfather and family sharecropped there and also worked for Mrs. Hindall. In the spring of the year, women always took a spurt of housecleaning. Janey (Joe's wife) would get my grandmother to help her clean house. The method they used was to throw two or three chunks of homemade soap into a tub of water. That was a real detergent. The house was a two-story house and the guests were always put upstairs. Grandmother told me they would scrub the floors until they were white as snow. The lumber used in those days was first class and always had a real color. She said the blood stains would disappear but as soon as the floor dried, the stains would reappear. There is no way of knowing how many murders were committed upstairs in that building. It has always been a place of interest ever since those days.
Ford and his gang caught some travelers once and confiscated their belongings. For some reason, they let a young doctor, who was headed for St. Louis to set up a practice, go free. They put him in a boat, told him to get down and not raise up until a time specified by the gangsters. Among the things taken from the party was a mandolin belonging to the young doctor. Finally he landed against the Kentucky shore. He started out through the country until finally a beautiful young lady driving a buggy came along and insisted she be allowed to help him. He was hungry, tired and dirty. She took him to her home and the first thing he saw was his mandolin. He was curious, but didn't ask any questions. Not knowing who he had run into at Cave-in-Rock or really what he was into, he kept his cool and let things work out themselves. He was treated so well that he stayed around and set up practice at Salem, Ky., being the first medical doctor the town ever had. Also, he fell in love with the beautiful young lady and they were married. Who was the girl? None other than Ford's daughter. When Ford was killed, there were only a few present at his funeral; the doctor and his wife, some slaves and another person, presumably a minister. It was stormy when they were letting Ford down in the grave, and it came a keen clap of thunder. The customary way of letting caskets down was with two straps, one under each end. One of the slaves was afraid of the storm, and when the thunder occurred, he dropped his end of the strap and the casket plunged head first and lodged in the grave. Inasmuch as the storm was worsening, they decided to cover the casket the way it was, with Ford's head down. Supposedly one of the slaves remarked afterward that he thought that was a good way to bury him, so he could go into hell head first. He was buried in the cemetery at Tolu, Kentucky, where many people go and visit the graveside of the desperado.
Then there were the Harps that would do just about anything you could think of that was evil. They were lone operators and often times, interfered with even the rough Cave-in-Rock outlaws. One of the dirty acts of the Harps happened to a lone prisoner that had survived a flatboat which had been robbed near the cave. They had obtained quite a bit of whiskey and were continuously celebrating. One night during one of their parties, the Harps took the prisoner to the top of the bluff above the cave. They stripped him and tied him to a blindfolded horse. The outlaws in the cave heard the screams of the prisoner and the hoofbeats of the horse. They ran out of the party in time to see the horse walk off the cliff. By the light from a fire they had built for the party, they could see the horse fighting the air and the man tied on its back naked. In a moment, the horse hit the bottom. This really upset the outlaws and they didn't wait any longer. That night they drove the Harps away. The Harp brothers were known as Big Harp and Little Harp. Big Harp's name was Micajah, and Little Harp was Miley. The Harps would move from area to area, and this would keep the enemy in doubt as to their whereabouts. One or maybe the only dirty trick they ever rectified was when they robbed a Methodist preacher, William Lambeth. When Big Harp found the man's Bible, he returned the Bible, gun, money and horse. They began stealing horses, hogs, and sheep, and began burning houses and barns. When people became alarmed at what was taking place, they tried to form a posse. Before the posse could get ready to function, the Harps had disappeared. This was one of their characteristics.
Another time they were visiting a tavern and took away a man that had been drinking heavily. They killed the man, stripped him, removed his entrails, filled the body cavity with rocks and threw him in the river. When the body began to decompose, it released the rocks and came to the surface. This was a giveaway that it was the Harps because they nearly always sank a body with rocks. Again the Harps disappeared.
Near the town of Crab Orchard, they killed two travelers from Maryland. At a public house near Crab Orchard, a young Virginian bought breakfast for them because he felt sorry for the women and children. Remember the Harps were accompanied by their mistresses when they were driven from North Carolina. Later Little Harp met a preacher's daughter named Sally Rice, whom he married. This puzzled her neighbors, for she was attractive and well recognized, along with her family. The Virginian asked the Harps to travel with him on the road. They had deceived the man and caused him to make a bad decision. After they started traveling, they killed the kind and generous man. This time they were caught. The two Harps and their three women were taken to Danville jail. During this stay, the three women had babies within two months. One of the women's father interceded and helped the women get back to Kentucky. The Governor of Kentucky offered a $300 reward for the capture of the Harps. They again showed their colors by killing an old man that lived alone. They performed their regular act by filling him full of rocks and throwing him in the river. They began working their way back toward Cave-in-Rock. Can you believe it, their women joined them again. They disappeared again, and sheriffs, posses and the governor took any kind of action that they thought might break up the murderers. No doubt pressure was on Big Harp, as he became so angry at Sally's baby that he took it by the feet and hit its head against a tree. He then threw the child as far as he could. There is no way of telling whether the child belonged to Big Harp or Little Harp. It didn't seem to make much difference.
Another time when they were living apart from their women, they started on the road to visit them. They stopped at a house and posed as Methodist preachers. They continued on their journey until they came to a family home where Moses Stegall lived. They had a small baby, and were there with a Major Love, an engineer to see Mr. Stegall on business. They all stayed in this home that night. The men slept in the loft and entered by an outside ladder. That night, they killed Major Love. When morning came, they ordered Mrs. Stegall to prepare their breakfast. She informed the two Harps that she couldn't until her baby had been taken care of as it had not been well lately. The men offered to take care of the baby if she would put it in the cradle. This she agreed to do. She prepared their breakfast, and noticing the baby was awfully quiet, she went to check on it, only to find the baby's throat was cut from ear to ear. Then the Harps attacked her and cut her throat the same way they did the baby. They set fire to the house, took Major Love's horse and one belonging to Stegall. How cruel can one be to murder people that are so nice and kind.
Finally the Harps met with a man that outsmarted them. This man was Silas McBee, whom the Harps were wanting to kill. It seems that McBee always had a premonition to go a different way each time when they were watching for a chance to kill him. McBee organized a party, one of whom was Stegall, husband and father of the slain mother and baby. They followed the Harps until they caught sight enough to recognize them. They were determined this time to break up the party. Finally the pursuers found Big Harp on a ridge with his two women by his side. Again we find the women sticking it out with their outlaw companions. They called to him to surrender, but he refused to leave the women. The posse began firing at him, and as the story goes, a man by the name of Christian wounded him in the leg. One of the posse was quite a bit ahead of the others and Big Harp figured the man's gun was empty. It took some time to load a muzzleloader and one of the posse still had a loaded gun. He took careful aim at Big Harp while he was trying to recharge his gun, and fired a bullet into the backbone of the outlaw. Big Harp tried until the last moment to get away, but they finally caught up with him and found him faintly sick from loss of blood and pain. He had lost all his weapons and now he was prisoner of the posse. As he lay prostrate before them, he was advised to make ready for eternity as he was dying. No doubt Stegall was the most anxious man of all to get revenge. He took Harp's own knife and caught hold of his hair and cut the back of his neck to the bone. Harp exclaimed, "You are a g----d, rough butcher, but cut on and be damned!" With that remark, Stegall cut the throat to the bone in front, wrung off the head and put it in a saddle bag. By this time, the men were beginning to get tired and hungry. They found some corn along the way for supper, but having only one saddle bag, they dumped the corn in with Harp's head. One of the members made the remark, "He won't eat it." With Big Harp dead, Little Harp vanished.
The stories that have just been related all have an outlaw motive, such as murder, robbery, etc. It's hard to figure the motive of a man that will kill people for good deeds they do him, and will also kill infant children, especially like Big Harp did his own.
Men in Williamson County were self-confessed outlaws. They were desperados, marauders, thieves and murderers, making war openly on society. There were two parties, society and the desperados. The two struggled for supremacy. In this county, the notorious men may be called desperados or fighting men, but they were not marauders. They would kill you, but they would not steal and rob. There were several factions, but there were two that were very prominent in the early days. These were the Belts and Oldhams. The Belts consisted of Logan, the most noted of them all, Jonathan, H. J., James and Arthur. This group was made up of brothers and half brothers. The Belts had a clan comprised of sons and friends, estimated at twenty-five to fifty men. At this time, they were considered farmers. However, Logan was considered a fair lawyer, Jonathan was a doctor, and Arthur was a veterinarian.
The Oldhams during the time of this rivalry, consisted of Thomas, Jesse and John Oldham, and likewise had their clan made up of family and friends. They too were farmers. Neither of these clans resorted to robbery. At one time, I presume, they were all good friends. It has been said that Logan and Doc Oldham were very good friends. To my knowledge, this is the point of the beginning of the mutiny between the two families. No doubt, many things were done and one or the other got the blame. Things seem to get pretty bad in those days, especially at night time. Most people were afraid to be outside the house after dark. It has been said that a stranger could not obtain information as to the road to travel during the night because no one would come out of his house after dark. When it comes to our families, we all have skeletons in our closets. There were respectable people in both clans and most of us would agree that we didn't particularly like their ways, especially the ways of settling disputes.
It is a natural law that to divide men by any line makes them enemies. If it be by national lines, they are national enemies; if a religious line, religious enemies; if a political line, political enemies; or if a family line, family enemies. It is to this fact which gives rise to the saying, "Politics makes strange bedfellows." To the ancient Greek, every man not a Grecian was a Barbarian. To the Jew, every one not a Jew was a Gentile. So in society, men and women are faithful to their kind. Thieves do not steal from one another, any more than honest men do. They steal from the "high-toned" people, those not of their kind. The hoodlum will trust you and be like any other man to you if he does not suspect that you are above him, that you are not of his kind. So most of the two clans were honorable, orderly citizens, upright men. After this episode, it seems that men began to break away from clans and things were done on more of an individual basis, or a buddy-buddy basis. Better communications and roads were largely responsible for the change. However, in the winters, things were still pretty rough. Back in the days before the automobile, the most comfortable way to travel was by buggy. Many people suffered and some died before they could get to a doctor. It was a very common thing a few years ago for a dance to be held in the rural area where all the bootleggers could make some money. It also afforded a good chance for someone to get beat up, shot or cut with a knife. When a man was shot or cut badly and bleeding profusely, it was utterly impossible to get him to a hospital. The only hospital that has ever been in Hardin County has always been located in Rosiclare. They had to get the patient to the nearest doctor as soon as possible. The doctors in the surrounding area are to be commended for the good work they did in saving lots of lives in emergencies. A patient couldn't lose too much blood, as blood types were not known then and transfusions of any kind could very well kill the patient. So we have come a long way and can be thankful for the development of our political, economic, and particularly our social life.
copyright 1980 by John Marion Belt