Genealogy Trails

Stories from Hardin County, Illinois

Cave In Rock

Cave in Rock was used as a haven for outlaws who would prey on those traveling on or along the Ohio River.
One group being the Harpes, who were among the most notorious and most feared. Other than creating a fear in people, they actually helped to hurry along a sense of community and bring about law and order in the settlement of the new country.


Samuel Mason was one of the more widely known of outlaws. He robbed along the roads and rivers solely for the money. The Harpes robbed and killed because  they enjoyed it. He was a soldier in the American Revolution. He was born in Virginia around 1750. According to Draper, he may have been connected to the Mason family of Virginia, which would connect him to George Mason.  George Mason was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. There is no solid proof of this though.


Samuel was a Captain in the American Revolution and had 3 other brothers. Thomas and Joseph were the more honest and useful. They started with George Rogers Clark on his expedition to Vincennes but when Clark reached Louisville, he scattered his men.  A third brother, Isaac married Catherine Harrison around 1770 and moved to Pennsylvania and a very wealthy and influential man of Fayette County. 

More than a dozen documents signed by Mason are preserved in the Draper collection.  After Mason had left the area other outlaws came and went using the cave as a stop off.

There was a suspicion of robbery connections to the James Ford Ferry.  He was the owner of Ford's Ferry, a crossing of the Ohio , 2 1/2 miles above the Cave.  There were some written, verbal accounts but not hard found evidence of his involvements.

The suspicion began after his death because that's when most of the robberies ceased.  He also was known to mingle with both outlaws and upright citizens.  He also owned a number of good farms  Old court records preserved at Smithland show that he was a Justice of the Peace in 1815 and held office a few times  He frequently served as appraiser and administrator of estates and he encouraged improvement to the roads. So even if there was a suspicion , his past reputation suggested otherwise.


Source:  Cave in Rock by Otto A. Rothert,Secretary of the Filson Club, 1924-Transcribed by Deanna Heneghan

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