I’m going to go chat with Jim Ridley about what I know and surmise about Big and Little Harpe next week. So, I’m rereading Jon Musgrave’s article from American Weekend, because it is, as far as I can tell, the most comprehensive writing done on the brothers (which is strange, but I couldn’t find any good scholarly look at them).
Here’s the part I want to talk about:
Shortly after that, the Harpes left the British Army to go back with the Cherokees to their villages west of the Appalachians. During that trip they took part in the attack on Bluff Station (Fort Nashborough) at the present side of Nashville, Tenn., on April 1. Four hundred Cherokees took part in the raid. Nashville historians recalled a Capt. James Leiper among those who died in the assault. Leiper may have been a relative to the John Leiper who shot Big Harpe 18 years later. According to statements made after Big Harpe’s death, John Leiper and Harpe knew and distinctively disliked each other.
After the raid, the Harpes did not stay with the Cherokee’s long. About the first week of June they kidnapped Maria Davidson. A week later they took Susan Wood. After rendezvousing at a hunter’s cabin on the east side of the mountains, the Harpes, their captive and brutalized women, and four assistants crossed the mountains.
During the 20 day trip to the Cherokee-Chickamauga town of Nickjack located southwest of modern-day Chattanooga, the Harpes managed to find time to kill Moses Doss. Big Harpe apparently found a problem with Doss’ over-concern for the women’s well being. For the next 12 to 13 years the women and the Harpes stayed in the Indian village.
Twice each of the captive women became pregnant, and twice each the Harpes murdered their children.
When the British surrendered at Yorktown, not all fighting ceased. Groups of Indians including the Chickamaugas, a break-away band of Cherokee, continued to make war on the pioneers in the settlements west of the mountains. As guests in their village, the Harpes often followed them on the warpath, including the Battle of Blue Licks on Aug. 19, 1782, when a large group of British-backed Indians defeated an army of Kentuckians. They again joined the Indians in an attack on Bledsoe’s Lick in Tennessee, either on July 20, 1788, or April 9, 1793, dates of two major attacks on the settlement.
Finally, the Americans successfully took the offensive and struck back wiping out Nickajack in September 1794. Somehow, the Harpes found out about the attack through their white contacts and secreted their women out of the village the night before the battle. Taking their wives on a nearly two-day journey, they found a new camp where the women stayed for nine months. During which the Harpes pillaged and foraged in the more settled portions of Tennessee such as Powell’s Valley close nearer to Knoxville.
If what Musgrave says is true–that the Harpes were Scottish and sided with the British, isn’t it obvious what they were doing living with the Cherokee? They were probably fur trading, like the Scottish did among and with the Cherokee. And, if that’s the case, shouldn’t there be some British record of these transactions?