Page:The American review - a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (1845).djvu/136
Jack Long; or, Lynch-Law and Vengeance.
its worst and tlie stricken victim. Personal prowess, iron nerve and skill in the use of weapons, are the traits most calculated for insuring respect, and commanding power. How recklessly these are displayed may be appreciated by remembering the late notoriety of the Regulator wars, tliat raged so exterminatingly in this very county of Shelby, which is the scene of our story; and the answer given by President Houston to the first application which was made for his interposition with the civil forces under his command to put a stop to them, is entirely characteristic of the man and the country:—"Fight it out among yourselves! The sooner you kill each other off the better!"
It was the period of the first organization of the Regulators to which our story refers. Shelby, in the latter part of —39, was a frontier county and bordering upon that region known as the Red Lands, was the receptacle of all the vilest men who had been driven across our borders, for crimes of every degree! Horse-thieves and villains congregated there in such numbers, that the open and bare-faced effort had been made to convert it into a sort of "Alsatia" of the West—a place of refuge for all outlaws, who understood universally that it was only necessary to the most perfect immunity in crime, that they should succeed in effecting an escape to this neighborhood, where they would be publicly protected and pursuit defied. The extent to which this thing was carried may be conjectured when it is known, that bands of men disguised as Indians would sally forth into the neighboring districts, with the view to visiting some obnoxious person with their vengeance—either in the shape of robbery or murder. Returning with great speed, and driving the valuable stock before them, till they were among their friends again, they would re-brand the horses and mules, resume their usual appearance, and laugh at retaliation. Even single men would, in the face of day, commit the most daring crimes, trusting to an escape here for protection. They seemed determined at any risk to hold the county good against the encroachments of all honest citizens; and it came to be notorious, that no man could move among them with any citizen-like and proper motives, but at the expense of his personal safety or his conscience—for the crime of refusing to take part with them was in itself sufficient to subject all new comers to a series of persecutions, which soon brought them into terms or resulted in their extermination. We do not wish to be understood that the whole population of the connty were avowedly horse-thieves and cut-throats. There was one class of wealthy Planters, another of the old stamp of restless, migrating Hunters, who first led the tide of population over the Alleghanies and are now leading it across the Rocky mountains. These two made some pretensions to outward decorum, and in various ways acted as restraints iipon the worse disposed; while these last, with that utter intolerance of restraints which so unbounded license necessarily engenders, determined to submit to no presence which should in any way rebuke or embarrass their deeds. Most of these bad men were a kind of small landholders who only cultivated patches of ground dotting the spaces between the larger plantations; but they kept very fine horses, and depended more upon their speed for acquiring plunder, than on any capacity of their own for labor. They were finally wrought up to the last pitch of restlessness by this closing around of unmanageable persons, and organized themselves into a band of Regulators, as they termed themselves. They proclaimed that the county limits needed purification, and that they felt themselves specially called to the work. Accordingly under the lead of a man who was himself a brutal monster, named Hinch, they commenced operations. In this public-spirited and praiseworthy undertaking, they soon managed to reduce the county to "the subjection of fear, if not to an affectionate recognition of the prerogatives they arrogated to themselves. The richer Planters they compelled to pay a heavy Black-mail rent, in fee-simple of a right to enjoy their own property and lives, with the farther understanding that they Avere to be protected in these immunities from all dangers from without of a similar kind. The Planters in return were to wink upon any deeds, whose coloring might otherwise chance to be offensive to eyes polite.The other class—a class of simple-hearted, sturdy men—were goaded and tortured by the most aggravated annoyances, until, driven in despair to some act of retaliation, they furnished their tyrants with the shadow of excuse, which even they felt to be necessary, and were then either lynched and warned to leave the