Early August, 1799.
A wilderness clearing along the Mud River...a few miles northeast of Russellville, a small town in the vast, nearly unbroken frontier of western Kentucky.
A pioneer family has stopped to rest.
Two men. Three women. Three babies. A string of pack horses.
It has been an exhausting journey, a dangerous one at times.
The men are about thirty, the women some five to ten years younger. Each woman has a baby, her own child. The children, two girls and a boy, range from four to six months in age.
The day is hot. The shallow river is cool. Shade trees provide a measure of relief from the sticky humidity, the baking heat. The men stretch out along the banks of the river. The women tend to their children's needs, then place them down and stretch out themselves. Everyone drinks from the stream.
They have been traveling forever. Or, at least, it seems that way. They're tired. They just want to rest before they must move out again, always pushing on, always in search of their destination in an unforgivingly harsh wilderness, battling tremendous odds against their very survival. They carry all their worldly possessions with them. True pioneers, they live off the land, taking from it what they need to eke out another day of life in the new American world of democracy and free enterprise.
Suddenly, one of the babies cries. It is one of the girls, this one only four months old.
One of the men rouses himself from his rest. He makes his way to the crying infant. The man is both a husband and a father, and he is with his family.
A touching scene seems about to ensue. A father lovingly tending his irritable child all alone in the wilderness. A loving man doting on his daughter's needs.
He picks the child up.
But this is no ordinary family. And this is no ordinary man.
The man is Micajah Harp, and he is wanted by the law. Even at this moment, there is a price on his head, and posses are after him. They might hear the wail of the infant and swoop down on the family and arrest them.
Micajah must do something. He must silence the baby.
He picks the child up by her feet and swings her against the side of the tree. Her head smashes against the unrelenting wood. The breath of life leaves her instantly. He then tosses the lifeless body into the woods.
He signals the rest of the family to rise to their feet.
They do so, and the family moves deeper into the wilderness.
They are the Harps. America's first and most brutal serial killers.
God help anyone who gets in their way.
They were "the most brutal monsters of the human race" to those who knew them...ruthless and indiscriminate barbarians terrorizing an innocent America...unconscionable brutes inflicting savagery upon anyone they encountered.
They sought little in life save the very survival necessary to maintain their bloodlust. It mattered little where or with whom they lived. They cheated and tormented at will and killed for the sake of killing. Their adult lives became a continual exercise in abject, unrepentant evil. During a reign of horror engulfing Kentucky, Tennessee, and Illinois, they became the scourge of the late 18th-century American frontier. They killed anywhere from two dozen to four dozen men, women, and children before justice caught up with them. They were the historical prototypes of later killers - Billy the Kid, Bonnie and Clyde, and Jeffrey Dahmer - but they far exceeded them in brutality and criminal enormity.
They were the Harps...Micajah, the older and bigger; Wiley, the younger and smaller...Big Harp and Little Harp, as they were commonly called. And they were America's first serial killers.
This is their story.
"Blood in the Wilderness: The Story of the Harps, America's First Serial Killers" includes a bibliography of seventy-five sources. It results from years of research and visits to all the sites associated with t