Friday, September 22, 2006

Pirates in Saint Louis!

Pirates are all the rage these days, and are the subject of romantic portrayals in all the media. Real, modern-day pirates, however, aren't quite so pretty. But the Saint Louis area has its share of pirate legends.

Jean Baptiste Lafitte
has a great following in his one-time home of New Orleans, and is famous for providing his band of pirates—1000 strong—to General Jackson in the war of 1812. He disapeared around 1826, but a journal purportedly by Lafitte surfaced in the 1950s. This journal says that he eventually moved to Saint Louis, under the name John Lafflin, to raise a family; he died in the 1850s and reportedly is buried in the nearby Mississippi River town of Alton, Illinois. Many conspriacies swirl around Lafitte: he may have been a Spanish royalist spy; he may have collaborated with Marx and Engels on the Communist Manifesto; and he may have been involved with the Aaron Burr conspirators to conquer Mexico. Nominally Catholic, his family was said to have practiced Judaism in secret.

Tower Rock is a landmark island in the Mississippi River, in the southernmost part of the Archdiocese. It's namesake, Grand Tower, Illinois, on the opposite bank of the river, was originally the home of river pirates, chased out of the Louisiana Territory by the Spanish.

One source reports:
By the early 1800s, pirates and robbers were entrenched on the river's western banks, preying on river traffic. Spanish military units were sent in to wipe them out, but the pirates merely moved to the east side of the river beyond Spanish jurisdiction, Thilenius and Snider related. The pirates set up on Cottonwood Creek and in "Sinner's Harbor'' on the Big Muddy River and resumed their crimes of robbery and murder.

Early in the summer of 1803, before the Louisiana Purchase was consummated, a detachment of U.S. Cavalry was sent to camp at Devil's Bake Oven with orders to stay and end the river piracy. By the end of that summer, the troops had captured or destroyed all the pirates' craft and killed, captured or driven off all the criminals. The area had been made safe for white settlers to move in.
There may even be buried pirate treasure here! According to Geologic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri, by Thomas R. Beveridge, Blackbeard the Pirate may have buried his treasure in Jefferson County, Missouri, located just south of Saint Louis County.
Thanks to the horse, Jesse james and crew thoroughly covered Missouri in a relatively short period of time, but Blackbeard the Pirate chose the hard way to leave his calling card... exceptionally high waters during the rainy season permitted Blackbeard to go up the valley of the Joachim [Creek] and into the area that is now Harrison Lake. Receding water left his pirate vessel stranded in the Harrison Lake area and his loot was buried near the natural bridge south of the present lake. The ship was then rolled on logs for 4 miles overland to be launched in the Mississippi River near Crystal City... The treasure legend has apparently been taken seriously by some and resulted in small-scale digging.

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