The ruffians, scoundrels, bandits and robbers who once took advantage of Maine travelers

Thomas Rowlandson's 1809 painting entitled “Dr. “Syntax Stopped by Highwaymen” depicts a scene in which criminals stop a passing traveler in the English woods. San Francisco Art Museums

Somewhere along the way, Mainers have largely forgotten an age-old scourge of travel: the dangerous criminals who once lurked along the way.

These days they are dimly remembered as highwaymen, bandits or robbers who serve as stock characters in old movies, bad TV shows and pulpy novels.

That was not always so.

In the 18th century, traveling around the Pine Tree State carries at least a small risk of encountering men willing to steal—or worse.

In 1887, a magazine called “Forest and Stream,” which dealt primarily with hunting and fishing, complained that “certain parts of the state of Maine are cursed with a multitude of absolute ruffians who do not hesitate to defy the law and officials.” the law.”

“These men are prepared to commit murder and arson as well as a hundred lesser crimes as part of their illegal activities,” the magazine said. “They seem to believe that the community exists only for them.”

Forest and Stream said there are more than enough “ruffians and villains, murderers and arsonists” in Maine, in part because officials have done too little to make the state safe.


Consider, for example, Monday, October 5, 1896.

That evening, at dusk, Henry Bowley, a resident of Union Street, Auburn, was trudging home in his cart from a business trip to Greene when suddenly, as he drove through a wooded area, his horse “threw up his head” and began to run . as The Portland Daily Press reported.

“Then one man grabbed the horse by the leash while a second man held the carriage,” the newspaper said.

Bowley didn't let up and hit the second man with the whip.

“The mugger then fired a revolver,” the report states. Bowley told a reporter, “He heard the bullet as it flew past him.”

Then he hit his horse with two or three sharp blows with the whip, and the animal broke away.

An illustration for “Highway Robbery” from Mysteries of Police and Crime by Arthur Griffiths, published in 1898.

That same evening Dr. WS Norcross of Lewiston, who ran a sanitarium in Poland, walked down a remote road from Farmington to New Portland to visit a cancer patient.

As Norcross approached Pratt Corner in New Vineyard, the press noted that he noticed a buggy on the road ahead.

“As he skillfully passed, two men got out, ordered him to stop and tried to grab the horse by the bridle,” the newspaper said.

The doctor hit his horse with his whip and jumped away from the strangers.

“As he walked away, the highwaymen fired three shots at him, some of which whistled dangerously close to the doctor's head,” the newspaper reported.

The Lewiston Daily Sun said authorities had “no idea” who the muggers were.

Actual highway robbery

At least Norcross and Bowley escaped with only a scare.

In Patten in 1884, a peddler named William Hunt was attacked on the street by four muggers, the Kennebec Journal reported. They robbed him of at least $400, they said, and also shot his horse.

In 1885, not far from Fryeburg, “several masked men jumped out of ambush” in a wooded area to stop a carriage coming from nearby Glen Station, New Hampshire. One grabbed the horses while another pointed a revolver at a family, the Lewiston Evening Journal reported.

The bandits collected $300 in cash, gold watches and some jewelry before slipping away.

They also attempted to rob the regular stagecoach, but its driver remained “cool as a cucumber” and managed to “put the whip on his horses” and flee the scene.

In the fall of 1880, Moses French of Norway was strolling around Waterford in his carriage when he was waylaid by highwaymen.

According to news reports, the men threw him from his carriage. One threw a bag over French's head while another searched his pockets.

According to reports, the bandits made off with $80.

An illustration from “Half Hours With the Highwaymen,” a 1908 book.An illustration from “Half Hours With the Highwaymen,” a 1908 book.

An illustration from “Half-Hours With the Highwaymen,” a 1908 book.


In 1882, the Boston Weekly Globe told the story of Fred Ange of Milo, who was robbed of $480 while traveling to Bangor on the Levant Road. He had recently returned from a trip to the West and took home his savings from the trip.

Just above Six-Mile Falls in Glenburn, Ange observed, as the Globe reported, “a tall dark man with a mustache on the road directly in front of them” in a section surrounded by trees.

The man approached Ang and asked, “Say, Captain, can you give us change for a $10 bill?”

Ange told him he couldn't help.

Then another man, “red-faced and stocky,” emerged from the woods with a revolver in his hand.

“Then give us what you have,” said the robber.

“I won’t do that,” Ange replied.

At that moment the big man grabbed the horse's reins while his armed companion took aim and fired two shots at Ange.

One shattered his left jaw. The other hit his left pinky.

The highwayman continued shooting.

But it turned out that Ange was also armed and started shooting back. Several shots were fired on each side, but no further bullets hit the target.

However, Ange decided to give up the fight. He jumped down from his stroller and handed him his purse, which contained $480.

The highwaymen grabbed it and disappeared into the trees.

Ange ran on to Bangor to find a surgeon to treat his wounds.

A painting by Spanish artist Francisco de Goya entitled “Asalto de ladrones” (literally “Thieves' Attack”) from 1786. It is currently in a private collection.

“Garlic Bean Killed”

In July 1885, the Lewiston Evening Journal ran a headline entitled “The End of Maine's Most Notorious Highwayman,” a fellow named Bub Bean, who usually hung out in the lawless woods near the Canadian border.

The newspaper said that French Canadians traveling along the Moose River into Maine encountered ruffians who robbed them after throwing rocks and firing shots.

The story said Bean told a group to give up all the liquor in their possession. They told him they didn't have any. Bean then ordered them to hand over their belongings.

A Frenchman named Roderick grabbed an ax in his cart that they normally used to make kindling and quickly hurled it at Bean, the Journal said.

“It hit the desperado in the head,” the newspaper said, splitting his skull and killing him instantly.

“The French Canadians of Farmington rejoice exceedingly at the death of Bean,” it continued, “and believe that the disreputable band of which he was the leader is forever broken.”

However, the Journal got the story wrong.

The Portland Advertiser said it suspected that “more rum than blood was spilled in the recent alleged tragedy at the Forks of the Kennebec.”

“There is no report of a funeral and no one seems interested in claiming a body,” noted the Rockland Gazette.

A writer for the Somerset Reporter soon met with Bean in Bingham, where the colorful character insisted that the press had been “particularly harsh” on him. Bean said he has good relationships with people around the world.

The author said the 25-year-old was “as calm and polite as you could hope for.”

However, a year after his supposed death, Bean made it clear that he was not yet fully reformed.

The Portland Daily Press said “the bad man from the bad family” attacked someone in John Turner's warehouse at Carrying Place, seriously injuring his victim.

“It was a terrible fight,” the paper said, and Bean and his family members would likely face criminal charges.

An illustration from the 1908 book “Half-Hours With the Highwaymen.”

Three years later, the Portland newspaper revived the story of Bean's supposed death, dismissing it as “largely a Canuck fable” that gave Bean “a wild reputation.”

It said that the editor of the Fairfield Journal had recently met Bean, “a calm-looking man with piercing black eyes,” and learned that the man worked steadily and “enjoyed life much better than when he was the terror of all the townships on the Moose was “river line.”

Maybe it was true, because Bean seemed to stay out of the news forever after that.

History of the Highwaymen

Anyone who has heard the story of Robin Hood knows that highwaymen have been around for a long time. Many people were happy to take something from the rich. Few ever gave the spoils to the poor.

Banditry's heyday was probably between 1600 and 1800 in England, where the practice became so widespread that the bandits' catchphrase – “your money or your life” – took root in our language.

Sometimes known as “Knights of the Road,” they became such a scourge as “road agents” among the pioneers of the American West that some became celebrities.

Although data is sparse, editors at the time agree that the decades following the Civil War saw a rise in street banditry in the United States, perhaps related to the trauma of war. It's hard to know for sure.

But the problem faced by travelers in sparsely populated areas was real.

For example, in the 19th century, California historians documented highwaymen holding up a stagecoach on the state's roads at least 450 times. This is probably just a fraction of the crimes committed in a time when police were scarce and reports were even more unusual.

As trains and automobiles began to replace the old carriages and coaches, street banditry was no longer a useful venture for criminals.

The Fall of the Highwaymen

Before the end of the 19th century, people realized that the days of holding up stagecoaches and travelers were over.

The Portland Daily Press noted in 1893 that highwaymen had largely attempted to hold up trains in the West. There was more money there.

Nevertheless, they assumed that the exploitation of travelers would continue to exist in one way or another in the future.

“No doubt in the days to come, when our descendants have mastered the art of flight,” the editorial said, “there will be aerial highwaymen who will stand in the way and make deliveries, just as the fish hawk does the seagull robbed.”

So far we have avoided this fate.

But you never know.

Anna Harden

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