Thursday, August 23, 2018

Facts dispute legend that Joseph Thompson Hare was killed by Indians

Earlier this week, while preparing The Courant's weekly News Flashback feature, I ran across an item about “Turk’s Cave” that was published in the Aug. 28, 1947 edition of The Evergreen Courant.

According to that brief news item, “in the limestone region of Southern Conecuh County is located Turk’s Cave, which winds through several miles of an ancient stream bed. It has never been completely explored and may well be Alabama’s largest natural cave. More than a century ago, Joseph Hare and his band of highwaymen used the cave as their rendezvous and even today legends in Conecuh County have it that Hare and his men hid a fortune in gold there a few days before they were massacred by Indians.”

I found this little historical tidbit interesting for a number of reasons and got to looking into some of the details more closely. Many of you will know Turk’s Cave as “Sanders Cave,” which is located 3-1/2 miles northwest of Brooklyn. While I’ve never been there myself, I’ve had it on my “bucket list” of places to visit for several years and have always wanted to see it for myself. With that said, while I’ve never personally been to this cave, I have talked with many people who explored it in their younger years.

While I don’t know if Sanders Cave has ever been completely mapped, I have serious doubts that it’s Alabama’s largest natural cave. According to the Alabama Cave Survey, Fern Cave in Jackson County is generally considered to be Alabama’s largest cave when you take into account length and depth. It’s 15.6 miles long and over 500 feet deep. If anyone knows the dimensions of Sanders Cave or if it’s been completely mapped, let me hear from you.

The Joseph Hare referenced in the old historical news item was the notorious outlaw Joseph Thompson Hare, who led a gang of robbers in the early 1800s. According to the June 1, 1967 edition of The Brewton Standard, it’s believed that Hare’s gang of robbers buried gold in Sanders Cave. Hare’s gang, which was organized in New Orleans in 1801, robbed overland travelers from New Orleans to Pensacola.

I had never heard the bit about Hare and his men being massacred by Indians a few days after hiding a fortune in gold in the cave, and I find that part hard to believe. Most sources say that Hare was hanged in Baltimore in 1818 for robbing a U.S. night mail coach. In fact, according to a book called “The Outlaw Years” by Robert M. Coates, Hare was hanged on Sept. 10, 1818 in front of a crowd of 1,500 witnesses. He was 38 years old.

In the end, I’d love to see Sander’s Cave for myself, at least once. I don’t even have to go inside. I’d be satisfied to just standout outside and take pictures of the cave’s exterior. With that said, if anyone in the reading audience wants to volunteer to take me down there, please let me know because I’d sure like to see it for myself.

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