The Great Spy System, or, Nick Carter's Promise to the President
ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS REWARD.
BY EDWARD S. ELLIS.
WHO IS BLACK BEN.
"I really think it was just the neatest thing that I ever did in that
line," said the grizzled old Captain Gapsill.
"To what do you allude?" I inquired, knowing that I was about to
hear something interesting.
"That little affair I had with Black Ben."
"Black Ben? Who is he?"
"Hain't you ever heard tell of him?" demanded the captain in
amazement; and then recollecting himself, be added: "I forgot; that was
before your time-at least you must have been quite a younker then. Black
Ben, next to Mike Fink, was one of the greatest pirates that ever
infested the Mississippi."
"What became of him?"
"I was going to tell you. In the first place, you mustn't imagine
he was a negro because be was called Black Ben. He had a skin as dark as
a mulatto's, and a fearful lot of
great, black, bushy hair, which stood up like bristles; and,as he always
went without a hat, I can tell you he was just about the most villainous-looking
creature you ever saw. Besides that, he had jet-black whiskers,
short and sticking out like needles, and growing up almost, to his eyes;
so when you looked at him you saw about a bushel of black, bristling
hair, and in the midst his great eyes glowing like coals of fire. He
wasn't more than five feet in height; he had short legs, very long arms,
and immense muscular power. He generally went dressed as a back-woodsman,
and had two comrades - ordinary-looking men, but as bloody and merciless
cutthroats as he.
"Black Ben had been seen as far up as Cairo, and as low down as
Natchez. He was such a queer-looking creature that it was impossible for
him to disguise himself enough to go among the towns, or where he would
have run any danger. His principal hunting-ground was from the mouth of
the Arkansas north to the Tennessee line. Here he had all the opportunity
he wished for biding himself, and I don't believe a party of red Indians
ever could have hunted him to his hole. If he hadn't met his fate in the
queer manner he did, he might have hunted there until he died of old age.
"In those days a great many flatboats used to pass down the
Mississippi on their way to New Orleans, and these were the favorite
prey of black Ben and his men. As the river navigation, with its snags
and sawyers, is always so dangerous. these boats often lay to under the
bank during the night, when the chances are ten to one that the sharp
eyes of the pirates detected them, and, at the dead hour of midnight,
they stole out as silently as shadows, crept over the boat, cut the
throats of the insuspicious sleepers, gutted the craft, then scuttled it
and set it afloat. Out in the deep water, it would sink. and that would
be the last ever seen or heard of that flatboat
"Black Ben was a horrid dog, and it was no wonder that there was
such terror of him all along the river. Captain Hallongton, an old
friend of mine, had his boat served in this manner, but the night was so
dark that he managed to swim off, although his three men were every one
of them murdered. The captain had a hard story to tell, and he offered
five hundred dollars to any one who would shoot this bloody cutthroat.
"I had been from Cincinnati down to New Orleans encountering this
redoubtable Blue Beard. I had lain to at a place where, it was said, he
world be sure to find us; but never once did we catch sight or sound of
him, and I would have doubted his existence but for the testimony of
Captain Hallongton and his friends, whom I could not refuse to believe.
"'It is strange that I never meet him,' I once said, when he and
I were conversing together regarding this river outlaw. 'It must be that
he is either afraid of me, or else has a feeling of friendship toward
"'Don't congratulate yourself too soon,' replied my friend.
'Depend upon it, Black Ben will vet pay you a visit.'
"'I have heard so much of him, that I must say my curiosity is
really greater than my terror.'"
"See here!" interrupted the captain, starting up in sudden
excitement; "you're going to start down the river next week?"
"A week from to-morrow."
"Good! You take Dick and Tom, your usual help?"
"I ship with you as a common hand, just on purpose to help you to
a sight of Black Ben. What do you say?"
"The proposition struck me very favorably, and I urged the
captain to it. As he was ten times as rich as I was, I didn't exactly
like the idea of his going as a common hand, although on my flatboat
there was no other position for him. It was finally agreed that he
should pass himself as one of my assistants; but as there was no need of
his work, he was to do little more than dress himself as such, to
deceive any one whom we might encounter while he might accommodate the
labor to himself.
"We made all our arrangements as if certain of encountering this
fellow. We went more fully armed than we ever did before, and it was
agreed that when we reached that part of the river where we had reason
to expect the appearance of Black Bell, or where there was the least
likelihood of his seeing us, that nobody should show themselves above
deck except Captain Hallongton and myself. This was for the purpose of
making the pirate believe there were only two of its on board, and thus
luring him on to what we hoped would be his destruction.
"Well, we swung loose from Cincinnati one fine morning, and in
due time reached the Mississippi, and lay to at Memphis, Tennessee, one
stormy night, where we fixed everything to our satisfaction. When we
started next morning, Tom and Dick were sent down below in the cabin
with the understanding that they were not to show themselves until they
had permission to do so.
"It was late in the autumn of 1838, and I remember that the
weather was quite chilly, so much so that both Hallongton and myself
kept oil our overcoats all the time. We passed to and fro, plainly
showing ourselves to any one who might be along the bank. Tom and Dick
were allowed to come up only when the night was dark, and then they
exchanged places with us so that under no circumstances were more than
two, of us visible at the same time.
"Down below Helena on the Arkansas side, we had fixed as the
place where we might reasonably look for the appearance. There was a
long stretch of wood country, where the wretch's most inhuman deeds had
"It was a cold, blustering night that we worked our boat tinder
the wooded shore and made fast to the identical spot where my friend had
had his memorable adventure with Black Ben. He recognized it by several
landmarks, and assured me that we would hear from the gentleman before
many hours had passed over our heads.
"For the last few miles, before tyin' up, we had kept up a sharp
scrutiny of the shores in the hope of detecting some signs of the
outlaws. I saw nothing; but Halongton was positive he caught several
glimpses of a man flitting along the Arkansas bank, and maintaining, a
sharp watch upon our movements.
"After we had securely tied up our boat, we went below, after our
supper, and then made our final arrangements I should state here that my
flatboat was one made after a fashion of my own. It was long and quite
narrow, the cabin being, as usual, in the rear. This was made of double
thick planking, immediately adjoining the cargo, which stretched away to
the bow. A small orifice had been bored through this planking, so that
one in the cabin could talk in a whisper to one who was in the main body
of the boat among our cargo of pork. This was
done at the suggestion of Captain Hallongton, in accordance with a plan
which we had formed between us.
"When it was fully dark, Tom and Dick crept carefully over the
cabin, in among the pork, and took their position near the hole which I
have just mentioned. When we had chatted together awhile, Hallongton did
the same, while I maintained my place near the cabin.
"We were so close under the bank that a long limb hung directly
over the cabin.
"As it looked quite thick and strong, I grasped it with my hands,
and swung myself upon it. The next moment I had climbed to the top of
the tree and seated myself near the trunk astride of a large limb, where
I patiently awaited whatever was to come.
"Our plans were fully agreed upon, and I knew that I might have
sat there until morning without hearing a word from them, or detecting
an impatient movement upon their part.
"The night for a time was pitchy dark, but the moon soon came up
over the river, shedding a light which made the opposite shore visible,
and gave me a little uneasiness as to whether I would not be detected
from the ground below. However, as our line of action had been agreed
upon, it was now too late for us to make any change in our part of the
"I was speculating on these matters, when a slight noise below
attracted my attention, and looking down I could discern a dark body,
moving cautiously toward the boat. In the shadow of the wood, the gloom
was too great to make out its identity but, while I was looking, it
leaped as lightly and dexterously as a monkey upon the gunwale, and the
next minute I saw that Black Ben was on the flatboat.
"In the bright moon light, he was plainly visible, and answered
perfectly the description which I have given. He circled around the boat
with the silence of a phantom, and finally halted near the cabin and
listened as if to hear the breathing of those within. Having finished
his reconnaissance, he sprang lightly ashore and disappeared.
"I had seen no one but Black Ben, but a slight noise beard when
he was on the boat, satisfied me that be had one companion at least with
him, and I was sure that he would speedily return.
"I was now anxious to hear whether Captain Hallongton had seen
the pirate, and whether he was 'posted.'
"To satisfy myself, I gave a low whistle. It was immediately
replied to -a fact which convinced me that my friends were 'all right.'
"It was plain that Black Ben had no suspicion of the ,little plan
which we had concocted for his benefit-, but whether that same little
plan of ours would miscarry or not was another question, for we knew
that the outlaw was a desperate character, who would play the mischief
if he should ever get into close quarters.
"Now came a period of watching and waiting, continued so long
that I had great fear that Black Ben had scented danger and concluded to
give us a wide berth. Fully two hours passed away with me shivering and
cramped in the tree; but I had resolved to stay there until morning if
the outlaw did not make his appearance before that time.
"It could not have been far from midnight when I caught the
rustling of bushes beneath me, and I felt sure that Black Ben was there;
but, as I peered down, I was disappointed in discerning not a man, but a
large black bear that was lumbering along the shore and awkwardly,
approaching the flatboat. Reaching it, he waded into the water, snuffed
around the boat, poked his nose against it, struck his paws against it,
and made a racket which struck me as singular upon the part of a bear.
"'I would soon stop your sport,' I reflected, 'if I were not
watching for bigger game.'
"I was watching the brute, when something in his manner of moving
about attracted my suspicion, and I scanned him more narrowly that I had
yet done. My heart gave a great leap as I penetrated the ruse, and
discovered that instead of the object under me being a bear, it was only
a man disguised as such. His object in making such a tumult around the
boat was evidently to learn whether the men on board were asleep."
WE'VE GOT HIM!
"Occasionally the creature paused and was perfectly still, as if
listening; but nothing but the sullen surging of the muddy Mississippi,
or the dipping of some overhanging branch was heard, and becoming
satisfied that everything was in the shape desired, the bear withdrew
from the water, and tumbled away into the wood, in a style which he
hardly would have dared to use had he been aware that a pair of eyes
were intently scrutinizing his every movement.
"A half-hour later, a form sprang from the dark line of wood
which lined the shore, landing on the gunwale of the boat at a single
bound. One glance was sufficient for me to see that Black Ben had
boarded the General Jackson, and that the critical moment was at hand.
"The hideous looking creature glided as swiftly and silently as a
shadow from one part of the boat to the other in order to assure himself
that no one was watching in any of the out-of-the-way places. He then
glided back to the cabin and made a single motion with his arm. The
response was in the shape of another dark form, which leaped beside him
with all the agility of a monkey.
"From where I sat I had both of these precious scamps in range,
and I could have sent a bullet crashing through both of them; but, as
that was not the plan agreed upon, I concluded to wait.
"As I had always understood that Black Ben was accompanied by two
men, I looked for the appearance of his companion, but, as the bushy-
headed chief turned his back upon the shore the instant he was joined by
his friend, I supposed that he was absent, and would not appear in this
matter, which pleased me greatly, as it could but make the matter all
the more easy for us.
"The two villains put their heads together and seemed to converse
awhile in the same manner that you frequently, see horses or cows do.
Agreeing upon their course of action, Black Ben quietly drew back the
slide which covered the door which communicated with the cabin. Flashing
a sort of bull's-eye lantern down into the gloom, he leaned his head
forward and scanned every part of the cabin.
"And I know what he saw. What were apparently two human forms
wrapped up in their blankets and sound asleep. The next instant the
sharp report of two pistols in immediate succession broke the stillness,
and Black Ben and his comrade sprang down into the cabin.
"Just what we wanted. Hardly a second had elapsed
when I was on deck, and had slid the door back to its place, at the same
moment that Captain Hallongton and Tom and Dick hurriedly clambered up
"'We've got 'em!' exclaimed the captain delightedly. 'Be quick
and fasten that down.'
"Everything had been prepared for such a denoument as this, and
not ten seconds passed ere we had Black Ben and his friend firmly
"The next proceeding of Captain Hallongton was to dance a double
shuffle upon the deck and exclaim, "We've got him! We've got him!"
"Keep still," I said; "you act like a crazy man."
"Do you know there is a thousand dollars offered for his head in
New Orleans?" said he.
"I didn't know that, and I felt somewhat like making as big a
fool of myself over it, but I did not."
"The next thing we heard was a terrible rumpus below-swearing and
yelling enough to raise the hair on your head. But what cared we? We had
the mighty river pirate, Black Ben, and one of his comrades in our
"Not knowing but what some of his friends might be in the
neighborhood, we untied the fastenings of the boat and swung out into
the stream. We ran considerable risk in so doing, as this was a
dangerous part of the river, but Captain Hallongton understood the
current better than I did, and we decided that this was the safest and
best thing that we could do under the circumstances.
"The tempest and tumult continued below until we were in the
middle of the Mississippi and gliding rapidly down the stream. Then a
silence came, and Black Ben called up to us and asked us what this all
meant. We told him that we had caught him trespassing on our boatand
intended to take him down to New Orleans and sell him. The answer to this
was a couple of pistol shots fired at the spot where he supposed I was
standing. It struck beneath my feet, and no doubt be imagined it would
pass through the planking and kill me; but it was bullet-proof, and there
was no danger. Finding he could do no harm, he took a different course of
action. He tried to bribe us to let him go, and made us repeated
offers until he reached a figure as high as ten thousand dollars.We told
him we would take time to think about it, but we were not quite fools
enough to accept any offer which he could make. We knew that all he
wanted was to get out on deck, and then there would be the tallest kind
of a rumpus. Our only safety was in keeping him just where he was and not
give him the slightest advantage.
"Finding his efforts in this direction useless, he fell upon his
first plan, of swearing. I have heard some terrible profanity in my
time, but I don't think I ever heard anything to equal that of Black
Ben. He kept it up until morning, and then all was still again.
"I suppose you understand the way in which we trapped our bird?
Captain Hallongton had taken the trouble of finding out Black Ben's
manner of doing business and had laid his plans accordingly. It was his
custom to wait until the crew of the boats he intended to rob went
asleep, and he then stole aboard and quietly dispatched them either with
the knife or pistol. Knowing this, we had arranged a couple of dummies,
which, as we intended, were mistaken by the river pirate for the entire
crew of the General Jackson. The small orifice which I first spoke of as
connecting the cabin with the main body of the boat, had been made by,
Captain Hallongton, so that in case there was parley between him and
Black Ben before surrendering the boat, the latter personage could thus
be made to believe that it came from one of the forms inside; but his
coarse of action rendered this precaution unnecessary.
"We ran a great deal more danger in capturing this renowned
outlaw than any of us imagined. We had carefully removed everything in
the shape of a knife or hatchet, or any kind of weapon from the cabin,
and yet we had every reason to believe that both of these dogs would
have their knives with them; but by a purely providential circumstance,
neither of them carried anything with them except their pistols. How it
came about, I cannot say, for it certainly was odd. Had either of them
their knives, it would have taken them but a few hours to cut their way
through the planking, thick as it was, and we would have been compelled
to shoot them to save ourselves from being shot.
"If they had become satisfied that there was no hope for them,
the next thing in order would have been the bottom of the boat. They
would have made a leak which would have carried themselves and the
flatboat to, the bottom, and likely enough ourselves, too, for you must
know it is no easy matter to make your way through the Mississippi at
"We did not feel easy when we heard them thumping and rubbing the
side of the boat, for we were well aware what wonderful things these
desperate characters do when they find themselves in such desperate
"Captain Hallongton stood with his loaded rifle, expecting almost
every moment to see Black Ben burst out to view like a raging fury. By
placing our ears against the cabin we could hear a peculiar, grinding
noise, which told us that the gentlemen in there doing something,
although what it was we could only guess. Wecould hear them muttering
and talking to each other, but I could not catch any of the words
"Toward the close of the second day, just as we came within sight
of the Crescent City, two pistol shots broke the stillness. We could
only conjecture what it meant. My supposition was that they had shot
themselves, but Captain Hallongton suspected it was only a stratagem to
get us to open the cabin door to give them a final chance of escape, or
an opportunity to put a bullet through some of us who might look down.
So we paid no heed, but kept on floating down the river.
"When we had tied up at the wharf, we brought a number of police
officers, acquainted them with our prize, surrounded the boat, and then
removed the door of the cabin. We waited a long time, but no one came
forth, nor did any sound betray the presence of the men within. At last,
one of the officers, more venturesome than the rest, ventured to steal
up to the cabin and look down. The next instant he uttered a shout and
sprang down, while we rushed toward the cabin.
"One glance showed all. Black Ben and his comrade had both shot
themselves, and were stone dead. They had no knives, as I said, but with
their simple pistol barrels they had almost cut their way through the
planking. I do believe that if New Orleans had been a hundred miles
further off, these two precious scamps would have got out of the cabin
and, perhaps, effected their escape.
"However, we had the satisfaction of receiving one thousand
dollars reward, and of knowing that we had cleared the Mississippi of
one of the most desperate outlaws that ever infested its banks."