2-20. Pirates of the Prairie State

Our fascination with pirates continues unabated. Most people are aware that our fantasized notion of peg-legs and parrots is the construct of 18th and 19th century authors. People don’t romanticize aboutmuggers, but that’s essentially what most pirates were: people who would use force to take your property, often with grave violence.And they weren’t always found on the ocean. During the time of the Alamo, Santa Anna referred to the Texians as “pirates” as they were, in his eyes, stealing land and resources by force.

In Illinois, pirates lived in a cave by the river. The appropriately named town of Cave-In-Rock has a cave in the rock that towers over the Mississippi river. For years, this cave was the hideout for bandits and brigands who would lure unsuspecting boaters up to their lair and ambush them, stealing their property and their lives. Several different groups of robbers called this rock home, and each was wiped out by bands of local lawmen. The reality quickly grew to legend, and the pirates of Cave-In-Rock are portrayed in the equally legendary Davy Crockett movies, and are even found at the Magic Kingdom, having been recreated on Tom Sawyer’s island. Crime is entertaining.

Stories of “true crime” have fascinated audiences for centuries, but pirates hold a special place in our hearts. In popular culture, our sympathies often lie with the criminals, so long as they’re “pirates.” Very few of us are sympathetic to the street mugger who grabs a purse or takes a wallet at gun point. Car jacking, a form of highway piracy, is reviled. But in the end, what’s the difference?



The cave of Cave-In-Rock. (Photo by By Daniel Schwen )

The cave of Cave-In-Rock. (Photo by By Daniel Schwen )

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