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John A. Murrell, the Great Western Land Pirate

The accounts of the “Great Western Land Pirate”, John A. Murrell are enough to fill many, many pages. Want to see John Murrell’s thumb? A story built out of legend and exaggeration from fact, here is the condensed story.

John Murrell's thumb, the Great Western Land Pirate

Murrell planned his own outlaw empire with New Orleans as his capital and himself as king. With a gang of followers labeled the Mystic Clan, Murrel and his gang were robbers, counterfeiters, horse-thieves, and slave stealers. When stealing slaves, Murrell would present them with a proposal: he would steal them from their current masters, sell them three or four times, and give them freedom in the North. But, once the scam became too well known, Murrell would instead murder them. The process Murrell and his clan used when disposing of evidence was gruesome. They ripped open their victim’s belly and took out the entrails, replacing them with rocks and sunk them in rivers & creeks.

Captured by a slave in Florence near Cypress Creek (and memorialized by a local historical marker), Murrell was sentenced to jail. Murrell died nine months after leaving prison, and parts of his body were said to have been dug up and stolen. His skull is still missing, but one of his thumbs is in the possession of the Tennessee State Museum.

As stated, there is much to this legend and most cannot be separated from what might be fact. Read a full account of John A. Murrell online here.

Read more about the Tennessee State Museum displaying John Murrell’s thumb.