Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Legend of Harve Bruce (My Great Grandpa)

History time kids,

I know I have been delinquent in my blogging of late but I have been absorbed by digging into the rather murky past of the Bruce Family and the merry crew of malcontents that have lead to my presence here on planet Earth.

The old man to the left is Great Grand Daddy Harve Bruce (1852 - 1907). Please note the Winchester Model 1876 in his right hand, it played a large role in his life and it sits in my gunsafe in the position of honor. After quite a bit of noodle time on the internets I have come to the conclusion that I have a long way to go to measure up to Great Grand dad.

Here's a bit I found at the Oak Springs Mountain Ranch website that was extracted from the Daily Courier Democrat out of Russellville , Arkansas.

Daily Courier Democrat, Russellville, Ark., Sunday, October 17, 1982

For Harve: Three shots, three deer
By Piney Page

This is a legend of Harve Bruce as related to Dr. Arnold Henry by some of his mountain friends.

Mountain men have always been noted for their accuracy with a gun.  It is a tradition handed down from father to son.  The need for such accuracy began when the pioneer with his single shot muzzle loader found his life and that of his family dependent on his accuracy when fighting Indians.

Lead for bullets and powder were scarce and expensive.  They were not to be wasted foolishly.  Food for the table was also dependent on the ability to use a rifle.  To miss a charging bear meant death or at best serious injury.  To miss a deer when the hunter only got one shot meant a hungry family.  Accurate shooting was a skill necessary for survival.

   In a pioneer world the training for this skill began early in life.  The young boys could kill with a rifle when so young they had to prop the gun up over a limb to shoot.  The gun was the pioneer's most important tool.

   Harve Bruce grew up in a time when ability to shoot was an essential skill.  According to men who knew him, he had no peer with a rifle.  He acquired additional skills with guns as a fighting man in the forces of the Confederacy.  Those who knew him considered him a man not to fool with.
    Charley Landers during his life lived east of Dover.  On one occasion he was hunting with Harve Bruce when the dogs jumped a herd of deer.  As the herd passed through a clearing, Harve shot three times and killed three deer.
  Jake Gargous lived in the area north of Hector.  He had many times seen Harve shoot objectsthrown into the air.  That man's favorite rifle was the lever action Winchester, a 45-70.

   On one occasion Jake and Harve were hunting with a pack of dogs, both men riding mules.  In a creek bottom meadow were five deer.  The dogs gave chase as did Harve.  Shooting from the back of a running mule he killed three of the five deer. 
   According to Jake, Harve was a bootlegger.  On one occasion he had taken a wagon load of whiskey to Clinton, AR. and was peddling it in the outskirts of town.  He was approached by a man claiming to be a deputy sheriff.  He wanted to search Harve's wagon.  Harve requested he show his credentials but the man ignored him, moved towards the wagon and began the search.  Not wishing to kill the man Harve shot him in the leg.  He went home and took to the woods.
   On a Sunday morning Harve was visiting some friends who were operating a still.  The mash was worked in homemade wooden boxes rather than barrels.  Harve was sitting on a fence built to keep the hogs out.  As it became light, some men came in shooting.  At that time Dr. Arnold Henry's grandfather was sheriff.  He was a strong sympathizer with all old soldiers, including Harve Bruce.  The revenuers who had attacked the men at the still had avoided the sheriff since they suspected where his sympathy would be.  The revenuers did find other Russellville men to go along. 
   Their moving in on Harve Bruce and his friends was without warning according to Jake.  Harve rolled off the fence, jumped behind a mash box, and grabbed his Winchester.  With the first two shots he killed two men.  Another attacker was behind a tree with his elbow sticking out.  Harve put a bullet in the elbow.  Another man was lying on his stomach with a hip exposed.  Harve put a bullet in the hip.  A young Russellville man trying to run away was shot in the shoulder.  The battle was over. 
   Harve stayed hid out in the woods.  After a couple of months he sent word to Silas Henry, sheriff, that he would surrender to him in Atkins.  He had killed two men and shot others but due to the circumstances of the raid he pleaded self-defense.  He served a year in the pen.  When he got out he reported to the sheriff's office to let him know he was back home.  He was advised to stay away from moonshining and bootlegging but he did not heed the advice.
   Harve was said to have been a tall man with piercing blue eyes.  His vision was perfect and his reflexes legendary.  A couple of years later, after Silas was out of office, a deputy went into the mountains to bring Harve in for making mooshine.  When asked his wife did not know where he was.
   He was under an overhang working at his still when the deputy approached.  Harve's daughter was assisting him with the work.  The deputy came up and said he wanted to talk.  The deputy said, "If you don't go with me, I'll take your daughter." 
Harve replied, "You bother my daughter and I'll kill you."  That ended the conference. 

Later, one of his sons who had become a medical doctor talked Harve out of further involvement with whiskey.

The son referenced above was my Grandfather, Grover Cleveland Bruce who I never met, It seems the Bruce men  marry late, have children late and never get around to being Grand Dads in person. I'm hoping to bring that trend to an end.

I'll be posting more about old Harve in the future and if this post spikes your interest, just google his name, there's quite a bit of reading on him from reward posters to appeals ruling from the Arkansas supreme court in the early 1900's to news paper accounts of the Bruce Gang from Frog Hollow.

He was a hell of a guy.


  1. Mr. Bruce,
    My name is Ken Bridges and Harve Bruce was my Great, Great Uncle (his sister, Millie Caroline Bruce Bridges was my Great, Great Grandmother). I have lots of information on Harve Bruce. You probably have most of it, but I also have copies of his Leavenworth records with photos, plus a copy of the pardon he was given by the Governor of Arkansas, and information on the pardon he was given by President Woodrow Wilson. Please contact me at I would love to have a photo of that Winchester rifle.

  2. my great Grandmother Hannah (Bruce) Blaney was Harves sister. She is buried in Ft Cobb OK.

  3. Thanks for the info, Mark Pack. Always glad to find more family connections.