Pigeon River

Path for Two Attacks West


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Coordinates: 35.4803, -82.8810.

Type: Stop
Tour: Cherokee
County: Haywood

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This location is fully visible from your vehicle near the intersection of NC 110 and Lake Drive. There is a partially paved, wide shoulder on the south side of Lake (left side when facing NC 110). From 110, larger vehicles may need to drive down Lake, find a turnaround spot, and nearing the highway, carefully cross opposing traffic to the “wrong side” of the road.

This page covers campsites and events along the Pigeon River, at the spot where the North Carolina militia army probably crossed it while marching against the Cherokees.

Red tote bag with a picture and list of female patriots
Man in a white tee shirt that says, "Just a Regulator Guy"


Cherokees had attacked European-Americans along the border in 1776 due to repeated treaty violations and threats by the Americans to invade. Brig. Gen. Griffith Rutherford marched an army west in September to retaliate by destroying Cherokee villages. It included around 2,400 part-time “militia” soldiers on horseback, 1,400 pack-horses, and a herd of cattle (see Davidson’s Fort for details).

The army probably camped in modern Canton on the night of Wednesday, September 4, 1776, possibly where Locust Field Cemetery stands today.[1] The march from their previous camp on Hominy Creek near modern Candler was led by the Surry County Regiment, then-Lieutenant William Lenoir of that unit wrote in his campaign journal.[2] Do not imagine lines of tents, because militia did not travel with those niceties of regular army life! Instead the men would have slept under the stars, perhaps wrapped in blankets, trying to ignore the sounds of horses and beef cows throughout the night.

Photo of an intersection of two rural two-lane roads, with corn on the far side, taken on a rainy day
(AmRevNC photograph)

On the way back, several county regiments moved ahead of the main army. Mecklenburg’s and Lenoir’s Surry units camped on the river on Tuesday, October 1st. Lenoir said that the next day, one of the Mecklenburg men was shot in the groin. What he crossed out is more intriguing: “supposing it to be done on purpose (by someone) who shot & ran off and escaped.” Did he decide this was just a rumor? Or that it would make the campaign look bad if his journal got published—as opposed to other things that happened? We will never know.

The regiments continued for home under one of the first rains to interfere with the whole march, Lenoir adds. The rest of the army apparently passed through that day or the next.

Later that month, Capt. William Moore was sent on a similar mission to the northwest, attacking Stecoah (at today’s Whittier) and probably entering the valley of modern Cherokee, N.C. Somewhere along the river a dispute arose on the way back, as he wrote in a letter to Rutherford. Moore was on the earlier campaign and may have meant the campsite when he referred simply to “Pigeon River.” His force returned with men and women prisoners, and plunder including horses. Moore wanted to take the captives to a prisoner of war camp and let “the congress”—probably the Provincial Congress of the state, not the Continental Congress—decide what to do with them. His men disagreed, “and the Greater part Swore Bloodily that if they were not sold for Slaves upon the spot, they would Kill & Scalp them Immediately.”[3] Altogether they sold those people and their stolen goods for £1,100, roughly $215,000 in modern dollars. If split evenly among the 97 men, this is about $20,000 each for two weeks of soldiering.

It is unclear whom they sold the people and goods to, given there was no European settlement west of the French Broad River (which runs through today’s Asheville). Traders may have been in the area, or perhaps he only agreed to the enslavement here, and the sale took place further east.

What to See

The line of trees running behind the buildings in front of you, and diagonally past your left, shade Pigeon River. On the 5th, the army followed the river here. A local historian believes they were on this side and forded the Pigeon beyond the field or buildings in front of you, just downstream from the fork at the bridge to your left. It then continued west toward Richland Creek at modern Waynesville.[4]

If you are taking the Cherokee Tour, and want to stay closer to the route followed by Rutherford’s army than your mapping app may use, take Rutherford Trace Route 3.[5]

[1] Dean, Nadia, A Demand of Blood: The Cherokee War of 1776 (Cherokee, N.C.: Valley River Press, 2012). That location aligns with the march mileage reported by William Lenoir (see next footnote) to the next day’s campsite in modern Waynesville.

[2] Lenoir, William, ‘Account of the Expedition against the Cherokee Indians, in 1776, under Gen’l Griffith Rutherford’, 1835, (Museum of the Cherokee Indian Archive, 2010.253.0207, Rutherford Expedition: Miscellaneous).

[3] Moore, William, ‘Rutherford’s Expedition Against the Cherokees’, North Carolina University Magazine, February 1888, 89–93, Museum of the Cherokee Indian Archive, 2010.253.0207, Rutherford Expedition: Miscellaneous).

[4] Jones, Carroll, ‘When an Army Invaded the Pigeon Valley’, The Mountaineer, 2019 <https://www.themountaineer.com/life/when-an-army-invaded-the-pigeon-valley/article_878b19d2-7591-11e9-88f5-5b2e4c5d6f3c.html> [accessed 17 September 2021]. His evidence is a 1789 deed.

[5] In addition to other footnoted sources, “Stop” information comes from one of two guidebooks; NCpedia; the online essay for the relevant North Carolina Highway Marker; and related Sight pages (see “About Sources“).

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