Pigeon River

Path for Two Attacks West

Location


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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.

Small boy in a blue shirt that says, "Do Whig Out!"
Girl in a white tee shirt with a picture and list of patriot women

Description

Button for audio tourCherokees had attacked European-Americans along the frontier 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, in coordination with similar armies from South Carolina and Virginia.

It likely camped in modern Canton, five miles to your right, or a mile closer on the night of Wednesday, September 4.[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 these part-time “militia” soldiers 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 a green pasture with a plowed field in the front and mountains behind
Possible army campsite south of Canton, N.C. (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). Moore was on the earlier campaign, and likely took the same route past here. Somewhere along the river, a dispute arose on the way back, as he wrote in a letter to Rutherford. 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 property in front of you, and diagonally past your left, shade Pigeon River. On the 5th, the army followed it here. They were on this side and likely forded the Pigeon behind the modern RV camp, possibly just to its left where two forks of the river combine.[4] Probably from where you sit, you would have seen around 2,400 soldiers in everyday clothing on horseback, 1,400 pack-horses, several small cannons, and a herd of cattle wend through trees and disappear down to the river. (See Davidson’s Fort for details on the army). It then continued west, following the route of today’s US 276 toward modern Waynesville, where it camped along Richland Creek.[5] Lenoir’s advance unit, the rest of the army, and Moore’s troops almost certainly crossed back here as well as they headed home.

Please respect the property ownersrights by not trespassing.[6]

To visit a “witness tree” that was alive at the time of the campaign, turn right onto 110 North, drive 1.2 miles, and park on the right just before Jeffrey Lane. The Osborne Boundary Oak Tree is across Jeffrey.

If you are taking the Cherokee Campaigns 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.

Photo of the end of a low, tree-covered island in a river with a field on the far side.
Likely ford site (AmRevNC photograph)

More Information

  • Dean, Nadia, A Demand of Blood: The Cherokee War of 1776 (Cherokee, N.C.: Valley River Press, 2012)
  • Dells, William, ‘A Journal of the Motions of the Continental Army Commanded by the Honble. Griffith Rutherford Esqr. Brigadear Generall Against the Cherokee Indians’, 1776, The Filson Historical Society, Arthur Campbell Papers, Mss. A C187 26, William Dells Military Journal <https://filsonhistorical.org/wp-content/uploads/FHS-Mss-A-C187-26-William-Dells-Military-Journal.pdf> [accessed 26 January 2023]
  • 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]
  • 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)
  • Litchfield, Carol, In-person interview, 2/28/2023, and e-mail, 3/5/2023
  • Miller, Charles, Phone interview, 2/15/2023
  • 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).
  • Walking in the Footsteps of Those Who Came Before Us: A Collection of Bethel History, dir. by Douglas Chambers (Bethel Rural Community Organization)

[1] The only two eyewitness sources do not detail where the army camped (Dells 1776, Lenoir 1835). A modern source (Dean 2012) points to Locust Old Field (now Locust Field Cemetery), but that is too small, has no water source, and would be a difficult climb for pack horses, beef cows, and cannons. So it is far more likely the army went around that hill, a one-mile detour. If so, the flats by the river now occupied by downtown Canton and the paper plant are a good candidate for the campsite. The first set of bottom-lands south of town is the other possibility. The eyewitnesses provide conflicting mileage numbers to the next campsite (11 or 12), which align with those two locations.

[2] Lenoir 1835.

[3] Moore 1888.

[4] Jones (2019) cites a 1789 deed. A local historian says a participant came back later as a judge and pointed out the ford here as the crossing site (in Miller 2023 and Walking in the Footsteps).

[5] Lenoir says the army marched “to,” and Dells says they, “Camped at,” Richland Creek. A local tradition said the army occupied Mount Prospect, the ridge underlying Main Street in Waynesville. But there was no reason for it to camp on a narrow height away from water, given that Rutherford did not fear being attacked in force. Other sources suggest the camp was at Sulphur Springs Park on the far side of the creek, but the spring is a tiny water source. Also, the easiest route for the next day’s march was that later followed by the railroad and Old Balsam Road on the near side of the creek. So it seems unlikely they would have crossed a wide stream with plenty of water—twice!

[6] AmRevNC thanks Riverhouse RV Resort and Campground for granting us permission to visit the ford site.

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