Two Cherokees are Scalped
There is no good place to park where the primary action of this page occurred. Small vehicles can fit into the public right-of-way at the entrances to two farm lanes on either side of Thomas Valley Road near the coordinates. Though best viewed facing west (toward Whittier), this is close to a rail spur line, so be cautious.
Larger vehicles will have to drive by the coordinates going west to get a quick look, noticing the far corner between the lines of trees on the western and back sides of the farm field. Continue to the first paved road on the right, Clearwood Drive, and park where you can see all the way across the wide field you just passed to the same line of trees from the other side.
The Cherokee faction fighting American expansion into their lands has continued its raids, despite the destruction of dozens of towns in state campaigns in September 1776.
Aware of the approach of another North Carolina state force, Cherokee soldiers and their families are withdrawing from indefensible villages along the Tuckaseegee River.
Brig. General Griffith Rutherford, who led the September invasion, ordered his brother-in-law Capt. William Moore to make another raid along a more northerly route with his cavalry company. Moore joined up with another company at Cathey’s Fort (north of Marion) and headed over the Swanannoa Gap by modern Asheville.
Friday, November 1, 1776.
Imagine the Scene
The river is just on the other side of the trees that border the back sides of the farm fields. Look toward the line of trees between the fields, mentioned under “Location,” which mark a small stream emptying into the river.
Located near the river on the east side of the stream, you see the Cherokee village of Stecoah (pronounced “steh-KOH-ah”). Prominent is a larger round council house, or rather the finished walls, probably near the stream and river. The roof is not yet covered. About 25 log homes surround it. Fallow farm fields spread to the west along the river.
What is missing is people, except for two, possibly left as caretakers or messengers in case the rumored invasion doesn’t come.
Look down the tracks to the east (away from Whittier).
A trading path runs near or where the rails run today. First you hear the sound of galloping horses. Then you see 97 militia soldiers rushing straight into town. These are part-time “militia” soldiers in everyday clothes, some on horseback, carrying muskets or rifles.
The two Cherokees run for the river and dive in. Some of the horsemen ride to the bank and aim. As the native men climb out on the other side, the militia fire, and one escapee falls dead. The other sprints up a hill. A few of the militia dismount and plunge into the river; a few others ride to a nearby ford (toward modern Whittier), and catch him in the far distance. Meanwhile one of the militia soldiers who swam across kneels down and scalps the dead man. The other was scalped as well.
While that happens, the regiment spreads across the flats (in the direction of Clearwood Drive) and plunders the homes.
The residents had taken the most valuable items with them, “save corn, pompions (pumpkins), beans, peas and other trifling things of which we found in abundance in every house,” Moore reports. They take the corn and the “trifling things” they want. Torches are lit, and all of the buildings are set afire. The militia then ride to the ford and continue north.
- Cherokee: 2 killed.
- Militia: 0.
- In 1751, residents of the town of Keowee, angered by cheating traders and fearing rumored attacks by colonial governments, asked other Cherokees to attack traders throughout their nation. However, from the Cherokee perspective, Keowee was a frontier town prone to more friction with the British. Only Stecoah responded, raiding the home of their local trader, Bernard Hughes. However, his native mistress warned him, and he and three others escaped south to Tuckaseegee. A respected leader named The Raven sent his son with a demand that Stecoah return Hughes’ goods. He found the town deserted and soon received word the residents had fled when they realized they acted alone! The residents returned everything except about “400 lbs. weight of deerskins and £50 or £60 value of goods damaged in the looting…”
- One of the most important names in Cherokee history is William Holland Thomas, a European-American adopted as a child by Cherokees who rose to become the chief of the Eastern Band. He negotiated permission for them to stay in North Carolina after the rest of the tribe was forced to move to Oklahoma; bought the land that became the Qualla Boundary (reservation); and led a regiment of Cherokees in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. His home was here, on the exact site of the council house.
- Beadle, Michael, ‘Rutherford Trace: Local Historians Examine the Legacy of a Shock-and-Awe Revolutionary War Campaign against the Cherokee’, Smoky Mountain News, 2006 <https://www.smokymountainnews.com/archives/item/13169-rutherford-trace-local-historians-examine-the-legacy-of-a-shock-and-awe-revolutionary-war-campaign-against-the-cherokee> [accessed 5 April 2020]
- Corkran, David H., ‘The Unpleasantness at Stecoe’, The North Carolina Historical Review, 32.3 (1955), 358–75
- Cucumber, Devin, Cherokee History, In-person interview, Cherokee, N.C., 8/27/2020.
- Mooney, James, Myths of the Cherokee (New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1995) <https://books.google.com/books?id=YU9LpoZq5EwC&lpg=PA49&dq=rutherford%20expedition%20north%20carolina&pg=PP5#v=onepage&q=rutherford%20expedition%20north%20carolina&f=false>
- Rozema, Vicki, Footsteps of the Cherokee: A Guide to the Eastern Homelands of the Cherokee Nation, Second (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, Publisher, 2007).
- Wilburn, Hiram, ‘Nununyi, the Kituhwas, or Mountain Indians and the State of North Carolina’, Southern Indian Studies, 2.2 (1950) <http://www.rla.unc.edu/Publications/NCArch/SIS_2_2.pdf> [accessed 10 April 2020]