Patriots Destroy a Village and its Families
Cars and cycles may be able to park in a paved driveway entrance on the southbound side of NC 107 just past Canada Road, undeveloped as of August 2020. Larger vehicles will be better off parking on the paved shoulder that widens further south.
Everything at this location can be seen from your vehicle.
March 1781 (exact date unknown).
Despite continued tensions, residents of the isolated village of Tuckaseegee probably were not participating in the attacks and felt protected by mountains few whites had traversed. They went about their daily lives.
Col. John Sevier of the Washington County Militia Regiment, part of the Overmountain Men who won the Battle of King’s Mountain (S.C.), mustered a small force to punish the Cherokees by attacking their “Middle Towns” within the mountains. Washington County, part of N.C. at the time, was in today’s Tennessee. Sometimes the men are forced to dismount and lead their horses over the formidable mountain passes. The first town they reach is Tuckaseegee.
Imagine the Scene
Look into the field to the west, between the highway and the Tuckaseegee River (left side from northbound, right side from southbound).
In March 1781, you are looking at the Cherokee town of Tuckaseegee. A book of Cherokee stories says the original word may have meant “mud turtle place,” as turtles were common here. It suggests this was one of the earliest Cherokee settlements in this region, perhaps dating as early as 1,000 C.E. The village became known as “‘the place they rode backward.’” By sitting at the fork where the West Tuckaseegee joins the main river, to the right across the bridge, and staring into the water, you can get the sensation of moving upstream!
One house here is “round and twenty-three feet in diameter. The four outer wall posts (are) set four feet apart” with another set inside for roof support. “A fire basin (is) located in the center… and the smoke hole above the basin (is) made of clay plaster to protect the roof.” Somewhere there is a larger townhouse, other circular homes or log cabins, round sweat lodges of vertical logs, livestock pens, and fallow farm fields. A granary holds the fall harvest.
Look toward the church, in the distance uphill to the north.
Sevier’s force is approaching down the Tuckaseegee Valley from the direction of modern Webster, the route now marked by NC 107. Because of the hill on that side of town, the Cherokees probably have no warning of the army’s approach—both the view and vibrations that might have been felt on flatter ground are blocked by it. Instead, the first sign of the 130-170 part-time soldiers called “militia” is likely their appearing over the hill at a gallop. They wear standard backwoods clothing, not uniforms, and carry long guns and perhaps some swords.
There are no eyewitness details, but we can speculate on the action based on both sides’ military practices and the casualty counts. Cherokee men and women probably rush out of the homes and townhouse trying to prepare their muskets, firing at the marauders as soon as they can. The horsemen with swords go after individual warriors who fight back with gun barrels and war clubs. Other militia probably pull up their horses and begin firing back, some dismounting. But surprise and superior numbers have won the day, so eventually the surviving Cherokees lay down their weapons.
Taken captive, the villagers are forced to watch as Sevier’s men light torches and burn all of the buildings. The natives are then marched off with the army as it heads south across the river, probably to be sold as slaves.
- Cherokee: 17 to 50 killed, unknown wounded, at least 28 warriors plus around 50 women and children captured.
- Militia: 1 killed, 1 wounded.
After the Battle
Sevier’s force continued downriver and destroyed between six and 20 villages (eyewitness sources vary).
- In 1751 residents of the Cherokee town of Keowee, angered by cheating traders and fearing rumored attacks by colonial governments, asked other villages to attack traders throughout their lands. Only Stecoah (in today’s Whittier) responded, raiding the home of their local trader, Bernard Hughes. However, his native mistress warned him, and he and three others escaped here to Tuckaseegee.
A short drive from this stop is Judaculla Rock, boasting the highest concentration of native petroglyphs east of the Mississippi River. Petroglyphs are symbols etched or carved into rock, and this set dates back to at least 500 C.E. The soapstone rock was quarried for bowls as many as 3,500 years ago (see the lower right corner of the photo). A Cherokee story holds that a giant named Tsul Kalu steadied himself with his hand there, leaving the marks, after jumping 10 miles in pursuit of hunters who had not performed the required rituals. If you visit, please do not touch the rock, a Cherokee sacred space, to preserve it for future generations. To visit the rock, head north about 3 miles. Watch for a state historical marker and green highway sign for the rock on the right. Turn right onto Caney Fork Road (County Road 1737) and drive 2.5 miles, following similar signs to Judaculla Road. Turn left and drive a half-mile to the end. Take the short, full access trail on the right to the rock (coordinates: 35.3017, -83.1101).
- Corkran, David H., ‘The Unpleasantness at Stecoe’, The North Carolina Historical Review, 32.3 (1955), 358–75
- Gulahiyi, ‘The Destruction of Tuckasegee?’, Ruminations from the Distant Hills, 2008 <https://gulahiyi.blogspot.com/2008/12/destruction-of-tuckasegee.html> [accessed 8 April 2020]
- ‘Judaculla Rock Petroglyphs’ (Marker, Cowarts, NC)
- Middleton, T. Walter, Qualla, Home of the Middle Cherokee Settlement: Tales of the Great Smoky Mountains’ Native Americans (Alexander, N.C.: WorldComm, 1999)
- ‘Marker: Q-4’, North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program <http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?MarkerId=Q-4> [accessed 31 August 2020]
- Rozema, Vicki, Footsteps of the Cherokee: A Guide to the Eastern Homelands of the Cherokee Nation, Second ed. (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, Publisher, 2007)
- Ward, H. Trawick, and R. P. Stephen Davis, Time Before History: The Archaeology of North Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999)