In September, 1780, a ragtag group of backwoodsmen from what is today North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia assembled to begin a journey to defend their homes and belief in liberty. They met their destiny at Kings Mountain and this is their story. The Mitchell County Historical Society presents Footsteps for Freedom: The Road to Kings Mountain. Episode Three: The Dangerous Frontier.
In our last episode, we discussed the Proclamation of 1763 and how it was ignored by many settlers and explorers as they pushed into the fertile valleys of the Appalachians and westward into land Britain gained following the French and Indian War.
It is easy to imagine these areas in the present day with their paved highways and easy access between locations. But in the time surrounding the American Revolution, the region was very different. The land was heavily forested with huge old growth trees, requiring back-breaking work to clear areas to build houses and grow crops for food. Trade between locations was difficult and sometimes non-existent. Despite agreements between Native American tribes and the British government, the region remained dangerous for new arrivals, and skirmishes between both groups broke out resulting in wounds, death, and mayhem for both sides.
One particular gruesome activity was the practice of scalping. This would involve the removal of the scalp, with the hair attached, from the head. This often resulted in massive bleeding and death for the person who was scalped. While the practice had origins that predated the arrival of European colonists, it became widespread after both French and English officials began offering bounties for the scalps of the other’s colonists.
There were several scalpings of note in our region that occurred between the Proclamation of 1763 and the march to Kings Mountain in 1780 with most occurring during the brutal Cherokee War of 1776.
The first and most well known was the scalping and murder of Captain William Linville and his son in July 1766. This attack occurred near the foot of Short-Off Mountain while the men were on a long hunting expedition searching for hides and furs in the area. The war party that attacked them consisted of warriors from north of the Ohio River most likely Shawnees. Linville’s name lives on with a gorge, river, waterfall, mountain and several communities bearing his name today.
War with the Cherokee nation erupted in the summer of 1776 with many war parties passing through the Toe River Valley to attack settlements along the Catawba River and in the Toe River Valley. Legends of these attacks have been passed down through families and oral histories through the years.
Sally Mace was scalped by three Native Americans at the headwaters of Grassy Creek, near Grassy Creek Falls. Her husband, James Madison McFalls, returned from a hunting trip to find her alive but mutilated. He set out to find the perpetrators and allegedly caught and killed them near present-day Grassy Creek Baptist Church. Legend has it that the three were buried at the edge of a nearby field. McFalls allegedly left Mace and moved to Russell County Virginia, saying that her appearance after the scalping was the cause. Some reports have her moving to Russell County and reuniting with McFalls later, with the couple having several children in Virginia, but there are also records that state he was married at least 3 other times.
Delilah Hollifield, wife of Arthur McFalls, was another woman who was scalped and lived to tell about it. They lived in the Turkey Cove area near Little Switzerland . She was scalped when Arthur was away with Griffith Rutherford on his expedition to attack the Cherokee west of Asheville. Arthur McFalls also had a second wife who was scalped and lived. Her name was Mary Jane Pittman. Legend has it that McFalls sent her away afterwards. A letter exists to him from James Pittman, Mary Jane’s brother, stating that while he held a grudge after she was sent away, he forgave McFalls as got older for the treatment of his sister. Arthur McFalls was captured fighting for the loyalists at Kings Mountain, but Patriot commander Joseph McDowell interceded on his behalf, preventing him from being hanged.
During the worst of the 1776 Cherokee raids, a war party abducted a group of six children consisting of Lydia Birchfield, her sister Mary, and a child each from the Dobson, Hyatt, Legerwood, Young and Litten families. All but Mary Burchfield were scalped. Lydia Burchfield was cared for by women in her community and recovered, marrying Andrew Hunter and settling in near Nebo in present-day McDowell County. Her sister Mary was taken by the war party through McKinney Gap, near The Orchard at Altapass, on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A hunter spotted the war party with Mary wading through the Toe River near Altapass and informed a rescue party that was trying to retrieve her but they never found a trace and her fate is now lost to history.
Finally, a gentleman by the last name of Rose was scalped and killed along a creek that now bears his name in Altapass. Rose’s Creek became the first name of the first post office in the area in the 1850s that would later be known as Spruce Pine. Today, one of the few sections of Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail that contains original 1770’s roadbed meanders along Rose’s Creek to Hefner Gap.
As you see, living in this region around the time of the Overmountain Men was fraught with danger from Native Americans who were in a desperate struggle to maintain their way of life against the unending tide of European settlers. Similar atrocities were committed by the troops of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia against Cherokee men, women and children in the same conflict that year.
Special thanks to Jonathan Bennett and Chris Hollifield for their assistance with today’s program.
Footsteps for Freedom: The Road to Kings Mountain is a production of the Mitchell County Historical Society, a non-profit organization committed to the preservation of the history, heritage, and culture of Mitchell County, North Carolina. Today’s program was written, narrated, and produced by David Biddix. Special thanks to WTOE radio in Spruce Pine, North Carolina (1470 on the AM dial) and WKYK Radio in Burnsville, North Carolina (940 on the AM dial) for airing our program. You can also download episodes through Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. Learn more at mitchellnchistory.org/ovm.
The Mitchell County Historical Society offices are located in the Historic Mitchell County Courthouse in Bakersville. We’d love for you to become a member of our Society! You can learn more about us on the web at mitchellnchistory.org. There, you can also see show notes about today’s episode, links to online resources about the Battle of Kings Mountain and those involved in it, and much more about Mitchell County’s history and heritage. You can also visit us on Facebook. Join us next time as we continue the journey to Patrick Ferguson and the famous battle atop Kings Mountain.