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Episode 20 Transcript
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 Twenty: The Yellow Mountain Road.
September 27th dawned gray and cool along the Doe River. The Overmountain Men began preparations for what many consider to be the most strenuous part of their journey. On this day, they would get on the famed Yellow Mountain Road and climb the heights of Roan Mountain, crossing the spine of the Appalachians at Yellow Mountain Gap. No other army in the Revolutionary War would pass over an obstacle higher in elevation.
The Yellow Mountain Road was the main trail into the Washington District settlements of the Overmountain country and points west from the piedmont of North Carolina. Originally made up of animal and Indian trails, the route was first called Bright’s Trace, named for early Toe River Valley settler Samuel Bright who had a homestead in the 1760s near the present-day Schoolhouse Quartz processing plant in Avery County. Bright settled in the area before the Proclamation of 1763 and was supposed to move east after the Proclamation but refused, later packing up and heading west. After his departure, the trail assumed the name of the mountain whose gap it crossed into the Overmountain country.
The Yellow Mountain Road made its ascent to 5,504 feet at Yellow Mountain Gap, some 700 feet lower than the high peak of Roan Mountain, hence the reason for the trail crossing there. It then wound down into the Toe River Valley passing near present-day Spruce Pine and continued over the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains at McKinney Gap before descending Pepper’s Creek into the North Carolina Piedmont.
The Overmountain Men broke camp and began the journey up the steep, narrow pathway. As they climbed the path with their animals, it became evident that the weather was turning markedly colder. It was early autumn in the region, but it was not uncommon for severe cold weather to arrive much earlier in the 1700’s than it does today. Climatologists have termed this cold period “the Little Ice Age”. The Little Ice Age began about 1290 AD and ended in the year 1850 AD. It reached its coldest point in the decades before the Revolution with temperatures in North America and Europe averaging 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit less than today. It produced dramatic results, including snows like the one that the Overmountain Men walked through that September. The effects of this colder climate on the Revolutionary War are clear to anyone who has seen paintings of our soldiers huddled together in Valley Forge or the chunks of ice surrounding Washington’s boat crossing the Delaware.
While the Overmountain Men would not have been aware of the Little Ice Age, they were very aware of its effects. As they rose higher and higher on the trail, they began encountering snowfall from the storm they experienced the day before. By the time they reached Yellow Mountain Gap and the crest of the Roan, the snow was “shoemouth deep,” some 2 to 4 inches.
The Overmountain Men paused at the gap to rest. The top of the mountain was a natural bald, a meadow with no trees. Their officers felt that despite the snow this bald area would be a good spot to give their men a bit of training. They were ordered to dismount from their horses, form ranks and then parade under their respective officers. They concluded by firing a celebratory volley from their rifles honoring their success in cresting the mountain that echoed through the valleys below. It was afternoon when they began their descent down the Yellow Mountain Road into what is today the Roaring Creek area of Avery County. As the shadows began to grow long, they selected a flat place near a spring to make camp for night two of their journey. It would be a restless night, and events taking place the next morning would affect the route the militia took to the Blue Ridge Escarpment. We’ll pick up our story at the Roaring Creek camp next time.
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, Google Podcasts and other pod catching software. 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.
- Information on the Trail Head for the Yellow Mountain Road at Roaring Creek
- NC Highway Historical Marker for the Yellow Mountain Road
- Passage from The Border Men about the first few days
- Passage from Lyman Draper’s book King’s Mountain and Its Heroes about Yellow Mountain
- Photos of the Yellow Mountain Gap the Overmountain Men Crossed
- The Famous Yellow Mountain Road
- The National Parks Traveler – Yellow Mountain Road
- The Yellow Mountain Road Trailhead in Tennessee
- Yellow Mountain Gap from the OVTA Website