By Lamar Marshall Cultural Heritage Director, Wild South
(printed in the NC Bartram Trail Society Newsletter March 2014)
When I first read Bartram’s account of his visit to the Cherokee Middle Towns in 1775, I was particularly interested in the details of his journey after he left the site of Fort Prince George on Keowee River and headed west towards Georgia. I had spent about five years mapping the Cherokee trails of western North Carolina and Oconee County, South Carolina using old survey plats, historical maps and most importantly, military journals from the Cherokee War of 1759-1761 and the 1776 expeditions of Andrew Williamson’s South Carolina Army.
I use the term “reminiscences” because Bartram’s book appears to be a reconstruction of the events, times, and places that he pieced together after his travels. After I overlaid Bartram’s geographical route on a map of the Charles Town Trading Path, which he supposedly followed, from the site of Fort Prince George on Keowee River to modern Clayton, Georgia, I realized there were some serious discrepancies between my conclusions and those of Francis Harper and others. That resulted in noting several wrong dates and mistakes in Bartram made in his book and have been noted by more than one researcher.
Here I will not go in-depth for these arguments, but there are two major events or perhaps “the two most popular events” described in the “Travels” that are worthy of serious consideration by Bartram enthusiasts. The first is the Mount Magnolia/Falling Creek episode centered along Warwoman Creek east of Clayton, Georgia and the second, is the location of the mysterious and lovely Cherokee maidens picking strawberries near Cowee Town which was located north of Franklin, NC.
In my opinion, the theory that Mount Magnolia/Falling Creek is Pinnacle Knob/Martin Falls is either geographical fantasy or historical myth. Harper evades the literal interpretation of Bartram’s description by stripping out miles of his travel and geographical descriptions from Oconee Mountain to the Chattooga River and the ruins of an Indian town. To support his position, Harper admits that Bartram must have gotten his account of time and events out of order.
I propose a more geographically accurate theory that Bartram deviated from the well-defined Charles Town Trading Path (which would have crossed the Chattooga at Earls Ford) after passing over Oconee Mountain onto a fork that led to Chattooga Old Town, which was destroyed in the 1750’s by Creeks. The site of this town is known today as Russell Field and located at the bridge where Highway 28 crosses Chattooga River. The river along this town site matches Bartram’s description: “The surface of the land now for three or four miles is level.” No such geography is associated with the Chattooga at Earls Ford.
There was an ancient route from Chattooga Old Town along the corridor of Highway 28, which led to the vicinity of modern Highlands, NC. I speculate that Bartram rode up the Blue Ridge escarpment or an adjacent mountain which he described as “…mount Magnolia, which appeared to me to be the highest ridge of the Cherokee mountains, which separate the waters of Savanna river from those of the Tanase…” and found a stream that he named “Falling Creek,” then rode back down to Warwoman Creek.
Bartram was acquainted with the geography of these Cherokee trails and towns by his counsel with British Indian Supervisor John Stuart, trader George Galphin, Alexander Cameron and others. He likely had maps, including the 1764 John Stuart map. The Stuart map shows a path up the Blue Ridge escarpment at or near the modern corridor of Highway 28. It crossed the Blue Ridge near Highlands and terminated at Franklin, NC.
The earliest maps, 1820 Rabun survey field notes and military journals disprove the notion that traders, armies or Cherokees would leave the relatively flat Warwoman Creek and Saddle Gap Creek valleys to climb around Martin Falls and Courthouse Gap. Such a detour would seem ridiculous to Cherokees as well as traders and armies. This detour is 4 miles long with a climb of 663 feet and a descent of 744 feet. By comparison, the “straight as a crow flies” route through Warwoman valley is 2.5 miles long with a 180-foot climb and 246-foot descent. The argument that a canebrake would force Indians, pack trains, British and American armies up and around Pinnacle Knob is illogical, inaccurate and not provable.
Benjamin Hawkins, Indian Agent passed through Saddle Gap (and the impenetrable canebrake) in 1797…and recorded in his journal:
“My pilot arrived, and I sat out at 9 o’clock and continued up the creek to its source, crossing it in all nine times. This creek is called Falling Creek by Bartram. I met two Indian women on horseback, driving ten very fat cattle to the station for a market. I crossed a ridge which divides the waters of this creek from those of Sticcoa, [Saddle Gap] and went down then to the main creek at the dividings, [Clayton] so called from the division of the path here.”
The second event pertains to Bartram’s route from Cowee Town with chief trader Galahan to where Galahan’s horses were pastured, the ruins of “flourishing settlements” and near where the Cherokee strawberry gatherers were found. The geographical description Bartram left us with clearly shows that he and Galahan crossed over the Cowee Mountains to a great valley. They later crossed back over the Cowee Mountains to Cowee Town. Galahan very likely grazed his horses in the abandoned Green’s Creek valley away from the vast cornfields of Cowee. They met the maidens here, which typify the geography where Cherokees built their towns.
I would close in stating that Harper’s Naturalist Edition is an incredible work, especially to have been written in 1958.
[Ed. note: Lamar, that is a valuable addition to the discussion of Bartram’s uncertain routes, especially from the Fort Prince George on Keowee River to modern Clayton, Georgia and on into North Carolina. I’ve had some questions in my mind as well. As for the trip up to see where Galahan’s horses were pastured, that needs some more consideration. Could the large valley beyond be down Conley Creek toward Thomas Field near Whittier? I’ve been on the steep road down toward Green Creek and maybe that is a better suggestion. How about another more elaborate discussion on this for the next newsletter?]