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Chapter 7

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Indian Wars in North Carolina

E. Lawrence Lee

The Carolina Charter
Tercentenary Commission
Raleigh, 1963

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 9
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p51  Chapter VIII

The Catawba Indians of the Piedmont Plateau

The lure of cheap, fertile land eventually drew settlers onto the Piedmont Plateau of North Carolina. The extent of this movement was indicated in 1750, when Anson County was created for the convenience of those already there. In the beginning, Anson County covered roughly the western half of present‑day North Carolina. In 1753, the continued increase in population resulted in the upper part of Anson being made a separate county, called Rowan. At the time, the two counties had a combined population of about 3,000 persons. In the same year, Moravians under Bishop Spangenberg began moving down from Pennsylvania into North Carolina. Their village of Bethabara (near present‑day Winston-Salem) and Salisbury, the county seat of Rowan, were at this time the westernmost towns in the colony. Most of the people were settled to the eastward. There were, however, a few scattered and more adventurous pioneers to be found farther to the westward along the Yadkin, Catawba and Broad Rivers. Among these outlying pioneers were farmers with their families carving homesteads out of the forest. There were also hunters and trappers who lived as primitively as the Indians.

Some of the Piedmont settlers came westward from the coast. Others came down through the interior from the north. Among them were persons from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New England. Many were Scotch-Irish and Germans, hardy and courageous people who were well suited to the taming of a wild frontier. For these  p52 pioneers of the Piedmont, like the earlier settlers of the Coastal Plain, moved into a strange and endless forest. They also moved into a land of native Indians.

Each settler who came to the western frontier faced the problem of dealing with these Indians. In a way, Bishop Spangenberg spoke the concern of all as he considered the wisdom of founding the Moravian settlement on land he first selected and later abandoned at the foot of the Blue Ridge. It was a chill November day in 1752 and the Bishop was at this camp in the wilderness far up the South Catawba. In the dim light of his tent he bent over his diary and entered his thoughts:

Our lands lie in a region much frequented by the Catawbas and Cherokees, especially for hunting. The Senecas, too, come here almost every year, especially when they are at war with the Catawbas. The Indians in North Carolina behave quite differently from those in Pennsylvania. There no one fears an Indian, unless indeed he is drunk. Here the whites must needs fear them . . .

Every man living alone is in this danger, here in the forest. North Carolina has been at war with the Indians, and they have been defeated and have lost their lands. So not only the tribes that were directly concerned, but all the Indians are resentful and take every opportunity to show it. Indeed they have not only killed the cattle of the whites, but have murdered the settlers themselves when they had a chance.

It was the misfortune of the Piedmont pioneer thus to bear a burden of hate developed in the Indian during a century of abuse. It was their good fortune, however, that the Catawba Nation, the only important tribe on the Piedmont Plateau, welcomed them in peace if not with affection.

The Catawba Indians came into what is now North Carolina at some unknown time in the past and occupied land on  p53 the Catawba River, near its forks. The tribe was the largest eastern Siouan group. Soon after the settlement of North Carolina it was said to have included about 1,500 warriors and a total population of almost 5,000 persons. John Lawson visited their country in 1701 and reported several thousands of them living in many towns. In 1738, a smallpox epidemic killed many of the tribe and by the time the tide of white settlement reached them they had decreased to about 250‑300 warriors. The total population at the time was probably no more than 1,000 persons, including the remnants of the Cheraw and other small Siouan tribes of eastern Carolina. They then lived in six towns, all located within an area of a few miles.

The Catawba Indians were ruled by an elected "king" and under him were lesser chiefs, including the headman of the various towns. In making decisions these lesser leaders had a voice in the councils, but the power of the king was almost absolute. This made possible more immediate decisions and action in time of danger. An added source of strength was the nearness of the towns to one another. The entire fighting force of the tribe could be brought together within two hours.

The Catawba needed all the power they could muster because they had many enemies. Among these enemies were the Tuscarora and the Cherokee. After their war with the colonists, the North Carolina Tuscarora were too weak to be a major problem and the Cherokee were too strong for the Catawba to challenge in open war. The most persistent and destructive enemies were the Shawnee and warriors of the Six Nations. The Catawba were reputed to be among the finest of Indian fighters and their scalps were regarded as exceptional prizes among foes who came from as far away as the Great Lakes to collect them. As a result, they were  p54 frequently forced to defend themselves from invasion. They retaliated, though, by raiding the enemy country. The result was almost constant warfare.

Except for the brief period of hostility during the Yamassee War, the Catawba had always been friendly with the English and had traded with them long before the white settlers reached their country. However, North Carolina carried on little or no trade with the Catawba and made no effort to govern them; hence they became "South Carolina Indians" by becoming dependent on the trade of that colony. In time, however, the administration of the tribe did become a matter of dispute between the two colonies.

The dispute over the Catawba arose from the lack of an actual boundary line between the two Carolinas. For many years, while settlers were still confined to the coastal area, the Cape Fear river had been accepted as an unofficial boundary. In 1735, officials of both colonies agreed on a line that would include the Cape Fear in North Carolina and then extend westward along thirty-five degrees northern parallel, except that the line would bend northward, if necessary, to include the Catawba and the Cherokee in South Carolina.

This agreement, however, failed to settle the question. As white colonists moved into the west before the line had actually been marked, North Carolina officials became unwilling for the Catawba to be included in South Carolina. The continuing lack of a boundary led to disputes between the colonies over land grants to settlers. It also led to confusion on the part of the Catawba who tried to please both governments. In 1754, Governor James Glen of South Carolina instructed the Catawba not to allow whites to occupy land within thirty miles of their towns. This would have excluded almost 2,000,000 acres from European settlement,  p55 and North Carolina officials felt a smaller area would satisfy the needs of the tribe which they now sought to have included in North Carolina. They called in Haigler, King of the Catawba, and advised him to ignore Glen's order because the land belonged to North Carolina and not South Carolina. Haigler replied the land belonged to neither; it belonged to the Catawba and they would not give it up. The result was land disputes between the Indians and the whites of North Carolina who had already received grants within the area.

There were troubles other than land disputes that sometimes disturbed the relations of the Catawba and the whites. On occasions, the Indians robbed the settlers of food and other property. King Haigler excused the taking of food as a necessity of war when his warriors, engaged in frequent clashes with their enemies, had no time to hunt. The whites would not give, he said, so the warriors had to take. The King condemned the theft of things other than food and blamed such offenses on young men of the tribe who would not always listen to the advice of their elders. But even this guilt he placed, in part, on the whites who sold alcohol to the natives. The evil of intoxicating drink had become a serious problem to the Catawba tribe. In pleading with the whites to stop the sale of it to his people, Haigler explained that his young men "get very drunk with it. This is the Very Cause that they oftentimes Commit those Crimes that is offensive to You and us."

Fortunately, most of the troubles with the Catawba were minor ones. Members of the tribe guilty of occasional serious crimes were usually punished quickly and severely by their own people. Lesser crimes were not enough to break the peace that existed between the Indians and the settlers. This peace was important to both. The Catawba protected  p56 the whites against greater dangers on the frontier. The presence of the whites, on the other hand, provided some comfort to the Indians as long as the raids of the Northern Indians continued and the unfriendly Cherokee were not far away.

Page updated: 9 Jun 13