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Sunday, August 02, 2015

The Wizard Owl

Skyagunsta was a great Cherokee chief born somewhere around 1700. The British took him and several other Indians back to the Old World, where they met King George I and signed a treaty. Skyagunsta then gave a great speech that is remembered nearly 300 years later. He became a revered man.

Thus when the Cherokee honored Andrew Pickens with the title Skyagunsta -- the Wizard Owl -- they acknowledged both his military prowess and his diplomatic skills. The Patriot from South Carolina helped save the South by battling not only the British, but their Cherokee allies as well.

First, Skyagunsta's speech: "We are come hither from a mountainous place, where nothing but darkness is to be found; but we are now in a place where there is light. There was a person in our country, he gave us a yellow token of warlike honor, which is left with Moytoy of Telliquo, and as warriors we received it. He came to us like a warrior from you. A man he is; his talk is upright, and the token he left preserves his memory among us.

"We look upon you as if the great king were present; we love you as representing the great king. We shall die in the same way of thinking. The crown of our nation is different from that which the great King George wears, and from that we saw in the tower. But to us it is all one. The chain of friendship shall be carried to our people. We look upon the great King George as the sun, and as our father, and upon ourselves as his children. For though we are red, and you are white, yet our hands and hearts are joined together.

"When we shall have acquainted our people with what we have seen, our children from generation to generation will always remember it. In war we shall always be one with you. The enemies of the great king shall be our enemies. His people and ours shall be one, and shall die together. We came hither naked and poor as the worms of the earth, but you have everything, and we that have nothing must love you, and will never break the chain of friendship which is between us.

"Here stands the governor of Carolina, whom we know. This small rope we show you is all that we have to bind our slaves with, and it may be broken. But have iron chains for yours. However if we catch your slaves, we will bind them as well as we can, and deliver them to our friends, and take no pay for it. We have looked round for the person that was in our country – he is not here. However, we must say he talked uprightly to us, and we shall never forget him. Your white people may very safely build houses near us. We shall hurt nothing that belongs to them, for we are children of one father, the great king, and shall live and die together."

What lovely sentiment. Of course, everyone forgot his pledge 30 years later when the Cherokee sided with the French in the French and Indian War in the 1750s. It turns out Indian nations were as trustworthy as European nations as they flip-flopped in wars.

After the French made peace with England, the British and Cherokee squared off. This served as military training for Pickens, who was born on September 13, 1739, in Paxton, Pennsylvania. But his family moved to the Waxwahs area in South Carolina when he was 13. After fighting in the Anglo-Cherokee War of 1760-1761, he began his own farm. He did well. When the revolution began, he became a captain in the militia.

But his first action in the war was against the Cherokee, not the British, On August 12, 1776, 185 Cherokee ambushed Pickens and his 25 men at Tamassee, South Carolina. He had his men form two concentric circles, alternating as they fired at the Indians. They held them off until Pickens's brother, Joseph arrived with reinforcements. Awed by the courage and military acumen of Andrew Pickens in the Ring of Fire, the Cherokee bestowed the title of Skyagunsta, the Wizard Owl.

On February 14, 1779, Pickens became a hero as he led his militia against the Loyalist militia at the Battle of Kettle Creek in Georgia. The Loyalists had twice as many men, but Pickens and his men had followed them. They caught the Loyalists by surprise, killed 40 and took 75 Loyalists prisoner. Pickens knew the Loyalist commander, Colonel John Boyd, whose deathbed request was that his brooch be given to his wife, which Pickens did. Boyd died that evening.

The battle was a rare American victory in the early going of the British Southern Campaign of 1779-1781. The British took Pickens and other officials prisoner when the British seized Charleston, South Carolina, on May 12, 1780, after a six-week siege. The British paroled Pickens to his farm, which was where he agreed to spend the rest of the war. But after Loyalists destroyed most of his farm, he wrote the British and informed them since they broke their promise, he was going back to war. General Thomas Sumter suffered the same fate. Along with Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, they harassed the British and helped Generals Nathanael Greene and Daniel Morgan turn the war around. At the Battle of Cowpens, Pickens led the militia -- the poorly trained soldiers -- who fired two volleys and dropped back, which lured British Colonel Banastre Tarleton into charging right into Morgan's riflemen.

At the Battle of Eutaw Springs on September 8, 1781, a British soldier shot Pickens off his horse. Fortunately the bullet hit the buckle of his sword belt. But he landed on the ground hard and that knocked him out of action

The surrender of Cornwallis the next month did not end the war with the Cherokee. But General Pickens nevertheless took up farming again, acquiring 573 acres along the Seneca River near Tamassee in 1784, where he established a plantation near the Ring of Fire battleground. The next year he acquired another 560 acres. He named it the Hopewell Plantation, and built a log cabin which served as his home for 20 years until he replaced it with a more traditional farmhouse. A mansion now stands there.

The Cherokee complained that white settlers were squatting on Cherokee land. On November 28, 1785, the Cherokee and representatives of the U.S. government, including Pickens, signed the first Treaty of Hopewell . On January 3, 1786, the Choctaw signed the second treaty. On January 10, 1786, the Chickasaws signed the third and final Treaty of Hopewell. Clemson University now manages the Hopewell Plantation.

Pickens died by at age 77 on August 11, 1817, at his home at Hopewell. In Pickens, South Carolina, there is a street also named in his honor: Skyagunsta Drive.

My first collection of "Exceptional Americans" is available here. And the Kindle version is here.

1 comment:

  1. VERY interesting, Don. My maternal grandmother was half Cherokee, and I was raised in what was part of their home stomping grounds before the Trail of Tears. I never knew about Pickens. Thanks for the history.