This story began in the late 1600s and continues through the next century. It takes place in the rolling hills and valleys along the Pee Dee River. In 1750, this area became known to the white man as Anson County, North Carolina.
In the 1600s, and many centuries earlier, the Indian tribes were well established all up and down the Pee Dee River and its tributaries. Some tried to live in peace while others were war-like tribes. As their ancestors before them, they were hunters and gatherers. But as time went by, they began to grow what was called Indian corn, beans, all types of squash and gourds. They also trapped and caught many types of fish from the nearby rivers to supplement their diet. The Indians only took from the land what was needed for their existence.
Humans and animals alike need some type of protection from the elements. The Indians along the Pee Dee built rounded-type huts made of small trees, branches, reeds, vines and animal skins. Mud was used to help insulate the huts, keeping them cooler in the summer and warmer in the cold winters. Sometimes while hunting or traveling away from their homes, a lean-to was hastily built for temporary shelter. Why, if need be, a hollow log or tree make a good shelter or could also be used for storage.
To travel on the river and streams, the Indians used dugouts, or canoes, made from a single tree. Making these small boats was no easy task with what tools the Indians had to work with. Sharp axes made of stone were used to fell the tree, while hot stones, fire and other stone hoes were used to shape the dugout. It took many days and a lot of labor to make these dugouts.
The mighty Pee Dee could only be crossed on foot when the water was low — and then at only certain points along the river. Why, you might be across the river only to be stranded for days if you didn’t have some type of boat to get you back across. During high water or when the river was in flood stage, it became almost impossible to navigate.
History tells us that the Spanish, on their conquest for gold and new land, entered the southeast U.S. in the late 1500s and 1600s. Some people today believe that a few groups of these Spaniards made their way up the Pee Dee and traded with the local Indian tribes. In most cases, the Spanish were welcomed in the new land by the Indians, but little did the Indians know that over half or even whole tribes would die from the diseases left by the white man.
After the Spaniards left the area, what was left of the tribes joined to together for protection and survival. Not many white men entered the Pee Dee valley area for several years after the Spanish left because they feared the reprisals from the Indians and the wild terrain in the area.
There is an old story of a white trader and hunter who made his way up the Pee Dee River from South Carolina. Seems the hunter was paddling his canoe up the river, stopping along the banks to set up camp and lay his traps. Later one evening, he had just passed what we now call Buchanan Shoals and a bad storm overtook him. He was forced to seek some type of shelter along the river bank. Not having any time to build a shelter, the man crawled into a giant hollow log just as the storm hit. The lighting flashed, the thunder rolled, while sheets of rain continued through the night. The hunter decided that this log was the best place he could be for the rest of the night and he soon fell sound asleep.
Early the next morning, the hunter was rudely awakened inside the log by a large hairy arm anxiously pawing at him. The hunter was so startled he got up and ran as fast as he could out from the log. Moments later he looked back over his shoulder and discovered he was followed by a bear; the bear by a skunk; and the skunk by a swarm of honey bees. It didn’t take long for the man to realize the popularity of a hollow log during a storm.
Local folklore has it that Ephraim Lyles and Ephraim Horne, both coming from Virginia, were the first white men to move into what would later become Anson County (keep in mind that Anson didn’t become a county until 1750 and it included a vast area). Well, the story goes that only Lyles remained in the area while Horne pushed on to South Carolina.
There are several reasons why Ephraim Lyles showed up in what is now Anson County. The main reason was because he was fleeing from a band of Virginia Indians. Yessiree, I mean literally running for his life. It seems Lyles had been deer hunting in a forest around the Virginia line and accidentally shot an Indian brave. The brave had been stalking the same deer herd as Lyles but wearing a fully skinned deer hide and head for camo (this being a long custom of the Indians, so they could sneak up on the live deer). Well, during the excitement of the hunt (Lyles thinking that the Indian brave was a real deer), he shot the masquerading brave but didn’t kill him. The badly wounded Indian was carried back to the village and told them who he thought had shot him.
A few days went by and an Indian friend of Lyles told him if that Indian brave he had shot died, according to Indian customs Lyles would also have to die also. This news naturally scared Lyles, but what put the fear of God in him was, later that very day, the same friendly Indian told him that the wounded brave was bleeding to death and that he had better flee for his life.
Lyles’s flight from Virginia eventually brought him to the banks of the Pee Dee River. Thinking that the Indians would not or could not follow him, Lyles built himself a cabin not far from the river.
So, it happened one day that Lyles was standing in his doorway smoking his pipe when he saw a flash of a rifle. In less than a second, the rifle ball hit just above his head. Lyles then grabbed his own rifle and took off running toward the river. Seeing several Indian braves chasing him, he ran as fast he could because his life depended on it. Knowing the terrain better than the Indians, Lyles manage to escape by the skin of his teeth by hiding in a hole under the river bank. He could hear the Indians talking above him and he knew enough of their language to hear “He go down river.” Finally, Lyles came out of his watery hole and laid low for a few days. It was said that sometime later, the same Indians killed a man named Lyles just down river in South Carolina.
The Indians must have thought they got the right man because Ephraim Lyles of Anson County had no more problems with the Indians and later became a large and respected landowner in the area.
Next week I’ll tell you folks some more stories of early life along the Pee Dee.
J.A. Bolton is a member of the N.C. Storytelling Guild, Member of the Anson County Writers’ Club, Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies and co-author of the new book “Just Passing Time Together.”