In the years before the white settlers moved into the new county of Anson, the red man ruled. A tribe named the Siouan ran out the Muskogian tribe who had settled along the Pee Dee and Little Rivers in the 1550s and 1650s.
The Siouan tribe was divided into groups such as the Waxhaw, Catawba and Cheraw. The Catawbas were the most powerful and lived closest to the present Anson and neighboring counties. They were known for their savage fighting with other Indian tribes but amazingly peaceful and friendly dealings with the early white settlers of the region.
Even today, there still exists a place called “Execution Rock.” It is located close to where the first Anson County Court House was built, several miles up the river northwest of Blewett Falls Dam. The legend goes that the Catawba Indians used this place to behead their enemies and every time it rains, the rock drips blood. Scientists of today try to explain it away by saying that the red ooze is the result from seepage of water through the porous vein of iron located within the rock. What do you think, blood or water?
Like I mentioned in an early story, in the late 1600s and 1700s, white man’s curses like smallpox and alcohol and war between the tribes had just about wiped out a lot of the Indians in North and South Carolina. The smaller tribes of our area sought protection under the Catawba tribe, who had a chief or a king, called Hagler (also spelled Haigler).
The new white settlers found a friend in King Hagler. Why, if it wasn’t for him and the rest of the Catawba tribe, some of the present-day families might not exist. The scalps of many a settler would have been taken by western tribes of the Iroquoian (which included the Cherokee). Even during the French and Indian War, the Cherokee took the side of the French while the Catawba tribe fought with the English.
Soon after the war, a period of peace was maintained through treaties with the Indians. It was during this time that more and more white settlers moved into the rich and lush Pee Dee River valley. Here they built their log cabins. Why, some only had pine straw for a floor, but all had some type of fire chimney and a hearth inside for cooking.
The hearthplace, in early pioneer days, became one of the brighter spots for most families. After the evening meal, the family, friends and neighbors would form a semi-circle around the fireplace. It was like a small social gathering where storytellers — drawing from Scotch-Irish, German, Indian and African folklore — weaved their many tales. The stories were told in such a way that the pioneer families could relate to them. After all, they were, themselves, living in the wilderness of a new land. Tales of witches, haunts, animals such as bear, panthers and wolves would be told to children and grownups alike as the blaze of the fire and the popping of the wood rose before them.
In most cases, these pioneer cabins were made of all wood and no type of metal was used. Why, even the door hinges were made of wood or leather and all the door latches were secured with wood.
Superstition played a big part in the lives of a lot of our ancestors. They preferred these all-wood cabins because everyone knew that a witch could shed their skin to pass through the keyhole if it was made of brass or iron. They could not enter any door barred by a wooden lock or latch. Could this be the main reason why, for many years, our ancestors only used wooden latches and locks?
An old Pee Dee River story tells about a pioneer family by the name of Jones. The young Jones and his wife, Sally, had moved up the river from the lower country of South Carolina. They had acquired a grant for a small homestead on the west side of the Pee Dee River, later known as the Jones Creek section of Anson County.
Other families soon moved into the area and things went good for a while — that is until an older man, named Harvey, and his woman took up residence in an old fishing cabin along the river. No one knew from whence the couple came, but strange things began to happen as soon as they moved in — such as wells going dry, cows with their milk drying up and other livestock dying.
Humans seem to blame their problems on someone else, especially when superstition abounds. The Harveys had been the last folks to move into the settlement and, surely, they were to blame for all the calamities that were happening. Why, some folks said that old man Harvey was a warlock (a male witch) and could place a curse on you if’en you didn’t give him what he wanted.
So, it happened one day, while Mr. Jones was away helping a neighbor, old man Harvey showed up at the Jones’ homestead. Right off the bat he asked Sally to give him her cow. She immediately said, “No!” Then Harvey told her if she didn’t, the cow would be no good to her.
In a few days, the cow stopped giving milk and got real sick. Afraid the cow would die, Sally reluctantly gave the cow to the old man and would you believe it, the cow perked up and started giving milk the next day.
Sometime later, Mr. Jones was away on a hunt and Harvey showed back up at the Jones’ place. This time he asked Sally for her hog. Why, she called Harvey “ a crazy old man” and before Harvey could get out of the yard, the hog fell dead.
Sally, believing that her neighbors could be right about the old man Harvey being a warlock, asked what could be done. The neighbors told her to paint a picture of Harvey on the side of her barn and shoot it with a silver bullet. That night her husband molded a silver bullet from the only silver spoon the family had.
The next morning, Sally painted a picture of the warlock on the side of her barn and shot it with the silver bullet. That evening, she walked down to the Harveys’ cabin only to find out from Harvey’s woman that he was in horrible pain. Sally felt bad for what she had done so she ran back to her place through a heavy rain storm to take the picture down. Before she reached the barn, lightning struck the picture on the barn and burnt the barn down.
Not knowing what to do, Sally ran back to the Harvey place and found him dead. His woman said his last words were “bury me under that little oak tree yonder by the river, and when lightning strikes the tree you will know I am in Hell.”
It happened the day after they buried old Harvey that lightning struck the tree. I guess old man Harvey is with his friend, the devil, right now. So be careful friends: if’en a warlock covets something you have, you best give it to him.
Remember folks, history is fun when told in story form. Why, next time I might even tell you a story about the Yarbrough Family of Thickety Creek.
J.A. Bolton is a member of the N.C. Storytelling Guild, Anson County Writers’ Club, Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies and co-author of the new book, “Just Passing Time.”