A punitive raid is organized, driving deep into Cherokee country. A new peace is made. For a few years, it’s almost quiet out here on the frontier. Until a certain message comes from over the mountains….
That certain message? Well we’ve talked about it before. I’ve never been able to find the full original text, but the relevant passage has became quite widely known. Draper’s history reports that the backcountry setters were warned to –
desist from their opposition to the British army, and take protection under his standard, [or Ferguson] would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword.
Fire and sword?
To reiterate the singular lesson the good Colonel Ferguson learned… never ever threaten rednecks.
Take a moment though – how are we going to be fighting back? Remember now – you’re on the far side of the world. Trade doesn’t flow easily over the deerpaths to Charleston or Williamsburg in the best of times – much less powder and shot in the middle of a shooting war.
For this, local history is inclined to thank our Scots forebears -
Powdermaking in England was legally a Crown monopoly. This, however did not preclude the existence of an illicit cottage industry. Considering that Mary Patton’s maiden name was McKeehan, it is likely she learned the craft in Scotland. The Scots during the period were particularly disinclined to obey English law, especially regarding weaponry.
Mary Patton, Powder Maker of the Revolution. Robert Howard and E.Alvin Gerhardt, Jr. 1980 Rocky Mount Historical Association
The Pattons have long been famous in the area for supplying the Overmountain Men with the powder for their journey. Two of the local museums still display some of her old mixing kettles -
As luck would have it, her mill wasn’t located too far away. It’s long gone now and the proposed marker was never built, but its location wasn’t forgotten. Asking around locally where to find it, I’m given directions to (appropriately enough) – Powder Branch Road:
I learned something else to – the Pattons were hardly the only powdermakers in the area. Another family up the same creek was in the same business – the Hyders. One of their descendants works at Sycamore Shoals, and he kindly informed me that the whole valley back here is dotted with little caves. Little caves full of bat guano. The Pattons, Hyders, and perhaps others unknown comb the hills, ducking into little rock caves and digging out the filth.
They return with their treasures to the creek called to this day Powder Branch, where they set their simple stamp mills to work.And the Patton mill was either right here, or just downstream.
Powder Branch, looking upstream:
… and back downstream.
With this powder, and lead from Chiswell up in the nearby settlements just over the line in nearby Virginia, your Overmountain Men are ready to take the fight to Ferguson. On September 25, you will muster with your neighbors at the little fort so hastily thrown up four years ago.
Today you will begin your journey into the mountains.