History of the Land and
The Battle of Gap Hill
By Walker Miller, May 7, 2008
The Happy Berry, 510 Gap Hill Rd, Six Mile, SC
Before the arrival of the white man, circa 1500, the land of the Cherokee was truly the “Garden of Eden.” Logan in his 1859 book* about the upstate interviewed senior residents. These interviews tell of rivers teaming with fish that migrated annually from the sea up the Savannah River system including the Keowee River. ** Of Indians harvesting these fish for eating fresh, drying and using them as fertilizer, Of teaming wildlife like wild turkey, deer herds of 100 plus, carrier pigeons, Carolina parakeets, elk, bear and buffalo… of fire maintained landscapes with the assistance of the Indians… of predators such as panthers, wildcats[Bobcats], wolves, and others… of chestnuts, 70 foot native mulberries growing in the river bottoms (Keowee means land of the mulberry), blackberries, low bush blueberries in recently burned areas, papaws, and elderberries, native plums…an idealistic climate sheltered from violent coastal storms, and regular rainfall associated warm moist coastal air being pushed over the mountains and a mild climate that simple fires and lodging enabled staying at comfortable temperatures. Cherokee Indians number around a quarter of million. Indians were the major predator and kept the buffalo, dear and elk in check.
Disease was scarce, but was introduced by the white man from Desoto (1540) onward. The diseases decimated the Indian population from over a quarter million to a mere 30,000, possibly less, over the next 200 years. This resulted in high populations of grazing animals and the subsequent high populations of predators in the 1700’s. The Cherokee were and are a handsome, intelligent people that were living in almost Stone Age fashion with regard to tools prior to 1500. They were farmers growing corn, beans and squash [Today we call it butternut squash] that did not require any kind of special storage and could be eaten all winter long.*** With the introduction of the peach in Savannah, Indians including the Cherokee, spread it rapidly. Early botanist, Bartram, visiting the Cherokee towns in the Keowee valley described peaches in bloom widely planted in the valley.
The Cherokee rapidly adopted technology from the white man creating their own alphabet and written communication, use of metals, guns, the plow and clothing styles. With the plow they adopted the European farming method of plowing and cultivating that reduced labor input. Prior to the plow they used a no till hill production. The white man captured Cherokees and sold them as slaves in the lower part of the state but slavery was not knew to the Cherokees who also captured folk and kept them as slaves and even in later years bought slaves. They also provided refuge to black slaves escaping form owners in the lower part of the state. By the mid 1700’s the Keowee valley was the frontier. Although money was provided to establish Oconee station on the frontier on the west side of the Keowee valley because of inadequate budgets it was of little help. Andrew Pickens was the local hero defending the settlers from Indian raids.
In 1753 Fort Prince George was built on the east side of Keowee River Just across from one the bear clan’s larger towns known as Keowee Town. In 1750’s the French were inciting the Cherokee to make war on the English colony. After a visit by the Colonial governor the colonial council understood the importance of building the fort to protect the Cherokee and the trading relationship that was providing literally hundreds of thousands hides for the European market. The trail from Charles town (Charleston) to Keowee town May have gone right through where The Happy Berry is now located. This had been a major trading route for deerskins and beaver hides.
From the 1740 forward there was an influx of settlers escaping from the Indian wars in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Other early invaders of the Cherokee lands were traders, huntsman, and cow drovers/pig drovers. Huntsman and livestock drovers were skilled woodsman and marksman. Live stock drovers had learned their skills of managing unfenced livestock from African slaves. Further, to speed the colonization of the frontier, free land was offered by the colonial council. All it would cost was 10 to 14 day horseback ride to Charles town or a month by wagon to register your deed. Unfortunately traders with the Indians were less than fair often cheating them. Although this was recognized as a problem in Charles town, nothing was effectively done on the frontier. This resulted in friction between the traders, settlers and Indians. The friction culminated in the Cherokee Indian war of 1761 with the colony.
At one point during this war young lieutenant Andrew Pickens under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel James Grant was entrapped by the Cherokees, possibly in the hollow on the backside of the farm.****. Andrew Pickens is the namesake of Pickens County. He was to later play a major role in the development of the Washington District that included the current counties of Greenville, Pickens and Oconee and Anderson. It was Francis Marion who came to Andrew Pickens rescue. This engagement has been called by some “The Battle Hill of the Gap.” In 1979 through 1985 while clearing the land for the farm I found irregular globs of lead and I remember thinking at the time it was an unusual spot to be finding fishing weights. Little did I know what I was looking at! It is possible those “weights” were actually musket balls.
The fact that Francis Marion, who later became known as the “Swamp Fox” during the American revolutionary war (1776-83), was in the area was documented by himself. Francis Marion was ordered to burn lower Keowee towns and destroy their crops. Writing to a friend he provides this account. “We arrived,” he writes at the Indian towns in the month of July (1761). As the lands were rich and the seasons had been favorable, the corn was bending under double weight of lusty roasting ears and pods of clustering beans. The furrows seemed to rejoice under their precious loads-The fields stood thick with bread. We encamped the first night in the woods, near the fields, where the whole army feasted on young corn, which, with fat venison, made a most delicious treat. The next morning we preceded, by order of Colonel Grant, to burn down the Indian cabins. Some of the our men seemed to enjoy this cruel work, laughing very heartily at the curling flames as they mounted, loud crackling, over the tops of the huts. But to me it appeared a shocking sight. “Poor Creatures!” thought I, “we surely need not grudge you such miserable habitations.” But when we came, according to orders, to cut down the fields of corn, I could scarcely refrain from tears. For who could see the stalks, that stood so stately, with broad green leaves and gaily tasseled shocks, filled with sweet milky fluid, and flour, the staff of life-Who, I say without grief, could see these scared plants sinking under our swords, with all their precious load, to wither and rot untasted, in their mourning fields!
“I saw everywhere around the footsteps of the little Indian children, where they had lately played under shelter of rustling corn. No doubt they had often looked up with joy to the swelling shocks, and gladdened when they thought of their abundant cakes for the coming winter. When we are gone, thought I, they will return, and peeping through the weeds with tearful eyes, will mark the ghastly ruin poured over their homes, and the happy fields where they had so often played. “Who did this?” they will ask their mothers. “The white People, the Christians did it!” will be the reply.”
*Logan, John H. 1859, A History of Upcountry of South Carolina. Volume I Publisher S. G. Courtenay & Company, Charleston, P. B. Glass, Columbia. Printer Walker, Evans Co, Charleston.
**The fish still come in the lower Savannah and there is one fish ladder that enables them to get as far as Augusta. Early on the settlers built dams for hydropower that disrupted this migration. Many of those hydro units are gone but have been replaced with a series of massive dams from Jocassee down to Lake Thurmond. We personally, at The Happy Berry, support the building of fish ladders with all these dams
*** This system, as a farmer made a lot of sense. The beans, a legume, captured nitrogen from the air for the corn plant; the squash grew rapidly shading out weeds. The corn plant itself provided the trellis for the beans to grow on. It was a slash and burn system then moving on to next site while the old one recovered. The chunks of fish were a starter fertilizer and provided calcium. Burning provided potassium, phosphorous and other minerals.
**** As the Keowee Trail left the valley at Keowee Town and Fort Prince George, it crossed Crow Creek and Mile Creek, ascending the ridge toward the crossing of the Great War Path (now State Highway No. 183) and the Keowee Trail. Just before reaching the War Path it passed between two high hills, some-what resembling the double humps of a Bactrian camel. At this strategic point the Cherokees often massed themselves on the slopes of this famous gap in order to surprise and slaughter an approaching
enemy force. It was here when Lieut. Col. James Grant's forces entered the gap during the Cherokee War that one of his young lieutenants, Andrew Pickens, and his squad were surrounded by the Indian warriors, and were about to be slaughtered, when some of Capt. Francis Marion's men went to Pickens' rescue saving him for great services during the Revolution and for the development of all northwestern South Carolina after this war. The Keowee Trail that passed between the two famous Gap Hills became the leading road from the Fort Prince George area and the Keowee Valley above and was used for a hundred years. But when the road was "black-topped" a number of years ago, the road was changed, because of a steep incline on the north side, to a gradual detour around the eastern hill. Still this historical spot is called Gap Hill, while some of the older ones speak of it as the "Battle Hill of the Gap." The churches are called Gap Hill Methodist, Gap Hill Baptist, and Gap Hill Church of God, with the dual prefix attached to each. And also, the trading mart at the old intersection of the two great Indian Paths is Gap Hill Grocery, Service Station, and so on.