Elizabethton’s brightest star among pioneer women
Published 12:16 pm Saturday, May 23, 2015
Last weekend Sycamore Shoals State Park hosted the annual event “Siege of Fort Watauga.”
I hope everyone took some time to visit some of the activities and demonstrations that were presented. If you live here, you owe it to yourself to learn our grand history. If you are one whose bloodline extends back into those days, you should honor your ancestors by taking a small glimpse into their way of living and the trials and tribulations of early frontier life. The events of the siege spawned many a legend and forged men who would later march to meet the British at King’s Mountain. One of the legends I want to explore today is Catherine (Sherrill) Sevier who is known as Carter County’s beloved “Bonny Kate”.
This tale, woven over the last two centuries, began 239 years ago. In July of 1776, shortly after the Declaration of Independence was signed, a three-pronged attack led by Dragging Canoe began on area fortifications. Old Abram and his braves were to attack the Fort Watauga area.
On this particular early morning, said to be July 21st, several of the women were outside the fort to milk the cows. Crouched in the shadows of the tree line, the Cherokee waited for their opportunity with unwavering patience. They would wait until the women settled in to do their work. When the women focused on milking, the Braves would be the least likely to be noticed. “It is then, we will strike” was most probably the plan.
As expected, the women settled into their work, and the Cherokee sprang forward, just as predators would leap at their prey. Back at the fort, the settlers were startled as the air filled with screams of mortal terror. Men hastily gathered their firearms and ran to the walls and gate of the fort to see the impending onslaught of the warring Cherokee. You can just imagine the scene: overturned buckets, milk seeping out onto the ground, screaming women running in a blur. They would have been holding their ankle-length garments up high, maybe even up to their waists, in hopes of being able to run more freely, as the morning sun reflected off tear-soaked faces, their hair all disheveled, and voices gone hoarse from issuing blood-curdling shrieks.
Like Olympic sprinters, they raced inside the gates of safety offered by the fort. All were accounted for but one. One was missing: Catherine Sherrill. Catherine was a woman said to be of tall stature, athletic, and one legend has it she could outrun, outride and outshoot many a man who lived in the area. One would have to suppose that since she was last to arrive at the gate, she must have been the furthest distance away from safe haven. Even though she was within sight, the men could hold the gate open no longer, for another group of Cherokee were converging on the gate.
Around to the side of the fort she went, and a lot of circumstances had to be just right for this to work out the way it did. Her speed could not falter, her leap had to be true and the grip of John Sevier’s outstretched hand had to hold, if she were to live. Catherine realized exactly how dire her situation was, for in her own words she said “I knew I had to scale the fort wall in spite of the bullets and arrows which came like hail. It was leap or die, as I would not live as a captive.”
And on that morning her speed would not falter, her leap was true, and John Sevier’s grip held firm indeed, and she did indeed live. The legend of the Bonny Kate’s race for survival and rescue was born that day, and it was just one tale in the making of another legendary man, John Sevier, whom she would later marry. However, that is another tale, for another day.