Here is information on the early history of the Spruce Pine area.
According to Jason Deyton, noted historian and educator, prior to the coming of the white man, the Catawba Indians occupied the territory to the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Cherokee held the area west of the crest of the mountains. Neither tribe lived in the Toe River Valley permanently. It is believed from time to time that both tribes used this area as a hunting ground. This is based on the fact that arrowheads can still be found here. When the first white settlers arrived there was conflict unfortunately.Aaron Burleson was killed by Indians on the headwaters of Cane Creek. (Late 1700’s)A woman by the name of Mace was scalped alive by the three Indians on the headwaters of Grassy Creek. Her husband returned from a hunting trip to find her mutilated body. He sought out these Indians and found them near the present day Grassy Creek Baptist Church where he killed them. They were buried in the edge of a nearby field. The woman survived and her descendents still live here today.
North Carolina was a British Colony.After the French and Indian War, the British passed the Proclamation stating that the colonists could not move west of the “watershed line” along the highest mountains.They did not have to protect colonists from the Indians.The Proclamation Line generally lies where the Eastern Continental Divide lies today.The law also said any settlers who had moved west of the line had to move back east of the line.The area where Mitchell County lies today would have been west of 1763 the Proclamation Line in an area set aside for Native Americans.
Hernando DeSoto and the Spanish in the Toe River Valley
The Spanish Conquistador Hernando DeSoto lead an army of explorers through what is now Florida, Georgia, the Carolina’s, Tennessee, and Alabama in 1540. They were searching for gold. DeSoto’s men did extensive mining in the mountains of North Carolina.DeSoto was the first European to see the Appalachian Mountains.DeSoto and the Spanish were the first Europeans to visit what is now Mitchell County in the 1540’s.There is evidence of Spanish mining at the Sink Hole, Clarissa, & Horse Stomp Mines in Mitchell County. DeSoto’s route through the Southeast has been argued over by scholars and historians.
New discoveries have lead us to believe that DeSoto came up the mountains from near present-day Morganton, to Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountains, through the vicinity of Linville Falls and crossed the Toe River near Ingalls – in the vicinity of Bright’s Trace. They then descended toward present day Spruce Pine following the Toe River to mineral rich Mitchell County. Eventually they would follow the Toe/Nolichucky into Tennessee.Another Spanish explorer named Juan Pardo also visited the area in the 1560’s. Much of the mineral wealth of the region was hidden underground and the Spanish never uncovered much of the treasures.
This legend was printed as told by the students in the Mitchell County Schools in 1938. Some versions of the story depict Estatoe as a Cherokee Indian, others as a Catawba Indian.
In the early days before the white came to these parts, there lived two tribes of hostile Indians. To the east, beyond the Blue Ridge, lived the Catawbas; to the west, among the foot hills of the Unaka Mountains, dwelt the Cherokees. The area that is now known as Mitchell County was rich in Mica, which was used for barter and jewelry. The area was abundant in fishing, and also in hunting. Here the braves met to fight. And sometimes a man and maiden would meet and fall in love.
Among the maidens of the Catawba, was the beautiful princess Estatoe, daughter of the Catawba chief. Not unlike the other Catawba women, Estatoe was adept at making jewelry. One day she went out to admire a necklace she had just made in the crystal water of a nearby brook. As she gazed at the stream, she was startled by a sound. She turned to see a young Cherokee warrior.
The young brave explained that he had separated from his hunting party and was on his way to meet them. The young Indians found many things to talk about, and their first meeting was a long one. They were both reluctant to return to their tribes and they decided they would meet again. Late in the afternoon would come the distant call of a whippoorwill, and they knew it was time to meet again.
Late one evening as Estatoe returned to camp from a meeting with her lover, she paused at the door of her father’s lodge. A council was in progress and the warriors were giving warning of a hated Cherokee that was lurking near the village. They decided to seek him out and kill him.
Estatoe wasted no time in going to warn her lover.
Estatoe begged him to escape, but he refused to leave without her. So off they went together.
But a sentry followed her, and overheard her plans, and went back to tell the Catawba Chief.
The tribe chased them until they were surrounded on a high bluff overlooking the river. Escape was impossible.
The young Cherokee warrior tried to push Estatoe back toward her Kinsmen, but she refused to budge.
Placing her hand in his, she stood by his side at the edge of the cliff.
As they stood facing the sunset, they gave a silent prayer to the Great Spirit, then they jumped, hand in hand, from the precipice, far down into the foaming waters.
The Catawba chief and his braves approached the spot where the lovers had stood and gazed into the depths below.
He raised his eyes to the heavens, and with arms outstretched, he committed his daughter to the keeping of the Great Spirit.
The chief decreed that the river whose waters had enfolded his daughter in death, should be called forever by her name, The Estatoe.
The white man later shortened the name to the Toe River, but the spirit of Estatoe lives on in Mitchell County through the telling of this legend.