I considered visiting Whiteside Mountain, the family name and a personal ancestral landmark settled in the mid-late 1700s by Irish, Clan Whiteside, settlers. I passed up the closest approach, at this point it’s about 50 miles away already. Probably not happening… but researching the area I came across a great Native American myth about the mountain of my ascendants and the Smokies.
Whiteside Mountain is a mountain in Jackson County, North Carolina, and can boast the highest cliffs in Eastern North America, according to Wikipedia.
Legend of Spear-finger:
Cherokee myth tells of a wicked and powerful witch named Spearfinger. A dreadful and mysterious Cherokee woman with a finger like a spear that she used to pierce children. Her tale persisted for many years and was used to scare children to stay on the path. She had magical powers over stone and built a bridge from the Hiawassee River to Whiteside Mountain, her primary haunt as she favored high elevations.
It’s said she haunts the Smokey Mountains as far south as Fontana Lake. The ghost story has been written about and happens to be the very area I’m heading into. Cool. Her motto is said to be:
“Uwe la na tsiku. Su sa sai”
Liver, I eat it (as in human liver). The Cherokee name for Whiteside Mountain is Sanigilâ’gĭ.
Great, so not only will I be wary of bears, but spear fingered Indian witches now too! At least I can finally put a name to the hag in my recurring dreams since I was a kid… Me flying around a forest, half controlled, as that damn witch points with her gnarly finger and cackles at me causing me to swoop in near her before I wrestle control back. I’m coming for you this time Spear-finger!
Continuing the Family Story and Indian Affairs
William Whiteside Senior was born in 1710 in Ulster, Ireland and died in 1777 in Tyron County Virginia after migrating and settling the mountain in North Carolina.
His son, William, and his family were among the first Anglo-Americans to settle Illinois. He played a critical role in transforming an Indian and French landscape of the 21st state to join the Union, fighting Indians in many wars including the War of 1812.
He was a soldier of the Revolutionary War, who had fought at the battle of Kings Mountain. This is the time and place of the Mel Gibson movie “The Patriot”.
In the personal journals of Lewis and Clark, in an entry dated January 2, 1804; Clark writes about meeting with William and discussing recruits for their big expedition.
He was a signer of the Tryon Resolves, a document predating the United States Declaration of Independence by almost 11 months, but stopped short of proscribing independence from Britain, instead supporting armed resistance until a resolution with England could be made.
The family soon became numerous and influential in Southern Illinois after leaving North Carolina. Today he and his family are buried on the campus of Southern Illinois University (SIUE).
I found a college senior thesis on him here: https://whiteside.siue.edu
At this period the Indians were very troublesome, a party of Kickapoos headed by the celebrated war chief “Old Pecan” set upon the war path and William was named commander to quell the problem. And he did.
Traversing the country as I am on foot, it amazes me how wide spread, influential and accomplished people could be back then with such limits in travel and communications. I have a closer perspective and much larger respect for what it really took to live in those days already. You know… as I sit here in the forest blogging on a phone with more processing power than the whole of NASA during the Apollo missions…
William’s brother John Whiteside, the Illinois state treasurer from 1837-41, delivered word to President Lincoln of a challenge to a duel by James Shields in 1842, serving as second in the challenge, which was later called off.
His son, one of the pioneer heroes of Illinois during its territorial and early statehood era, was General Samuel Whiteside. Famous for capturing Black Hawk during the Black Hawk Indian War.
In April 1832, Illinois Gov. John Reynolds named Whiteside to command the Illinois militia in the brewing war with Sauk warrior Black Hawk.
A scholar of that war described Whiteside as a man “with a flat face, high forehead, and a wide thin-lipped mouth, all of which gave him a resemblance to one of the great stone-face megaliths of Easter Island.”
Glad those good looks didn’t persist down through the chromosomes…
Samuel is one of the few soldiers from the War of 1812 who lived long enough to be photographed.
He is known as well for commissioning, a then 23 year old, Abraham Lincoln into the Union army and being Lincoln’s first commanding officer for a short time.
He is also the namesake of Whiteside County in northwestern Illinois.
As a boy, Samuel’s lifelong views of American Indians solidified while playing with a brother and cousin as a group of Indians attacked them, killing his brother and tomahawking his cousin. Samuel and his mother escaped by leaping into some undergrowth and running into the woods.
Samuel loved life in the wild. He classically wore buckskins and moccasins and was well known for his skill in tracking and hunting. He was often gone for many weeks and lived by his talents and the bounty of the land. It made no difference to him whether he was hunting a rabbit or a bear and when he once dispatched three panthers in a single outing, he boasted not of his accomplishment.
One of Samuel’s more colorful engagements was recounted by Senator John T. Kingston in his book Early Western Days:
“Whiteside was serving as a private in Capt. Adam Snyder’s temporary company in June 1831 when a superior force of Indians attacked them in the Rock River country of northern Illinois.
In a state of confusion, the Illinois Volunteers ignored the pleas of their officers and went into retreat at full gallop, heading for the nearest settlement.
“The Indians were in hot pursuit, crossing an open prairie, when one of the volunteers suddenly reined in his horse and dismounted.
It was the grizzled, white-haired Private Samuel Whiteside, late of the general staff and a man well into middle age.
The Indians, taken aback by Whiteside’s action, slowed the chase to take stock of the situation.
They continued to ride forward. A chief wearing a feathered headdress was in the lead. He began to swerve his horse, left to right, right to left, and leaned low against the animal’s withers.
Private Whiteside, leader in many successful fights against Indians, raised his one-shot rifle, took deliberate aim and killed the chief.
As the leader tumbled from his horse, the Indians stopped, began milling around and uttering loud cries. The fleeing volunteers heard the commotion, took in the situation and ended the retreat. Shamed by Whiteside’s stand, they raced their horses back toward the Indians and engaged them.
The Indians seemed to have lost heart. They picked up the body of their chief and fled the assault. Several of the men later asked Whiteside why he had stopped to face almost certain death. “I have never yet run from an Indian,” Samuel Whiteside said. “I never will.”
That’s right Spear-finger, I’m coming for you… lol.
- War of 1812
- Legend of Spearfinger
- Pioneer Hero, Samuel Whiteside
- History of Whiteside County
- Whiteside’s Company, 1812
- Kickapoo Treaty
- Whiteside Family excerpts from Pioneer History of Illinois, John Reynolds, 1887
- Great granddaughter’s genealogy website
- Whiteside family signers of the Tryon Resolves
- Daughters of the American Revolution Patriot Index