In early September of 1780 there were a series of skirmishes between the Patriot and Loyalist armies throughout the Piedmont of North Carolina. Loyalist Colonel Patrick Ferguson was camped at Gilbert Town, North Carolina (now Gilbert) and received word that a group of Patriots were encamped on Cane and Silver Creeks, led by Colonel Charles McDowell. From Loyalist Lt. Alexander Chesney:
“Colonel Ferguson soon got intelligence that Colonel McDowell was encamped at Cain and Silver Creeks, on which we marched towards the enemy, crossed the winding creek 23 times, found the rebel army strongly posted towards the head of it near the mountains.”
The Patriots had intelligence of their own, and knowing of Ferguson’s approach on September 12, 1780 McDowell set up an ambush where the Loyalists would cross at Cane Creek Ford. Caught by surprise, Ferguson’s men were briefly routed then rallied, capturing seventeen Patriot prisoners and a dozen horses. Colonel McDowell’s brother, Joseph, called to his men to never yield but to stand with him and die, the Patriots attacked again and forced Ferguson to retreat from the ford. Realizing his forces were out numbered, McDowell retreated back into Burke County and the Battle of Cane Creek was done. Patriot losses were highest, with two killed, two wounded and 17 captured, while the Loyalists lost one killed and two wounded.
Though it was a minor battle, it was significant because based on McDowell’s retreat, Ferguson was confident that the resistance in western North Carolina was finished, a supposition that would prove to be his undoing in little more than a month when his men met the Patriot army and Overmountain Men again at the Battle of King’s Mountain.
There were companies from Rutherford County on both sides of this battle, and as at King’s Mountain a month later, all of the men fighting on both sides were American, not British. Three names of note on the Loyalist side at Cane Creek were Captain James Chitwood and Captain Walter Gilkey, both hung at The Biggerstaff Hanging Tree by Patriots under Captain Isaac Shelby, and Captain Aaron Biggerstaff, owner of the land on which the Hanging Tree stood.
Learn about the Biggerstaff Hanging Tree
Battle of Cane Creek Highway Marker