Monday, January 29, 2007

Chimney Rock Revisited

In 1878, Silas McDowell, the Macon County farmer and all-around-sage dictated his account of the Spectre Cavalry Fight that occurred near Chimney Rock in early September 1811.
McDowell begins:

In the long ago, the Titans built a wall of rock, varying in height from one thousand to fifteen hundred feet, with an open space at its east entrance. And at that opening stands a rough column-shaped rock, three hundred feet high, crowned with a coronet of pine trees. This is Chimney Rock.

According to McDowell, an old man and his wife living near Chimney Rock were seated in their yard at sunset, watching the shadows spread across the walls of the ravine:

When their attention was arrested by the astounding spectacle – to wit – two opposing armies of horsemen, high up in the air, all mounted on winged horses and preparing for combat. At length the old woman heard the word, "Charge" when the two armies dashed into each other, cutting, thrusting, and hacking, and she distinctly heard the ring of their swords and saw the glitter of their blades flashing in the Sun’s rays. Thus they fought for about ten minutes, when one army was routed and left the field, and then she plainly heard the shouts of the victors and the wails of the defeated, soon after which darkness hid both armies from their view.

The couple saw the troopers on subsequent evenings. News of their sightings quickly spread and became a local legend.
Twenty years after the 1811 incident, McDowell had a guide lead him to the top of the ravine overlooking the cabin that once belonged to the couple. McDowell told his young guide that he considered the story of the Spectre Cavalry Fight:

...the most sensational falsehood I ever read, [that] in my opinion it was the old woman who concocted and managed the whole affair. " She must have been an old hag – a devil in petticoats." The youth at this suddenly became transformed; his keen gray eyes glowed like coals of fire, while his breast heaved with the fury of a tiger. He sprang at me. I was as powerless as a child in his powerful arms, and, holding me at arms length over the yawning abyss of one thousand four hundred feet, he exclaimed, "Villian! You shall take back or qualify your utterances against my Grandmother, or I’ll hurl you to the bottom of this cliff."

McDowell, we'll note, did live to tell the tale.

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