By Marshall McClung
Contributing Writer to the Graham Star
The Civil War had a fascinating impact on Graham County as well as the rest of western North Carolina and nearby areas of east Tennessee. North Carolina, well known for its loyalty to the homeland, comprised one fifth of the Confederate Army. But not all citizens were loyal to the Confederate Army, especially in the mountain area. There were many reasons for this. Much of the mountain residents were of Scotch-Irish descent, and of a very independent nature. They did not want anyone, Union or Confederate telling them who they should fight or serve. It was not all that long since they had gained their Independence from the British, and did not want to risk losing it again. As a result, many found themselves to be considered enemies of both sides. Graham County, which was a part of Cherokee County until 1872, had far more trouble from bushwhackers and renegades than it did from either Union or Confederate soldiers.
One tragic event happened in the Goldmine Branch- Rock Creek area. Two young boys, John Stratton, 17, and another teenaged boy, Tom Mashburn were hiding out in the woods near the Old Tallassee Trail (also called the Belding Trail, Hudson Trail, and Dave Orr Trail). They were attempting to avoid a Confederate Conscript office that was in the area searching for young men for soldiers. Both the Union and Confederate Army used conscription methods (forced enlistment) as the need for more soldiers increased. They were hiding in an area known as the Rufus Stand close to Sarah Rhodes Branch and what was later known as the Odom Fields. Captain Tim Lyons along with members of Company C, Third Tennessee Mounted Calvary, USA was also in the area. Lyons, a one-eyed native of Ireland, had deserted from the Union Army, and his command at this time was made up mostly of Confederate deserters, bushwhackers, robbers, old men, and young boys. The date was October 3, 1864. The group came upon Stratton and Mashburn who attempted to flee, but were shot and killed on the spot.
The boys were wrapped in a sheet and buried in a single grave by Avaline Stratton and Eliza Carringer. The women labored most of the day digging the grave, as they only had crude tools to dig with. The softest earth was in the front yard near the log house, so they buried the boys there, possibly marking the site with a few small stones.
The grave was located by Frank Howell and Robert Barker in August 1960. Mrs. Frank Howell gave them directions to the grave. She had hoed corn in a field near the grave and recalled seeing it. Her father William Riley Phillips was present when the boys were buried. He was around six or eight years old at the time. The head stone in the photograph accompanying this story was placed at the grave on July 27, 1962, and was carried into the area by unknown volunteers from the Goldmine Branch area.
I was unable to discover any more information about Tom Mashburn, but a considerable amount about John Stratton. John was the son of Robert R. and Narcissus Stratton who lived near Bob Creek in an area now known as Swan Meadows. Bob Creek and Bob Stratton Bald or Stratton Bald was named for Bob Stratton. Stratton Meadows near the Cherohala Skyway was named for his father, the original John Stratton. Robert, or Bob Stratton, the father of the young John Stratton listed above, was also killed by bushwhackers in the same year about a month earlier. He was killed September 2, 1864 near Ball Play in Monroe County Tennessee, while hunting for cows. He was accompanied by Jack Roberts. The men saw a piece of paper lying in the road, and bent over to pick it up. It was an ambush set in place by the Kirkland Bushwhackers. It was said that the main reason for the ambush was to get a new breech-loading Spencer rifle Stratton was carrying. The Kirkland gang killed Stratton and wounded Roberts, who managed to hide, but died from his wounds two days later. Stratton was buried in the bank of the road near where he was killed. Roberts is buried in the Old Rafter Cemetery near Ball Play, Tennessee. Narcissus Stratton, mother of John Stratton, and husband of Bob Stratton, is buried in the Santeetlah Cemetery in Graham County. She lived until 1887.
Tim Lyons and his notorious bunch, sometime after killing the boys, went to Valleytown (now Andrews), stole cows belonging to Isaac Hamilton, and killed him. Sometime later, back in what is now Graham County; they killed one of the Kirkland Bushwhackers, Jesse Kirkland, Jr. as he was throwing chestnuts into the lap of his girlfriend. This was near Stump Ford (Ground Squirrel Branch-Cross Creek area). The Kirkland gang had a hideout below the present location of Horse Cove Campground near Avey Branch on lower Santeetlah Creek.
It was a tough situation that our mountain residents found themselves in in those days. It was s difficult to be neutral, and gangs like Captain Lyons’s and the Kirkland Bushwhackers didn’t care which side you favored, since they favored neither side themselves , but took advantage of easy pickings.
Bushwhackers and renegades roamed throughout the mountains of Graham County, but their favorite ambush spots were said to be the Slickrock area, especially Big Fat Gap, Stratton Meadows, and Deals Gap at the North Carolina-Tennessee state line.