Trail of statues honors friendship from 1700s that helped shape Charlotte

The chant of an ancient Catawba Nation song and thumping on a deerskin drum rose above freeway noise Friday as a statue honoring two men from Charlotte’s history was dedicated along the city’s Little Sugar Creek Greenway.

The bronze figures – early Carolinas settler Thomas “Kanawha” Spratt and legendary Catawba Chief King Haigler – stand on a 9-ton boulder with the lines of the Catawba River and Sugar Creek etched into the stone.

The life-size creations are the latest additions to the Trail of History, a public art project that will feature images of famous and lesser-known historical figures from Mecklenburg County’s past.

Despite a cool, damp morning, about 200 people turned out for Friday’s dedication. As traffic rolled along the nearby John Belk Freeway, speakers focused on Mecklenburg’s rich past.

“Nobody can say Charlotte doesn’t remember its history,” said James Garges, director of the Mecklenburg Park and Recreation Department. “We’re very proud to be a part of this.”

Backed by a consortium of community leaders and donors, the string of what will be 21 statues will stretch a little more than a mile along the creek from Seventh Street at Central Piedmont Community College south to Morehead Street. All the statues will be turned over to the county, which will maintain them using an endowed fund provided by the project’s donors.

The friendship between Spratt and King Haigler was unique. Spratt negotiated the leasing of Indian land to other Europeans and fought alongside the Catawbas, earning the nickname “Kanawha” from West Virginia’s Kanawha River, where a battle took place.

King Haigler, chief of the Catawbas from 1749 until his death in 1763, led during a time of unrest and change. He sided with the Europeans and negotiated treaties with both Carolinas that guaranteed safety and support for his people.

Trail of History Board Chairman Tony Zeiss welcomed guests on Friday, and speakers included former U.S. Rep. John Spratt of York, S.C.

Descendants of the two historical figures were recognized.

Sculptor Chas Fagan, who created the statues of the settler and the chief, talked about the power of friendship, saying his goal was to capture the bond between the two men.

“They need to be guideposts for us today,” Fagan said.

Dr. Wenonah Haire, executive director of the Catawba Cultural Preservation Project, described King Haigler’s service as a tribal leader and statesman.

His concerns about the negative effects of alcohol on the Catawbas prompted a plea before a North Carolina commission to halt the sale or trading of alcohol to his people.

“Some say it was the first temperance speech in the Carolinas,” Haire said.

She said she hopes greenway visitors who see the statues will want to learn more about Spratt and King Haigler.

Haire also said she wants people to visit the Catawba Nation in Rock Hill and learn about the tribe’s heritage.

Friday’s program included the Sons of the American Revolution Color Guard, the Military Musick of the Sixth North Carolina and the Regiment of the Continental.

Using an eagle feather, Beckee Garris with the Catawba Nation wafted sage smoke around the statues as a blessing. Ronnie Beck, 38, honored the figures by chanting a Native American song he learned around the age of 14.

“It’s a very old song,” Beck said.

Former high school history teacher David McGriff drove to Charlotte from Lancaster, S.C., for the dedication.

He called the statues “excellent symbols” of the role Native Americans played in the region and nation.

For him, the new green figures “help bridge the gap to a part of history people didn’t even know about.”