In the early 1900s, the first hydro-electric dam was going to be built on the Pee Dee River. Blewett Falls dam, as it was called, would back up the river for miles and form a rather large lake. Land had to be bought up before the area was flooded by the lake.
It seems a young lawyer was one of the ones hired by the company (what would become Carolina Power and Light) to buy up the private land necessary for the river bottoms to be flooded.
Ms. Mary Cagle, mother of Eben and Pearl Cagle, owned a portion of river bottom that bordered right on the existing river. The land was located just north of Big Mountain Creek at Grassy Island. Mary — “Granny Cagle”, as she was called in later years — used the land for a pasture for her livestock and she didn’t want to sell it.
The story goes that the young lawyer hired a local man to carry him to the Cagle’s homeplace to discuss buying their bottom land. As the two men started up the winding dirt road on Cagle Mountain, one of the Cagle boys stepped in front of them caring a rifle. “What’s your business up here,” said the Cagle boy. Before the young lawyer could get through with his spiel about buying the land for the new lake, young Cagle told them to “git and don’t come back for the land ain’t for sale.”
A week or so passed and the young lawyer asked his guide to go with him back up to the Cagles’. The guide refused and told the lawyer: “If’en you got any sense, you will stay away from them Cagle folks, for they mean business.”
Although being warned not to return to the Cagle property, the lawyer went anyway. This time he actually made it to the Cagles’ front yard. There on the front porch, in a straight-back chair, sat the same young Cagle boy that had told them to stay off the property. As the young lawyer started up the step, young Cagle rose up out of his chair and just as the lawyer put his foot on the porch, young Cagle forcefully broke the straight chair over the lawyer’s head. Needless to say, that you only got one warning from the Cagles.
Eben Cagle, the oldest of Mary’s children, was a six-gun genius. Why, he was known to be able to center a dime six times out of six shots with his 41 Colt revolver. He was also very good with a rifle, usually keeping his Winchester 68 by his side. Folks say he could call a wild turkey gobbler from four hens, and shoot him in the head every time with that Winchester.
Pearl Cagle, being the youngest of Mary’s three children, was only 17 when he put the first notch on his gun. It took place in Wadesboro. So happened a big bully made a remark about Pearl’s long hair and then made the mistake of patting Pearl on the head. Pearl reared back and hit the man between the eyes — but then the man grabbed a bottle, broke it off, and was going to cut Pearl to pieces with it. Pearl’s colt pistol flashed and the big man lay dead. At the trial, Pearl was acquitted of the shooting because of self- defense.
Folks who remember say Pearl never started anything — but Eben, now that was a different story. Folks said Eben sometimes liked to shoot up a town just for the fun of it. Once, Eben done some pistol practice, as he called it, in Mount Gilead. After the shooting, Eben headed on home to the hills but was followed by the local law. Eben beat them home, knotted up his hair, and put on another hat. When the law came looking, he told them Eben hadn’t been around in weeks. The law left without recognizing him, but to tell you the truth, they just didn’t want to confront Eben on his own turf.
Another story was told about the Cagles and how the High Sheriff of Richmond County, John Smith, the last Republican Sheriff of the county, went in a horse and buggy from Rockingham to serve a warrant on the Cagle boys. As he started to step down from the buggy at the Cagle’s house, Eben started shooting — not trying to kill the sheriff, but he scared him so bad that the sheriff ran his horse all the way back to Rockingham. As the sheriff’s horse and buggy came into the city limits, the horse fell dead from all that running. When some of the local men helped push the sheriff’s buggy back into town, they noticed on the back of the buggy were bullet holes that spelled “E.C.”
Another story about Eben says he had just crossed the river on Stanback Ferry with one of his moonshine wagons going into Anson County. The ferryman said Eben had just got out of sight when he heard a shot. Seems an Anson County man had tried to hijack Eben’s moonshine and Eben shot and killed him right on the spot. As you could expect, a quiet burial followed the next day in Anson County, with the dead man’s family never mentioning what had happened.
Next week I’ll tell you why Eben Cagle spent a year in the federal pen and how Pearl got shot in the head from an ambush.
J.A Bolton is a member of the N.C. Storytelling Guild, Anson Co. Writer’s Club, Anson and Richmond Co. Historical Societies and the Sandhills Rod and Gun Club.