Cherokee Name: Skyagunsta

Driving in and around the area of The Cliffs Communities and The Reserve at Lake Keowee, you will note some road names that are from the Cherokee (Keowee being one of them – roughly translated “place of the mulberries”!). One such word brings back history of not only the Cherokee but of Andrew Pickens, for whom Pickens County is named.

Revolutionary War General Andrew Pickens (1739- 1817) obtained much recognition and respect; so much so that the Cherokee gave him the name “Skyagunsta”.  You can find this particular name as “Skyagunsta Drive”, not too far from The Reserve at Lake Keowee.  This name is translated as “The Wizard Owl”! In today’s post, we’re diving into why Pickens was given this unusual name. Let’s dust off our history books and get started!

Andrew Pickens was a son of Scottish-Irish immigrants and was born in Pennsylvania in 1739. His family moved to the Waxhaws region of South Carolina while he was a teenager. Waxhaws were a Native American tribe located throughout the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina. When many refer to Waxhaw region, they’re specifically referring to southern Piedmont area of South Carolina.

When Pickens was 21, he joined the military and fought in the Cherokee War. His life was filled with good and bad related to the local Cherokee tribes. Like many tribes who fight, then work together, Dickens did the same with the Cherokee. In 1776, he served in an effort to destroy several Cherokee towns, but later in his life, it seemed he reconciled with that history and it is known that his own plantation, Hopewell Plantation, was used for negotiations with local tribes. The Cherokee highly respected Dickens, especially after one event where he was able to defeat 7 natives in a 7-to-1 fight. He also came to respect the local Cherokee and built Hopewell amongst them.

His honored name of Wizard Owl or Skyagunsta, was given in honor of one of the Cherokee’s greatest chiefs. It is believed that this name is an equivalent to being “king-like.”

Pickens was one of the most significant military leaders for South Carolina during the Revolutionary War, leading battles in the backcountry. After the war, he served in the state Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. He was widely known as an expert on Native American tribes and affairs, working as a lead legislator and negotiator for multiple tribes from Cherokee to Choctaws and Creeks. He also worked as a land surveyor for the US to determine boundaries with Native lands. Like many prominent men of the past, his past could be called tumultuous with the Natives, but his work had a profound impact on the state of South Carolina. It is not hard to see his touch in our area and Skyagunsta Drive, Pickens County and more are just a couple reminders of his legacy.

Reach out! While you are out and about the Lake Keowee area, keep an eye out for the various interesting and historical names that permeate this area. Find one that interests you? Contact us and let us know – we’ll research its history and post about it here! Happy history hunting!