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Behind The Book 4: Andrew Pickens, or, The Wizard Owl


For some reason, South Carolinians love to give their Revolutionary heroes nicknames. Maybe it was Francis Marion who started it, when he was christened the Swamp Fox. But there are others. Thomas Sumter is now known only inside the Palmetto State, but there his nickname of “the Gamecock” now also refers to the teams of the University of South Carolina.

Marion and Pickens fought in the eastern and central parts of South Carolina. The western regions, the far backcountry as it then was, and Upstate as its now known, were home to Andrew Pickens. And his nickname was actually a name the Cherokee gave to him: it is variously spelled Skyagunsta, Skijagusta, and Kittagusa, which seems to have meant “Wizard Owl.” Which is an even cooler nickname than Swamp Fox.

Andrew Pickens was a Presbyterian who founded a church wherever he moved. He was a slaveowner who didn’t believe slavery was right. He was a man of whom one contemporary said “he would remove words from his mouth and examine them before speaking.” The picture of Pickens that accompanies this post is, as his biographer Rod Andrew likes to say, Andrew Pickens at his happiest.

Rod Andrew is a retired Marine who teaches history at Clemson University. His biography of Andrew Pickens is a tremendous book, a model for me when I was writing Daniel Morgan’s biography. As it happens, Pickens was perhaps the essential contributor to Morgan’s victory at the Battle of Cowpens. So Rod and I have a lot to talk about.