Into the 17th century the Braes of Angus were plagued by Highland thieves. As early as 1562, Dundee Council acted against the selling of stolen bouks (carcasses), and in the following year the 5th Lord Ogilvy was ordered by the Privy Council to expel the marauding Clan Macgregor from the uplands of the county. Things did not noticeably improve. On the 17th May 1649, George Thom and his family were robbed of everything and left destitute by caterans in Glen Esk. He was forced to travel ‘most humblie begging support’ through the kirks in the area of Brechin Presbytery. Some people fared even worse. Grewar’s Gutter, on Monega Hill, Glen Isla, marks the place where a man from Crandart fell to his death while being pursued by these caterans or hill bandits. His brother luckily escaped by jumping across the chasm afterwards called Grewar’s Leap.
Glen Lethnot was once particularly afflicted by caterans. James Molison, the tenant of Craigendowie, was rumoured to be rich and this came to be known by the robbers. They arrived at his house at midnight, but he barricaded the door against them. They maliciously emptied the meal from his mill and drove all of his cattle off into the hills. Eventually they cut down a tree and used it as a battering ram to gain entry to his house. The farmer still refused to give them any money, even when they roasted his feet over the fire. The robbers fled, taking Margaret Fyffe, the farmer’s wife, with them. She was later released unharmed and lived to the age of seventy, dying in 1712 and was buried in Navar kirkyard.
Some time in the late 17th or early 18th century the Battle of Saughs was fought in Lethnot. A year before this event there was a skirmish, known as the Raid of Saughs, when a trio of Deeside caterans stole cattle from Dubb of Fern. Dubb himself was kidnapped, though the men of Fern pursued the raiders and freed him. One Sunday in the spring of the following year an ill omened band of thirteen men descended on Lethnot, led by a notorious Macgregor outlaw nicknamed the Hawkit Stirk. The robber’s leader is supposed to be the same person as the foundling left on the doorstep of Muir Pearsie, in Kingoldrum parish. The farmer’s wife heard the infant crying and roused her reluctant husband who complained that the noise was only ‘the croon o’ the hawkit stirk’ (moaning calf). But the woman rose and found a child of only a few weeks old on her doorstep and brought it up as one of her own family. The child’s origins were never known and he vanished from his adopted home when he was sixteen years old.
In the battle the raiders were driven away by the locals, with John Macintosh leading eighteen Fern men chasing the Deesiders up the glen. When the pursuers came within five yards of the enemy, they were fired upon. Even though the shots were aimless one Fern man dropped his own weapon and fled.
Macintosh and the Hawkit Stirk agreed to single combat. The thief cut the buttons off his opponent’s coat and boasted he could take away Macintosh’s life just as easily. One of the bandits treacherously shot and killed a Fern man, which led to general fighting. Macintosh was knocked to the ground and would have been killed, but James Winter of Lethnot got behind the Hawkit Stirk and hamstrung him. The bold cateran is said to have continued fighting on his stumps until Macintosh delivered a mortal blow. The Stirk asked the Fern leader to shake his hand in farewell, but his other hand concealed a hidden dagger. Mackintosh saw it and finished him off. The remaining thieves attempted to flee, but every one of them was slain. One of them is perpetuated in the name of the hillside where he perished: Donald Young’s Shank. Only one Angus man died in the encounter. The Andrea Ferrera sword with which Winter injured the Stirk was in the possession of a solicitor in Kirriemuir in the 19th century, but is said to have been lost afterwards.
James Winter later went to reside at Peathaugh in Glen Isla, while Macintosh returned to his farm at Ledenhendrie, where his landlord, the Earl of Southesk, built him a fortified house in case vengeful caterans tried to murder him. He was made captain of the parish, incurring the jealousy of the former captain, David Ogilvy of Trusta, who had refused to join the Fern men against the raiders.
One night, Ogilvy invited John Macintosh to Trusta and as he was leaving grasped his hand, then bellowed, ‘Gude nicht, Ledenhendrie!’ This was the signal for an armed band outside to pursue and kill his guest. But Macintosh and his hound managed to outrun his attackers and hid for a while in a rock cleft in the Den of Trusta, known later as Ledenhendrie’s Chair. From that moment onwards, Ledenhendrie went everywhere armed. Even when he went to kirk he laid his loaded pistols before him.
The heroes of the Battle of the Saughs are remembered in inscription on a memorial in the south-east section of Cortachy kirkyard:
I. W. 1732. – This stone was ereceted by Alexander Winter, tennent in the Doaf in memory of James Winter, his father’s brother, who died on Peathaugh, in the parish of Glenisla, the 3d January, 1732, aged 72
Here lyes James Vinter who died at Peathaugh
Who fought most valointly at ye Water of Saughs
Along wt Ledenhendry who did command ye day
They vanquish the Enemy and made them runn away.