|Rafting Down the Clinch River
By Roy L. Osborne and Logan Osborne
people in Scott County who remember the days of rafting on the Clinch,
but for the sake of those who shall yet crave to know something
the days when we were much more in the backwoods than we are today, we
write this story.
Most of the
timber in Scott County was gone before a good market existed. Perhaps a
better price should have been paid for the logs that went down the
The rafting began about 1880 and continued until the completion of the
C. C. & O. Railroad about 1909. It would be difficult to estimate
the millions of feet of the County's
timber that was sold in this way.
Mr. James Brickey from near Ft. Blackmore bought all the timber on the
ridges along the Clinch from Ft. Blackmore to Russell County. He paid
to two dollars a tree. The best walnut brought two dollars. This timber
was easily logged. Much of it could be rolled or skidded with little
to the edge of the river. Mr. Brickey used two or three yokes of oxen
the entire boundary. The oxen cost about $65.00 a yoke. A good driver
a wage of fifty cents or $10 a month.
was later cut that had to be hauled a short distance to the river. All
the timber close to the river was gone when the Railroad was built. One
large boundary in the mountain above Ft. Blackmore was manufactured at
Ft. Blackmore after the completion of the C. C. & O. and earlier
that another large set was sawed out at the base of the High Knob on
now begin in this area with the organization of the Lake-mountain
Forest and we hope to see a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp
on the Scott County side of this Forest.
raft making will soon be a lost art. It has probably served its day and
will never be revived. Yet it was an economical way to get the timber
Much of the
was delivered at Clinchport to men who tooled it on down the Clinch
the Tennessee to Chattanooga or Clinton. A crew of ten men brought the
rafts through the rough waters from Dungannon on the Clinch to
Here men were turned back and still others as the work became less
made up of 150 to 250 logs and contained 50 to 100 thousand feet. The
were started as single rafts, but after the worst water was passed two
were tied together to form a double raft. These rafts were steered by
oars. A nice slim chestnut of sufficient strength was used for an oar
This tem was 25 to 35 feet in length. The paddle was a well seasoned 16
foot board, three inches thick at the end which fastened in the stem,
shaved to a thin edge to make it "flip" as the stroke was
The logs were
together with young hickory saplings. These were split in the center.
first spikes were tried, but these were not satisfactory. Wooden pins
used for successful rafting. The holes for these pegs were made with a
two-inch auger through the binder and one-and-one-half inch auger into
not always brought through the rough waters, such as the Slate Cliff
the Blue Cliff above Dungannon, Stoney Creek Shoals at Ft. Blackmore,
Ervins Bend at Hill Station. Many rafts were torn up in these places,
most of the logs lost. Men were hurt and some killed. Hop Duncan was
while trying to swim out of a wreck in the Stoney Creek Shoals.
was tied up until the tide went down and was repaired to be floated
on the next ride. This was sometimes the following winter. These wrecks
were relatively few, for these expert steermen knew the tricks of the
and when the tide was high enough and not too high. When the tide was
high they would have to tie up and wait.
through the bad waters were P. H. Osborne, B. F. Osborne, Logan
Kenny Ramey, and David Sluss. These men would direct the hazardous work
of drifting the rafts out of Russell County and upper Scott County.
Catron, John Church, Isaac Horton, and Tom Neff were steersmen on to
This work had
be done in the cold weather of winter and spring. Hardy young men were
required. Many times they would have to swim out through floating ice
spend the night around a camp fire. Food was stored on the raft and
there on a hearth of mud and stone or sometimes in small cook stoves.
bunk was built in the middle of the raft, and straw was carried for
two dollars a day and other hands one dollar a day. The round trip to
took about a week. The trip on into Tennessee was slower and usually
about a month.
We wish it
possible to collect the stories of the experiences of the men who rode
these rafts through the rapids of the Clinch. Z. D. Collins at
had all his money tied up in two large rafts. These rafts were
300 feet long. P. H. Osborne was steering one and David Sluss the
The rafts started out from Sandy Point at Dungannon. Each raft was
about $1,000. Bill Bryant, Will Collins, Evan Collins, Hoge Osborne,
Osborne, and Loge Osborne were on the two rafts. The rafts were very
and they had been forced to tie up frequently. The cable had worn out.
through and were nearing Clinchport.
oars were broken in an effort to tie, and the ropes would not hold. It
looked like the rafts would be lost by running into the railroad bridge
at Clinchport. Three attempts were made to tie. P. H. Osborne and Z. D.
Collins broke a boat loose nearby and paddled with all their strength
to get a rope. They overtook two men from Chattanooga, who had two
Collins said, "I cannot tie my rafts and all I have will be lost. Loan
me a rope for a few minutes." "We will do no such G___ D___ thing. We
taking care of ourselves; you do the same." "Sell me a rope," Collins
"Nothing shaking," the other replied. "Now you get to hell off here
I cut your head off with this axe." "You put that axe down or I will
you," Collins said, "if you will not loan nor sell we will take a
At that a fight started and P. H. Osborne untied a rope and they
the river with cursing and threats from
owner. The raft which was now a double raft, was tied up just in time
keep it out of the bridge. The rope was returned and the owner forced
take pay for its use.
Ramey was steering a raft for Jim Marcum and Marion Stapleton. Loge
P. H. Osborne, and Charlie Wheatley were on the bow. "Happy" Blevins
Kenny Ramey were on the stern. The raft was loaded and cut loose at
Porter's at Sinking Shoals. A good start was made. But Kenny saw a
on the bank and began "hollering" to him. The friend was Lonzo Semones.
This joking and fun took the steersman's eye and mind off the job.
Shoal Cliff was just ahead. When Kenny was aroused to the danger he
the command, "Quick, up! Lay her over to the right." It was too late.
raft hit the cliff, tore off the oars and ripped the binder back half
Many of the best logs were lost. On down through the rapids, ripping,
with loose logs rolling under the raft, men screaming, but not daring
leave the wreck. What was left reached an eddy and was tied up, and
for the next tide.
made on many a tide in the roughest weather down the Clinch. And many
the stories that these old rafters still tell to the children and
around the winter fires, while tides come, but the rafts float no more.
The oxen are
no more in the woods, the powerful truck hauls the logs to the market,
or to the railroad station. The railroad came and had its day like the
rafting tide, and now the good highway and the auto-truck. But nothing
today compares in adventure to those days of logging with the oxen and
the floating of the mighty rafts down
of man's progress is the history of transportation. But do we have
men with it all? Have we in Scott County builded men as we have builded
roads and school houses?
depends not upon these material things but upon the character of men.
the shadow of the monument of material success we seek a way out.
too much cotton, too much wheat, too many hogs, too much clothing in
too much money in the banks, too many school houses and teachers, too
churches and preachers, too many colleges. The wealth of plain and
of soil and mine are still here. Yet we lost something and that loss
brought us down into the trough of the greatest "depression" in the
of our country. What had we lost? We had lost that quality that enables
men to trust each other.
From the Gate
Herald, clippings in the possession of E. B. Broadwater.
of Southwest Virginia, published by Southwest Virginia Historical
Publication 8, June 1974, pages 1 to