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The Way We Were

While most of the forests in Central and Southern Appalachia were being clearcut of timber in the early 1900s, many of the logs harvested were transported to bigger towns via a shipping method known as “log rafting.”

While most of the forests in Central and Southern Appalachia were being clearcut of timber in the early 1900s, many of the logs harvested were transported to bigger towns via a shipping method known as “log rafting.”

When big logs were floated downriver

By JADON GIBSON

Native Americans hunted along the Clinch and Powell Rivers many years before long hunters came and traveled along their banks. The two rivers have their beginning in Virginia before meandering their way into Tennessee and Norris Lake.

Powell River was named after Ambrose Powell, a member of Dr. Thomas Walker’s party. Powell had a habit of carving his name on trees and these carvings were found by other pioneers who followed resulting in the river being called Powell River.

Walker documented the discovery of Cumberland Gap in 1750 although Native Americans used it as a passageway for hundreds of years. It was used by migrating animals for thousands of years before. Some said the Clinch River was named from an incident that occurred years ago when a group of early pioneers were crossing the river while it was swollen by rain. One of the men fell aboard and as he was being swept downriver into faster current frantically yelled, “clinch me, clinch me.”

In Dr. Thomas Walker’s journal entry during his passage through Cumberland Gap and further into Kentucky he refers to it as Clinch’s River as did early long hunters. The river ultimately was named Clinch River.

Timber was a major resource in the region during the 19th century. The area had an abundance of poplar, white oak and walnut that was in great demand in the booming construction of the cities of early America.

Loggers snaked the logs, usually 12 feet in length and 30 to 50 inches in diameter, through the woods using oxen or mules and long poles for leverage. Once at the river the logs were fastened together into rafts with cross pieces and wooden pegs before being branded or marked with the logger’s mark.

The teams of mostly six men each rode the raft to downstream markets at Clinton or Chattanooga during late winter and spring months by utilizing the swollen river. At that time, it was the most economical and effective way to transport logs. Three men on the front and one on each of the back corners would use long poles while the sixth man in the back would man a steering paddle. Working together they would keep the log raft on the desired path.

Meals were cooked on the raft atop a bank of dirt and rocks or on a piece of tin, often under a shelter. The longer raft trips would take several weeks and required a stop along the way to replenish food and supplies. Sometimes they would stop and stay overnight in a nearby inn or barn, especially during inclement weather.

When their destination was reached the raft was dismantled and the logs sold. The return trip was by foot until the coming of the railroad when most rode the train.

One of my deceased relatives wrote of a log float down the Clinch River and ultimately to Chattanooga in 1903. He found a large poplar log that had broken loose from another man’s log raft. After examining the log for any mark or brand and finding none, he hooked it to his raft and took it on down the river and sold it at the marketplace for a nice sum.

Having acquired the windfall profit from the sale of the log he decided to dress in style and went to a store where he bought a nice Stetson hat and a new pair of shoes. He then bought a gallon jug of corn whiskey and felt well prepared for the train trip back to the train station near his home.

As he boarded the train, however, he accidentally bumped the jug of whiskey spilling all its contents. After riding the train for a while, the Stetson hat blew off his head and out of the window. With such bad luck he began developing pains, especially from the new shoes he had bought. His feet hurt so bad he took his knife and split the shoes in several places to make them comfortable enough to wear. He said he decided then and there that anything else he got he would work for.

The Clinch, Powell and Cumberland Rivers are no longer used for transporting logs. Most river traffic now is for fishing, floating and recreation. Several communities purify their drinking water from the streams including the city of Harrogate, Tennessee, just across the mountain from Middlesboro, Kentucky. Several churches use the Clinch and Powell rivers for baptismal services.

The days of lengthy and hazardous float trips to downstream log sawmills has long been relegated to history and to historical news articles such as this.

Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, Tennessee. His articles are both historical and nostalgic in nature. He thanks Lincoln Memorial University, Alice Lloyd College and the Museum of Appalachia for their assistance.

©2021 JADON GIBSON

Clips from available Mountain Eagle pages since 1907.

THURSDAY

DECEMBER 10, 1931

In the presence of more than 16,000 Kentuckians, Ruby Laffoon stood on the steps of the Kentucky Capitol on Tuesday to take the oath of office as the state’s newest governor. Happy Chandler is the state’s new lieutenant governor. s

On Christmas Day at 10 a.m., the Kentucky Theatre in Whitesburg will offer a free matinee to all children under the age of 15. s

On his final day in office Monday, outgoing Kentucky Governor Flem D. Sampson freed convicted killer John W. Adams of Letcher County. Adams, 57, was sentenced to three years in prison after being convicted of manslaughter in August 1931 in the November 1925 shooting death of Calvin Little near the Pike-Letcher county line. s

A large crowd stood in front of the Daniel Boone Hotel in Whitesburg Saturday to see the demonstration of the new 1931 Chevrolet, which was sponsored by Boone Motor Company of Whitesburg and Seco. s

A potentially devastating fire broke out in downtown Neon one night earlier this week but was extinguished before it swept through the town. Damage was limited to the Five and 10 Cent Store. s

In high school basketball action over the weekend, Carcassonne defeated Kingdom Come, 25 to 7, on Friday and then beat Fleming, 29 to 13, on Saturday. s

Harry LaViers, manager of South-East Coal Company, spent a few days in Seco and Millstone last week. s

Jenkins teachers have selected which books they will buy for the graded school library after $51 was raised through the sale of Christmas Seals and candy. s

The Improvement Committee of the Jenkins PTA met December 3 and agreed to give each classroom $5 to be used as the teachers see fit so long as the money is spent for the betterment of each room.

THURSDAY

DECEMBER 11, 1941

Feelings began to run high in America on Sunday when the news came from the Far East that United States possessions had been savagely bombed without warning by the Japanese, destroying ships, planes, citizens and soldiers. Congress assembled and, after a short speech by President Franklin Roosevelt, declared war. s

On the casualty list of the Japanese attack was Pvt. William C. Creech, Air Corps, of Cumberland. He was a son of Mrs. Martha H. Creech, Cumberland. s

The latest newsflash is that Germany and Italy have declared war on the United States. The battle cry in America is “Remember Pearl Harbor.” s

All the old newspapers, boxes, wrapping paper, etc., should be saved and put to a new use. Mrs. Virgie “Mother” Craft of Whitesburg will collect this. The government wants it, and old newspapers have a way of accumulating fast.

From The Mountain Eagle’s sister publication, The Neon News:

FRIDAY

DECEMBER 12, 1941

Following the U.S. declaration of war on Japan, Hitler in a speech to the Reichstag announced that Germany, Italy and Japan are pledged in a new alliance “to fight together to a finish.” Premier Benito Mussolini linked fascist Italy’s destiny with that of Japan by declaring war on the United States in a speech from the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia. s

Following a declaration of war by Germany and Italy, Congress formally voted for war against these two members of the Tripartite Alliance. U.S. Army and Navy Air Forces have sunk one Japanese battleship, one light cruiser and one destroyer during the last 48 hours in the battle of the Pacific. s

“The Rev. C.H. Rawlings, the former pastor of the Pleasant Run Baptist Church, preached Sunday evening for the Rev. Chas Adams, pastor of the St. Paul A.M.E. Church,” writes A.B. McLendon in the McRoberts Colored News. “The church was packed to the fullest extent and only standing room was available. The message was enjoyed by all. The Rev. Rawlings used for a subject ‘Jesus Invites Himself to A Sinner’s Home’.” s

Sgt. Joda Adams, who has been in the Army at Fort Benning. Ga., is visiting his parents and friends of Sergent.

THURSDAY

DECEMBER 13, 1951

Recently receiving a letter notifying them of the death of their son, Cpl. Denver King, were Mr. and Mrs. Ray King of Deane. Cpl. King was killed in action in Korea on October 19. The letter had a familiar ring to Mr. and Mrs. King, for almost six and a half years earlier they had received a similar letter notifying them that another son, Pfc. Sterling King, was killed in action in France during World War II. s

Led by a committee of Whitesburg Rotary Club members, a business and professional group has succeeded in arousing interest in its bid for one of the United Mine Workers hospitals to be constructed in Whitesburg. The first indication that the UMW was seriously considering construction one of their hospitals planned for Southern coalfields was given this week when that organization made a $1,000 option on the Willie Lucas property at Tunnel Hill. s

Sheriff Hassel Stamper says that he is tired of repeatedly warning liquor law violators to mend their ways. Sheriff Stamper stated that he and his men have raided certain establishments over and over again in the past few months and most of the times they have uncovered evidence of law violations. s

Junior Miller, 24, Fireco, W.Va., was taken into custody Tuesday at Whitaker and charged with auto theft. Arrested with Miller were two Letcher County youths, Can Bentley and Roscoe Goodman, who were in the car when Miller was apprehended.

THURSDAY

DECEMBER 14, 1961

Rescue workers were still searching today for the body of Kenny Adams, Van, presumed dead in the debris of a roof fall which took the lives of three fellow miners in a Knott County coal mine. Rescue operations in the B&A Coal Co. mine on Caudill’s Branch of Carr Creek in Knott County were forced to halt so more timbers could be installed within the mine to help ensure the safety of the rescue workers. Bodies of three other miners, Josh Noble, Van; Sidney Bryant, Premium; and Ben Sexton, Smithsboro, were found within 20 feet of the edge of the roof fall and rescue workers said the positions of the bodies indicated the men had been fleeing the mine when they were caught by the fall. s A Mountain Eagle editorial “welcomes with pleasure” the letter from State Highway Commissioner Henry Ward with his “firm insistence that we have been wrong — that the Whitesburg Hazard section of the Eastern Kentucky Turnpike will be built. Nothing would give us greater pleasure that the actual construction of this road, for we know of nothing that could be of greater long-range benefit to Whitesburg and eastern Kentucky in general.” s

Telephone numbers in Whitesburg and Neon will have a “new look” Sunday. That’s when they will get seven numerals. The seven-digit system in necessary for Whitesburg and Neon to take part eventually in the nationwide direct distance dialing network, which will allow telephone users to dial their own long distance calls. s

Marine Cpl. Raymond Thomas, son of Mr. and Mrs. Watson Thomas of Whitesburg, is serving with the Second Battalion of the Eighth Marine Regiment, an infantry unit of the Second Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

THURSDAY

DECEMBER 23, 1971

A modular housing project is getting underway near Jenkins, with the units being placed on a strip-mine reclaimed by the first Beth-Elkhorn Corp. The first prefabricated units made their way to Letcher County yesterday. Current plans are for 35 to 40 units to be placed on the site. s

The board of the Kentucky River Area Development District voted last week to inform state executive and legislative officials of its support for a severance tax on all mineral, with the revenue to return to the counties of the mineral’s origin. s

Further evidence that the proposed Carr’s Fork dam may be dead even before it is completed was offered at last week’s Kentucky River Area Development District board meeting. The board approved a request for more than $12 million from the federal government for the Buckhorn Gays Creek Water District. However, the action was taken with the staff recommendation, “There is increasing concern over indications water stored in the Carr’s Fork impoundment will be highly acidic and require expensive treatment to eliminate hazard as source of supply.” s

Mrs. Phoebe Fields has been drawn the winner of the HI MO contest. As the winner, she will receive a free telephone call from her son, William H. Fields, who is stationed in Germany with the Army. He has been in Germany for one year and served previously in Vietnam.

THURSDAY

DECEMBER 17, 1981

A Letcher Circuit Court jury has convicted Larry “Jughead” Taylor of complicity in murder for his part in the 1975 slaying of William Harvey Johnson. The jury recommended that Taylor, 33, be sentenced to life imprisonment. Circuit Judge F. Byrd Hogg has not set a date for Taylor’s sentencing. s

Paul Cole, 28, of Busy, was killed instantly when he was pinned between two shuttle cars at River Processing Co.’s Selina Mine No. 1 on Irishman Creek. The fatality was the 35th mining death in Kentucky this year and was the ninth underground mining death in Knott County last week. The accident occurred just four days after eight miners were killed in an explosion at the Akins Mine 18 at Topmost. s

“We are finally experiencing a taste of winter, not too much snow yet, just oh so cold,” writes Ice correspondent Sara C. Ison. “The only thing this would help would be the hogs that have been killed and are in the smokehouse.” s

Billy Hall and the Greenwood Mountain Boys, with Lee Sexton, will play for the last Carcassonne Square Dance on the season.

WEDNESDAY

DECEMBER 11, 1991

State school officials have changed their minds and will recommend two new high schools for Letcher County instead of the one central high school they proposed a few weeks ago. “Given the size and oblong of configuration of Letcher County, two high schools are, as a practical matter, more sensible than a single such school, located in Whitesburg,” said one state official. s

W.D. Biliter, district state highway engineer for Letcher County, says slides along a new section of US 119 on Pine Mountain haven’t damaged the road. Several Letcher County residents have called The Mountain Eagle complaining about the condition of the new road, citing mudslides both above and below the highway. s

Stanley Hughes, 23, of Deane, an employee of an independent construction company working for Kentucky Criterian Coal, died of injuries he received at a Kentucky Criterian tipple under construction at Deane. s

The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded a $2 million grant to Letcher and other Kentucky counties to help unemployed coal miners find jobs in other fields

WEDNESDAY

DECEMBER 12, 2001

Letcher Fiscal Court voted down a revamped ordinance to regulate natural gas gathering lines on a 3-3 vote. An earlier version of the ordinance — identical except for a provision concerning the burial of pipelines — failed on the same tie vote last month. Judge/Executive Carroll Smith, Magistrate Wayne Fleming and Magistrate Homer Rose voted in favor of the ordinance. Magistrates Mack Fultz, Nolan “Junior” Banks and Robert Lewis voted against it. In introducing the ordinance, Smith said it was an attempt to compromise with the gas companies who opposed the earlier version that failed on its second reading November 12. The ordinance had passed on its first reading but failed when gas company employees showed up to oppose it. s

Registered nurses at Appalachian Regional Healthcare plan to go on strike December 17 unless they reach an agreement with the hospital chain on a new contract. The Kentucky Nurses Association and the West Virginia Nurses Association have turned down two contract proposals from ARH. s

Mr. and Mrs. Sherd Martin, of Millstone, celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary with 65 members of their immediate family.

WEDNESDAY

DECEMBER 13, 2011

Members of the Jenkins High School and Letcher County Central High School bands joined Tuesday to represent Letcher County during a parade from the streets of Frankfort to the Kentucky State Capital. The parade was held as part of the inauguration of Gov. Steve Beshear. s

The closing of nine small post offices in Letcher County and a regional sorting center in Hazard has been delayed for several weeks at least. The U.S. Postal Service had agreed to delay the closing of 252 mail processing centers and 3,700 local post offices unit mid-May. s

Richard Neal “Rick” Yonts II, 49, of Jenkins, was killed in a surface mining accident December 7 in Virginia. Yonts was operating an excavator near a highwall at Fairbanks Coal Company Nov. 4 Surface Mine in Stonega, Va., when part of the highway collapsed on the machine, trapping Yonts inside.

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