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Memories and Stories of Life in Marion County

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Life on the River as told by Mary Ethel Ritchie Thompson (1895-1996)

(Submitted by Iley Thompson - grandson)


The Parker ( a steamboat) carried sand up the river for years, which was about the only kind of work that existed on the river.
There used to be big sand banks along the river. Below the Pot, where we lived was a sand field about a mile long. The Parker would bring two barges at a time to the sand fields. The sand was loaded onto the barges with wheelbarrows. It would take 50 to 75 men to fill the barges in a week or two. Then the Parker would come down about every three weeks with empty barges and would pick up the full ones. My dad would make twenty-five cents a day loading sand.
The Parker was on its way to pick up the barges of sand when it got into a race with the John A Patton. During the race it blew up and three men were killed. This happened on February 6, 1907. 

A Trip To Town

The John A Patton carried freight on the river. It would pick up freight in Alabama (Decatur) and carry it to Chattanooga. It would also stop along the river and pick up people, cows, hogs,corn and cotton and carry them on into Chattanooga.
 It would meet the Joe Wheeler at Ross's Landing to transfer freight that was going on to Kingsport and Knoxville. That was when there was nothing there, just the river bank. The Patton went up on Sunday and came back down on Tuesday.

On Tuesday mornings I would go to town with my dad. We would start about three in the morning. Dad would have a market basket of eggs and I would have a peck basket of butter. We would cross the river at the Pot and take a path up the mountain, cross the top, and down the other side and around Lookout Mountain to St. Elmo.
We would get to town about eight in the morning. Then we had to walk all the way down Broad Street to buy our groceries and to get to where the boat was docked.

We would swap the eggs and butter for flour, coffee and other items or we would sell them. We would get five cents a dozen for the eggs and ten cents a pound for the butter.
One time I bought a new pair of shoes, they cost fifty cents. I'll never forget them. They were black and buttoned up to the top and had a red flounce at the top. I was dressed up!
The Patton left the landing about eleven-thirty in the morning. We would ride it back down the river and get home about two o'clock in the afternoon. Gee it was fun.

The Captain was Simp McGee. He would let me ride in the pilot house and at every curve in the river he would let me blow the whistle. I was a big shot.

We moved from the Pot in 1910, and things began to get a little better then. We had dad's old mule and a pair of oxen. Then dad bought a horse and we rode him every where we went. When I was sixteen he bought another horse and I started carrying the mail.

The John A Patton

Built by the Howard shipyards in Jeffersonville,Ind in 1906.The boat burned at Bridgeport, AL Nov 5 1910. It was owned by the Tennessee River Navigation Company and,named for the company president. It was home ported in Chattanooga TN ,and ran the Chattanooga-Decatur AL trade.

Specifications: Sternwheeler, Wooden Hull, Length 165.0 ft, Width 32.0 ft, Depth 4.5 ft, Engines 12-1/2 s x 6',
 Boilers 2 ea 38"x26'.

Settlin' up with Sam
(submitted by Tammy Goodrich)

    My mother, Lois, grew up on Orme Mountain in the 1930's-40's. Her father and her uncle owned a small coal mine on the mountain. Sam Woodfin, who lived in Sweeten's Cove just down the mountain from them, hauled the coal to town for them and sold it. He kept part of the money for himself and the rest went to my mother's father and her uncle. They sometimes sent my mother and her cousin, Kenneth, down to Sam's house to "settle up with him" for the money he owed them. One time, they told Lois and Kenneth that if they would go down the mountain and get the money Sam owed them, they could go to town with them the next day.

    Going to town was a big deal. When Lois and Kenneth went to town with their daddys, they could go to the movies, which only cost 35 cents, and go out to eat at a hamburger place, where a hamburger and coke only cost 25 cents. So, they took off down the mountain to get the money. They were dreaming about the trip to town the whole time. When they reached Sam's house, he wasn't home. Instead, his wife Lorrine came to the door. Lorrine asked them if they came after the money, but they were embarrassed and said no. They could have kicked themselves. They started back up the mountain dissappointed because there would be no trip to town without that money.

    They had walked most of the way back home when Kenneth came up with a plan to go back and get the money this time. They walked back down to Sam's house. Kenneth boldly knocked on the door. When Lorrine opened the door, he asked, "Lorrine, did you say money or honey?" She replied, "I said money." Kenneth spoke up, "We did come after the money." Lorrine said, "Well honey, I don't have the money. You will have to come back when Sam is home."

    My mother doesn't remember if they ever did get the money that day or not, or if they got to go to town the next day, but this is a story she has told me over and over and one I will treasure for the rest of my life.

A Visit to Grandfather Grayson's Home at the foot of the Mountain
(Told by Alice, then 11 years old)
(submitted by Dennis Gertz)

Before leaving Tennessee for Texas in November 1878, mother put Hixson and me on a horse and sent us to grandfather's house for a farewell visit. We went up the big road for about four miles, then turned toward the mountain two miles away. This was a narrow road which wound in and out around small farms and by a small family cemetery, where we got squeamish until we got by that. Then we came to the mountain creek which flowed through the canyon back of Grandfather Grayson's house. Uncle Doc lived just across this creek. We stopped there for dinner, before going on to Grandfather's in the afternoon, spending the night and returning home in the afternoon.
Grandfather lived at the foot of Walden's Ridge, which rose abruptly nearly a mile high, and was covered with laurel so dense that only paths were made by small animals. Part of the house extended over the canyon. The chicken houses and pig pens were perched on the brink. One pen of hogs was a 1/4 mile up the canyon, fenced in for pasture.
Grandmother cooked in a big fireplace, where a rod had been placed in the masonry, on which iron kettles were hung. Bread was baked in an oven set on coals. A lid was placed over it and then covered with coals. Grandmother was a small woman, weighing 125 pounds. I watched her go into a big room that contained big jars of honey, barrels of apples, bags of dried fruit,sacks of dried beans, strings of peppers and many other things that I cannot name. We had supper by firelight, the table was cleared, dishes put into corner cupboards. Then Hixson and I were hustled off to bed in the spare bedroom. Next morning, we went up the side of the mountain and fed and old sow with young pigs. After eating dinner, we mounted old fanny and went back home. That was the last time I saw my grandfather and grandmother, as we moved to Texas soon after that. They died in a few years, grandfather first, at the age of 84 and Grandmother at the age of 82, and both are buried in the cemetery at Burnett Schoolhouse. Mother was sent a trunk full of Grandmother's clothes, and I have a quilt made of one of her dresses.

I remember riding alone on horseback three miles and crossing the Sequatchie River at Uncle Patrick's mill, going to visit grandmother. It was a lonesome road across a swamp I was scared-afraid I would not get there before dark. This Wild Goose Swamp was an eerie swag and slough which covered many acres in the bend of the river. Hoot owls were flying around when I reached this swamp, almost dark. I put the horse into a gallop and reached Grandmother's house just about dark. I stayed until the morning of the second day. Why my mother allowed me to make this trip I cannot understand.

(The Alice that wrote about her last stay with her grandparents is: Alice Jane Cowan, b. July, 2, 1867. She was the daughter of William Henry Cowan and Sarah Caroline Grayson.)


Your Marion County Coordinator is
Betty McBee

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January 2, 2004