SKETCHES OF SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA
Rafting Down the Clinch River
By Roy L. Osborne and Logan Osborne
There are yet many 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 about the days when we were much more in the
backwoods than we are today, we write this story.
Most of the fine 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 river. 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 best timber that was sold in this way.
In the beginning, 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 one 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 effort to the edge of the river. Mr. Brickey used
two or three yokes of oxen for the entire boundary. The oxen cost about
$65.00 a yoke. A good driver received a wage of fifty cents or $10 a
Some other timber 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 than that another large set was sawed out at
the base of the High Knob on the Stoney Creek.
Reforestation will now begin in this area with the organization of the
Lake-mountain National Forest and we hope to see a Civilian Conservation
Corps Camp established on the Scott County side of this Forest.
The technique of 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 to the markets.
Much of the timber was delivered at Clinchport to men who tooled it on
down the Clinch into the Tennessee to Chattanooga or Clinton. A crew of
ten men brought the rafts through the rough waters from Dungannon on the
Clinch to Clinchport. Here men were turned back and still others as the
work became less hazardous.
These rafts were made up of 150 to 250 logs and contained 50 to 100
thousand feet. The rafts 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 large oars. A nice slim chestnut of
sufficient strength was used for an oar stem. 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, and shaved to a thin edge
to make it "flip" as the stroke was completed.
The logs were bound together with young hickory saplings. These were
split in the center. At first spikes were tried, but these were not
satisfactory. Wooden pins were 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 the log.
These rafts were not always brought through the rough waters, such as
the Slate Cliff and the Blue Cliff above Dungannon, Stoney Creek Shoals
at Ft. Blackmore, and Ervins Bend at Hill Station. Many rafts were torn
up in these places, and most of the logs lost. Men were hurt and some
killed. Hop Duncan was killed while trying to swim out of a wreck in the
Stoney Creek Shoals.
Sometimes a wreck was tied up until the tide went down and was repaired
to be floated again on the next ride. This was sometimes the following
winter. These wrecks were relatively few, for these expert steermen knew
the tricks of the river, and when the tide was high enough and not too
high. When the tide was too high they would have to tie up and wait.
Steersmen to Clinchport through the bad waters were P. H. Osborne, B. F.
Osborne, Logan Osborne, Kenny Ramey, and David Sluss. These men would
direct the hazardous work of drifting the rafts out of Russell County
and upper Scott County. John Catron, John Church, Isaac Horton, and Tom
Neff were steersmen on to Chattanooga.
This work had to 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 and spend the night around a camp fire. Food was stored on
the raft and cooked there on a hearth of mud and stone or sometimes in
small cook stoves. The bunk was built in the middle of the raft, and
straw was carried for bedding.
Steersmen were paid two dollars a day and other hands one dollar a day.
The round trip to Clinchport took about a week. The trip on into
Tennessee was slower and usually took about a month.
We wish it were 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 Dungannon had all his money tied up in two large rafts. These
rafts were approximately 300 feet long. P. H. Osborne was steering one
and David Sluss the other. The rafts started out from Sandy Point at
Dungannon. Each raft was worth about $1,000. Bill Bryant, Will Collins,
Evan Collins, Hoge Osborne, Fleet Osborne, and Loge Osborne were on the
two rafts. The rafts were very heavy and they had been forced to tie up
frequently. The cable had worn out. They got
and were nearing Clinchport. The 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 ahead to get a rope. They overtook two
men from Chattanooga, who had two ropes. 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 are taking
care of ourselves; you do the same." "Sell me a rope,"
Collins begged. "Nothing shaking," the other replied.
"Now you get to hell off here before I cut your head off with this
axe." "You put that axe down or I will kill you," Collins
said, "if you will not loan nor sell we will take a rope." At
that a fight started and P. H. Osborne untied a rope and they started
back up the
river with cursing and threats from the owner. The raft which was now a
double raft, was tied up just in time to keep it out of the bridge. The
rope was returned and the owner forced to take pay for its use.
One winter Kenny Ramey was steering a raft for Jim Marcum and Marion
Stapleton. Loge Osborne, P. H. Osborne, and Charlie Wheatley were on the
bow. "Happy" Blevins and Kenny Ramey were on the stern. The
raft was loaded and cut loose at Isaac Porter's at Sinking Shoals. A
good start was made. But Kenny saw a friend 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. Sinking Shoal
Cliff was just ahead. When Kenny was aroused to the danger he gave the
command, "Quick, up! Lay her over to the right." It was too
late. The raft hit the cliff, tore off the oars and ripped the binder
back half way. Many of the best logs were lost. On down through the
rapids, ripping, bumping with loose logs rolling under the raft, men
screaming, but not daring to leave the wreck. What was left reached an
eddy and was tied up, and rafted for the next tide.
Many trips were made on many a tide in the roughest weather down the
Clinch. And many are the stories that these old rafters still tell to
the children and grandchildren around the winter fires, while tides
come, but the rafts float no more.
The oxen are found 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 the Clinch.
Truly the history of man's progress is the history of transportation.
But do we have better men with it all? Have we in Scott County builded
men as we have builded roads and school houses?
The nation's security depends not upon these material things but upon
the character of men. In the shadow of the monument of material success
we seek a way out.
Plenty of railroads, too much cotton, too much wheat, too many hogs, too
much clothing in warehouses, too much money in the banks, too many
school houses and teachers, too many churches and preachers, too many
colleges. The wealth of plain and mountains, of soil and mine are still
here. Yet we lost something and that loss has brought us down into the
trough of the greatest "depression" in the history of our
country. What had we lost? We had lost that quality that enables men to
trust each other.
From the Gate City Herald, clippings in the possession of E. B.
Historical Sketches of Southwest Virginia, published by Southwest
Virginia Historical Society, Publication 8, June 1974, pages 1 to