Scott County Historical Society
Scott County, Virginia

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Mildred McConnell's Scrapbook Articles

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Rafting Down The Clinch

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A bright afternoon in late June, 1963, Robert F. McConnell, Frank Hilton, Roy Wolfe, Sr., and I left Gate City to find George Howard Brotherton who lives in the Fairview Community of the Powell District. W e were seeking information and stories about Rafting on the Clinch at the turn of this century.

I have had a deep regard for Mr. Brotherton since I, as a little boy, came to know him as a Deputy Sheriff to my father, C.C. Broadwater, more than a half century ago. My father quite often spoke of Mr. Brotherton who has lived to be, probably, the oldest Ex-Deputy Sheriff of Scott County as "My First Deputy". It was good to see Howard again after the passage of all these years.

Frank Hilton, always eager to garner some golden nuggets of historical lore, came immediately to the point by saying "Mr. Brotherton, we want you to talk to us in as much detail as you desire about your 'Rafting Days on the Clinch'. For an hour he delighted us with his experiences in getting rafts of logs to the market in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The first big river raft of logs from the Kyle's Ford region, according to Mr. Brotherton,was piloted to that market by his uncle, Baxter Brotherton, in 1881. In 1892 he first ran the river on a raft with an older brother.

A year later he accompanied a crew to Chattanooga with the first logs for himself and in 1927 he piloted his last raft down the Clinch. Mr. Brotherton modestly related he had made more than fifty such trips down the Clinch. After the coming of the C.C. and O. Railroad in 1910-12 along with the good roads and big trucks a little later, rafting on the Clinch gradually came to an end.

Many of the fine logs of oak, maple and poplar that he rafted to market were procured from 59 farms in the Fairview Communities close to the North Fork of the Clinch. These were gathered into crude raft and floated down the North Fork of the Clinch to the Clinch proper and at the juncture organized into a "Big River Raft' which often was 225 feet in length or longer and contained as much as 40,000 to 50,000 board feet of lumber when manufactured.

In a side remark Mr. Brotherton added that he sold his first raft of logs for $5.00 per thousand board feet; his last raft in 1927 for $40.00 per thousand. Usually, he sold to Lommis and Hart of Chattanooga.

The logs were cut and gathered to the waters edge during the summer and early fall and there organized into rafts. When I the rains came and the Clinch was at high tide so that the rafts would clear the shoals and dams, the raft's crew began the journey down stream. The crewman in charge must know the River and its dams, shoals and channels. Mr. Brotherton evidently knew the river.

He a reports there were 26 islands in the Clinch from Kyle's Ford to the point where the Clinch enters the "Big Tennessee" at Kingston, Tennessee and 16 a on the Big Tennessee from Kingston to Chattanooga. It took one raft, he recalled, 11 hours and 36 minutes to wend its way from the juncture of the North Fork with the Clinch proper to Chattanooga.

Despite his knowledge of the river and his skill as a steers man he had his troubles, at times. One raft of 528 logs broke up. He searched the coves and inlets for 27 days trying a to recover lost logs. Four hundred of the 528 were found.

In recalling old rafters, neighbors mostly, with whom he worked, Mr. Brotherton spoke especially of his four older brothers and his foster brother, John Catron, Henry Webb and Will Collins; Frank Marlin and Wiley Fletcher; Russell, Bill and Frank Vicars; Joe Parsons, Ike Bledsoe George Roberts and the five Goins a brothers. He spoke, too, of a score or more who helped to run rafts from the upper Clinch, and other communities along the River.

A flash rain had ceased, and a beautiful rainbow had formed across the expansive meadow to the Southwest of the home.

Robert McConnell ran for his camera for some pictures. Roy Wolfe incidently mentioned the name of Dave Macon. This set the stage for two concluding stories.

Dave Macon of the Stoney Creek Community was a banjo picker of wide renown in the county. He was to be aboard a big river raft with a commodious "Shanty" scheduled to go down the river at the first high tide. Colonel Dave Sloan, then living in Clinchport was to be notified of the hour of the launching. The raft was launched and in due time passed through Clinchport. D a v e Macon standing on the raft by the side of the "Shanty" serenaded Dave Sloan and his goodly body of friends assembled on the river bank. As the raft was passing almost out of view, Mr. Macon with great ado and ceremony received Colonel Sloan.

Mr. Brotherton spoke mostly in the interview of old friends and rafting neighbors with whom he worked. He enjoyed, however, relating stories of some noted "rafting" of the upper Clinch and of the adjoining valley out from Horton's store. "Big Ike" Wolfe was apparently a favorite. "Big Ike", fearless and determined, strong of body and a natural leader of men, was an expert steersman who knew the Clinch and its hazards. On one occasion after delivering a large river raft to Chattanooga, he purchased railroad tickets for his crew to a point above Knoxville. His men were tired and asked a stubborn train conductor to hold the train in Knoxville long enough for him to procure sandwiches at a restaurant across the street. The conductor refused. Then "Big Ike" took from his supplies a log chain with a padlock and proceeded to chain the coach securely to the steel rails. He secured his sandwiches but after a brush with the law upon his return to the coach, his take-home pay was substantially diminished.

Robert McConnell took some pictures and Mr. Brotherton accompanied us to our car after exacting our promise to return for more stories another day.

 

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