EARLY RESIDENT TELLS OF TIMBER HARVESTING HERE DURING 1800S
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
While rummaging through the archives at the Campbell County Historical Society in Lafollette, the writer came upon a fine history of the area written by Ozias Muse. The first section consisted of a letter written to a Mr. Baird. I will transcribe the letter exactly as Mr. Muse wrote it. It reads:
"Dear Mr. Baird,
The information in this story is based on what I can remember such as the coke ovens, the coal washer, the iron furnace and the old power house in Ivydell, all being in full blast, also information given to me by my father and other old neighbors related to me years ago.
"I was born Christmas day in 1911 on Walnut Mountain. My first trip to LaFollette was by horseback at 10 years of age with my elder brother with two horse loads of cabbage to Marion Shelby. Our horses wanted to go into a fair fit when one of the little dinkey engines passed us on its way to Kent hollow to deliver coal from the Jellico coal seam to the coal washer. Then after a second washing it went to the coke ovens. It was exciting to watch the coal washer in operation and the blue blazes coming from the coke ovens.
"We hewed out and hauled cross ties to the L&N. Joe Hously run the tie yard which was located where C.J. Russell's oil operation stayed for many years, and there was a flour mill in the area where Morton Wilson hardware and the forest service is located, but while our team of mules eat their bundles of oats, we walked down the railroad tracks to see the iron furnace in operation. The huge high smoke stack and bright flashes from the melting iron was truly exciting. I recall the ore mines in operation supplying the ore for the furnace. This story may relate some information regarding this. Thank You, Ozias Muse."
Mr. Muse also recorded more interesting information concerning the LaFollette area. He begins this section by telling of timber harvesting in the 1800's. He writes that in the late 1800's old Captain Brown and Henry Kasefang's logging company joined the Kentucky Lumber Company of near Saxton, Kentucky, in leasing extensive portions of Campbell and Scott counties. Ozias says this was the greatest industrial undertaking to come to the area at the time.
The area under lease included Walnut Mountain, Stinking Creek, Hickory Creek, and the head of New River. This mammoth lease included untapped reserves of virgin timber awaiting harvesting.
The big job started with road building, men using such tools as wheel barrows, mattocks, dirt shovels, sledge hammers and Sager double-bit axes, crosscut saws and heavy steel bars.
One road began on the head waters of Stinking Creek and continued around the north side of Walnut Mountain to near the Muse farm where it forked. Another road led through Hurricane Mountain, and still another down the ridge across from Horse Creek.
The latter road was built to the top of the mountain while the Hurricane Hollow Road was built around a bend to the top, with one fork leading through the Flat Woods to the head of Ollis Creek and on to Royal Blue.
The other road went down the mountainside through a gap in the cliffs called Hell's Gate. This portion connected with the Horse Creek Road at Clay Gap and continued for about seven miles out Tar Kiln Mountain, which butted against Walnut Mountain.
Some areas were too steep and rough to reach with wagon roads. To reach these locations, two rows of poles, gauged as rails, were placed end-to-end on the ground. Wooden two-by-fours were nailed atop the poles for rails. Heavy wagons with iron wheels and brakes, similar to ordinary horse drawn wagons, were drawn by horses over this track. Often one log was a load for the rail cars. Some areas were so distant that it took a full day to deliver one trip of logs to the sawmill, or loading point. The specially built wooden railroad allowed them to pull logs down Hurricane Hollow to the Horse Creek mill at #4 camp.
This big lease was blessed with virgin growth white oak, chestnut oak, water oak, poplar, chestnut and hickory timber. Some trees were up to eight feet in diameter. It required a full day for a three man crew to fell one tree and sever one log. The longest crosscut saw available was eight feet, so they had to remove one handle and zig-zag the saw to cut through the center of the log.
Splitting these mammoth logs to a manageable size was no east task. First, the timber cutters spaced and drove 6 to 8 thin steel wedges in the end of the log to force a crack. Then thicker steel wedges were used to widen the crack enough to allow dogwood gluts, driven with homemade hickory mauls, to finish the split. The halves, in some cases, were split again. Some quarters were of such size that a team of horses were required to drag one to the loading yard, where two log quarters often made a load for the heavily built wagons, with two teams continuing the trip to the sawmill.
One sawmill was located on Horse Creek at # 4 camp, while another was located at the head of Ollis Creek near Royal Blue. The lumber was transported to a railroad siding at Buck Eye with wagons and teams, and simultaneously loaded on flat cars for shipment to the Kentucky Lumber Company.
Mr. Muse tells how Stinking Creek got its name. He said most of the people living on the small creek were farmers who raised cattle, some with as many as 100 head. Everything seemed to be going along fine when a disaster struck. An epidemic of cholera hit the cattle, killing them by the thousands, notably far too many to bury. Even the animal eaters, which certainly included the vultures, failed in the effort to rid the folks of this calamity. The dead were left in the fields to decay and rot, and so, a very strong odor revealed the situation.
Some hung sheets or blankets over their doorways and windows in hopeless efforts to shield themselves from the scent. The odor was reported as far away as 100 miles. The county industries were all practically shut down. In time, the odor faded away and the locals resumed operating their farms; the creek, however, retained a new name, Stinking Creek.
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