TREE HARVESTING IN THE CUMBERLANDS
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.
The Cumberland mountaineers
had for many years depended on their tree harvests for a fairly decent
living. They would cut them and transport them to the nearby rivers
where the spring tides would plummet them to the nearest markets.
But in the decade of the 1870s the market
took a new twist; the Cumberlands had become, through various investigations,
a fairly new market to the speculators in the North concerning the virgin
forests. New York, Philadelphia and Cincinnati opportunist had begun
to explore the possibilities of becoming rich off the Cumberland's coal
and tree markets.
Because of the ever-increasing population in the North, a great demand
was stimulated for the rich recourses in the Cumberland Mountains. Prior
to the First World War, capitalists from a half-dozen Northern states
fielded a number of agents locating the wild mountain trails and the
all-important boundary lines of these gallant mountaineers. Surveying
of these magnificent lands was done in anticipation of the great iron
railroad, which would ultimately come. With this new innovation surely
on its way, the buying companies would increase their profits many times
Corporations were now on the lookout for
the precise purpose of buying the mountain timber. News traveled fast
in regards to this rich newly founded resource, with many small lumber
companies now seemingly turning their attention to the great Plateau.
Lawyers were sent by some firms merely
to investigate the land titles and their legalities, with a few of them
actually living in the deep forests. The corporations sometimes imported
lawyers for deed searches. Sales were agreed upon and the huge trees
were soon passing into the hands of the Eastern and Northern conglomerates.
The mountaineer seldom had cash to deal
with, it being so scarce. With a few hundred dollars in his pocket now
it seemed like a fortune. However, his craving for material things was
not the most important thing in his life, his subsistence remaining
simple. His desires consisted of a rifle and a pistol, a good horse
or two, some 'factory' clothes for his wife, food for his livestock,
and a good dwelling which the family could call home.
Roads into these mountains had much to
be desired, they being in deplorable condition. Earlier, some of the
bottoms had been cleared of the trees where frequently a small cove
was planted in the form of a garden, which incorporated the necessities
of life. This small plot was also used for pasturing the animals.
Most of the tree line was found extending
from the bottom to the extreme top. The giant poplars and white oaks
were basically found at the foot of the hills, which extended to the
top where the smaller oaks and chestnuts were prevalent. The giant walnuts
were found in great abundance, they being nearly perfect. The ever-present
over the other trees with their perfectly straight alignment, they sometimes
reaching a height of 175 feet with a diameter of seven or eight feet.
The giant white oaks were a large if not
valuable tree, their thickness sometimes reaching a total of five feet.
Also included in the forest were red, black and chestnut oaks along
with a tremendous amount of hickories, beeches, maples, basswoods, persimmon,
birches, willows, cedars, pines, hemlocks, and in addition, we should
not forget the giant sycamores which lined the creek banks. Our moderate
climate zone has dotted the Cumberlands with the greatest assortment
of trees in the world.
Over time, some tens of thousands of acres
of trees fell to the capitalist dictators. However, an inquisitive neighbor
might decide for himself that the northern schemers were victimizing
him and that he should negotiate a better deal than his neighbors should
over the tree debacle. Such a discussion was brought up with the buyers
and therefore the landowner would try to drive a harder bargain. Because
of this occurrence, the companies decided to administer through a county
employee, who was engaged by the company, and gain the confidence through
friendly words. These men, who knew the mountaineer and his ways, began
a verbal communication with the land-owner and reassured him that his
trees were worth very little, and that he and his descendants might
never get this opportunity again. (These local company agents might
possibly buy the trees from the owner and never disclose to the company
his plans.) Since the local mountaineer had no form of information at
his hands, such as a newspaper, etc., he could be easily persuaded that
his trees were of no value.
The price of the trees was very minimal, but in the eyes of the seller
he had driven a hard bargain. Many thousands of trees were bought by
the buyer for as little as forty to seventy-five cents each, with very
few of them bringing a dollar. Many local courthouses include a large
number of timber deeds, however, these legal documents do not include
the number of trees nor the price paid for them.
The majority of the timber bought by the
outsiders was left standing until the railroads entered the Cumberland
Plateau. Subsequently, great quantities of timber was cut and used in
the housing boom, which arrived before and after the First World War.
The railroads were the positive authority for transportation of the
timber until the Great Depression.
Representatives of the large timber conglomerates began probing into
the actual deeds of the mountaineers and found that the pioneers were
putting claim to lands in which they had no legal title. As a result
the companies sent groups of surveyors to survey lands, which had not
been formally registered in previous years. These surveys typically
started at the mouth of the stream and were thereby investigated.
Sometimes a mountaineer shot a surveyor
or ran his pack off the property. Over time, and little by little, the
surveyors completed their job. With their labor being finalized, it
was found that much of the Plateau was laced with an over-abundance
of inconsistent and overlapping land titles, consequences being, a consistent
quarrel between the coal and timber companies along with the pioneers.
Through litigation, the companies came out on top and won a long succession
of lawsuits, and in due course stripped many of the landowners of their
properties, which had supported their subsistence for many years.
Up to about 1910 many thousands of mountaineers
labored a large portion of each year to assemble logs for the down-river
market places. Frequently the large timber companies employed these
mountaineers to harvest the trees on company lands and haul them to
the streams. It seems that most of the logs felled by the pioneers in
the years mentioned were harvested on un-sold lands. These trees were
to some extent inferior for which the companies were reluctant to pay.
Eventually the mountaineer attained quite a sum for his timber. However,
he was quite perplexed over his lack of reasonable values. Corporate
bonds were not in his vocabulary and in many counties there were no
banks in which to deposit his newly found gains. Much of his recently
found cash was spent on firearms in defense of criminal prosecutions
brought against himself or his family. Another expense was the hiring
of a lawyer in which he necessarily needed in defense of his land rights.
A portion of the capital was used in improving
his home. Factory necessities such as beds and chairs and a new watch
were also an important addition to the mountaineer and his family. A
weakness for whiskey or any other form of alcoholic beverage was in
a way a form of relief from the many lawsuits, etc.