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July 23, 1921

   As before stated it was about twelve miles to the junction of Snake and St. Croix rivers and the fall was about fifty or sixty feet, which made a torrent of irresistible force.  The sight made by that fleet of logs as it went out of the lake and down the river was one to be remembered.  Many of the boom logs, sixty or eighty feet long would catch at one end and be lifted straight up or be shot out on the bank or into the woods or broken in two.  And thus the drive went on with out help from us, in fact we could not prevent it if we would.  We got our equipment into the Waugan and betteraux and started down the river.  The break in the dam occurred sometime in the afternoon and we started out as soon as we could on our perilous trip.  We went down Snake river at express train speed and down the St. Croix at not much less and in two hours we were at Sunrise, forty-five miles from Cross lake.  Next morning we hurried on to the mill at the falls and here we had a thrilling sight.  The dam on the top of the falls had been washed away. The race had been partially destroyed and at one time it seemed that the mill would go, but it was saved by heroic work.  Attempts at booming the logs were made but of no avail and the logs that were not shot out on the bank went on down the river.  A large number were stopped at marine mills by the booms there and by being run into sloughs and eddies, but most of them went on to the head of the lake, which fortunately at that time was some distance above its normal on account of high water on the Mississippi backing the water up in lake St. Croix.

  As soon as the outfit could be portaged around the falls we were hurried to the head of the lake where we run out a lot of booms and after much hard work we once more had our logs under control but they were where they could not be sawed nor could they be taken back to the mill.  There was, therefore, only thing to do, ie: find a market for them down river, and with that in view we commenced at once to raft the logs.  This was new work in this section and called for new tools, poles, pins, binders and a number of things needed as operations progressed.

 In constructing these rafts each string was made sixteen feet wide, to correspond with the width of a lumber crib.  The outside logs were laid end to end, first a sixteen foot log, then one of another length to break the joints, that is a sixteen foot log would be on one side of the string and one of another length  opposite on the other side.  The space between those sides were tilled in with logs so placed as to break joints as much as possible.  Three poles to each sixteen foot length were used to hold the outside logs together, the large end being grooved so it would not slip out of its fastening.  A strip of burr oak about a foot long, an inch wide and from one fourth to one half inch thick was called a “lock down”.  These had a little nib on each end to keep them from slipping out of the hole when used.  An auger hole was bored on each side of the end of each pole, a little angling; the lock down was bent over the pole, the ends inserted in the holes and a plug tightly driven in each hole.  The poles were turned alternately, the big end being on one side and then again on the other side of the string.  Lock downs and plugs were used on the loose inside logs wherever the poles crossed the logs.  When the strings were completed they were placed side by side and to tie them together cross lines were strung from outside to outside and drawn tight with windlasses.  Then to further stiffen and to be of assistance when the rafts were split, what were termed “A” lines were used; that is lines were strung from diagonally beginning at a corner then crossing the piece generally three times before the other end was reached, and doing the same thing from another corner, there being two of these lines on each piece.  To construct the check, or snubbing, works for lauding the raft, we placed a good sized log on the middle string the lower side of each end being hewed off several inches for a foot or so from each end, so that a line would pas under it.  This was placed across the logs about one third the length of the raft from the stern and thoroughly fastened.  Across each end of this log and a couple of feet from the end was placed a small log, or a very large oar stem, the big end being on top of and at right angels to the top of and at right angles to the first log and projecting over some two feet.  Another small log or timber was placed on top of the first log and fastened tightly between the other two.  All this was braced in every direction and tied to as many logs in the raft as possible.  When in use the line from shore passed under the one end of the big log, over the two cross pieces, under the other end of the it log and wound several times around the projection of one of the cross logs.  A crude description but the best I can do.  In later years this system of rafting logs was entirely changed.  With the use of steamboats for towing rafts the strings of logs were succeeded by brails the outside logs being like boom logs and the entire raft held together by numerous lines.  In that way the lumber was not injured by numerous holes and the rafts were made up more quickly

  I did not so much at raft building.   My work being the getting the material for the work.  I would be given charge of one of these rafts, which they had decided to start for St. Louis.  I wrote to Albany for some men and Alfred Slocomb came up on a boat with some thirty or forty men so that my crew were practically all from Albany.

  Finally we had six Mississippi rafts of six strings each and about the same length of lumber raft, six hundred and fifty feet.  I had seen to it that my raft was as well constructed as possible my previous experience showing the value of a rigid raft and I was very anxious that my first trip as an actual pilot should be a success.  These were the first logs from the St. Croix for down the Mississippi.

   We started some time in July, 1844 and to avoid the heavy pull through the lakes we secured a boat I think it was the otter, to tow all the rafts together through the two lakes and that part of the trip which had been such a drag was now quickly made and we were soon at it reaching the foot of Lake Pepin.  The pilots in charge of these rafts were James (Sandy) McPhail: Gantey (?), Jun (?) Hickman; Mr. Bruce the surveyer; a man commonly called “(Bible back)” ON ACCOUNT OF BEING STOOP SHOULDERED, AND MYSELF.  There were twelve oarsmen, a cook and a helper and a pilot on each raft.  Among the men who came up from Albany were Wm. Ewing, Jim Hugins (?), Mat Thompson; Tover Bard; Jim Withrow; two Robinsons and a man named Flack.  Some of these were in the crews on the rafts and some had gone up to the mill to the log driver, as there were lots of logs still hung up.

  Between the lakes each pilot took his won raft, the older pilots taking the lead, and in three or four days we were out of lake Pepin and starting down the Mississippi.  We were comfortable distance apart but there soon came a little rivalry.  The older pilots could run a little rapids, but I had not then knew the river well enough and continued my --- to long days and at the finish I went into St. Louis with the second rafts.  With one exception the rafts were quickly delivered and the other pilots and crews, except myself and a few men, returned at once to the mill.  They reached Stillwater just thirty days from the time we left there, which I consider a remarkably quick trip under the circumstances.  Having made the entire trip on my own responsibility I now considered myself a full-fledged pilot. 


Collected and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


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