True Tales of the Clarion River: Don’t Dynamite Fish or Go to Sleep on the Gunwale

This is a story from George J. Cosgrove of Miola, Pennsylvania, found in the book True Tales of Clarion River, written in 1933 by George P. Sheffer under the auspices of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Raftsmen’s Association.

I saw your letter in the Clarion Republican in which you ask all the old raftsmen who run on the Clarion River to send in a few words about their experience as a raftsman.

I started pulling an oar in the spring of 1887 and ran on the river as a helper and a pilot until the spring of 1891. I worked for Billy Shields, Sammy Shields, and John Basim, known as the Shields and Basim Lumber Co., of Hominy Ridge.

There was a boat scaffold and a saw mill in May’s Gap where boats were built and timber rafted. I remember rafting square timber in the spring of 1877. John Basim, Wes Agnew, Charley Cook, and myself were on the job. The slush ice was running and someone dropped in a half stick of dynamite. Oh, Boy, you ought to have seen the fish come to the top. I got excited and jumped right into the icy Clarion River. However, I got chop sack full of suckers.

Charles Shockey lived right at the Gap. He was a constable but I did not know it. His wife came out and wanted to buy one of the fish, so I sold her nice sucker for 25c. That was fine but Charlie Shockey came up to our camp about supper time and arrested me for dynamiting fish.

I had to give bail for $50.00 but since I did not have it John Basim went on my bond. The next day we all went to Clarington and hired John Henderson to pettifog my case. We went to the squire’s the following day for the hearing. The squire asked the constable if he had seen me put dynamite in the river. The constable said he had not, so, the case was dismissed.

My first run on the river was on a pile raft made entirely of oak. We to build a runway two feet high to keep us out of the water. Pulling an oak on this was something to remember.

Talk about your fancy diving, this raft would take the cake! Every time we came to a riffle it would take a nose dive and then we would hold our breath until it came up again.

On this raft were the following men: John Basim, Jr., as pilot, Wes Agnew, Len Agnew, and myself. We started at 7:00 A.M. from May’s Gap and got to the mouth of the Clarion at 6:00 P.M. That was a pretty good run.

My next trip was a timber raft. It went O.K. and we had to stay at Delo’s Eddy all night. We made out to the mouth of Clarion the next forenoon. This raft was run by Wade Agnew, Dan Cook, Phil Dobson, and myself.

By that time I thought I could run a raft so I asked Billy Shields for one to run. He gave me a timber raft. It was the spring of 1888 and I had Dick Cook, “Man” Cook, and Billy Henry to help. Everything went O.K. till we got to Blue Rock. I thought I would keep close so it would make easy pulling but I got too close and knocked off a string of timber the whole length. We got it coupled at mouth all right so I felt pretty big.

We double tripped four empty boats out from May’s Gap to the mouth of the Clarion and made an Allegheny fleet out of them. There was a shanty on one of the boats where we slept and ate. Mrs. John Basim and her two daughters were along to do the cooking. It was the summer of 1889. The wind blew every day and we did not make good time.

One day the boats were not moving and I got sleep and laid down on the side gunwale and fell asleep. Someone yelled “Right!” and I awoke with a jump and fell into the river. They had a good joke on me then. Wash Boyd was pilot. Others were Dave Henry, Abb Mathews, and Bill Painter.

I ran on the river with Charles Shawkey, John Dobson, Phil Dobson, Dick Cook, Mann Cook, Stewart Painter, Bill and Dave Henry, Berl Agnew, Snakey Dan Cook, Finley Basim, and Ed Cook, and have many happy memories of those pleasant days.”


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