History of Campbell County, Tennessee
 

Time Line

TREE HARVESTING IN THE CUMBERLANDS

By Dallas Bogan

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 over.

     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 poplars towered
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.

Time Line



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