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Page history last edited by Shamella Cromartie 14 years ago


This is the last raft of logs to go down the river in 1957.  Logs were attached to each other to make rafts that were floated down the Cape Fear to sell in Wilmington.  This trip could take up to a week.  Notice the tent loggers lived in during the trip. 



Logger, Junior Stuart is "catwalking" the log. 



Tugboat pushing barge of logs, 1994. Barge was so long, it had to be locked through, tied off, and then the tugboat locked through. 



Mr. Horace Butler is the last logger to take a log raft down the Cape Fear River.  He talks about his years on the river to the Bladen County Historical Society.  This is a transcript of the audio file available belo.



"At 87 years, my memory’s fading…


The Cape Fear River’s been a big part of my life and there’s a lot of history on the Cape Fear.  With the march of time, I’ve seen steam boats come marching in.  I’m instrumental in building the last log raft down Cape Fear River, the turpentine industry, I seen the ending of it. 


To get back to the log rafts, the way we started off making a raft, we went in the woods in the fall of the year.  We went in while the leaves were on the trees. We stump the trees.  We might have 2 or 300,000 board feet of trees laying on the ground.  I’ve seen ‘em crossed in places like that where you could walk a streak and not be on the ground. Normally six to eight weeks for the leaves to draw the sap out of the trees to make ‘em float. The oak and hickory, you needn’t even carry them to the river cause you can’t make them float. Now the ash and tupelo are pretty good floaters. Sweet gum, maple, ash, poplar, and hackberry can sit six to eight weeks when the leaves start to fall off the tops. Then we’d go in and measure the logs up and cut ‘em to whatever length. And then, back then we had mules and log carts – pulled by a team. Of course machinery come in towards the last.  But we’d haul the logs to the river.


And I inherited the job, at an early age, of putting the raft together to take to Wilmington, at about 15 or 16 year old, when they roll the logs in the river, put ‘em together to make a raft. We used little sapling poles for  to . . . nail the logs together.  Well, the lock walls are 50 feet wide. And if you got to the locks with ‘em crooked and too wide, you’d entrap ‘em. I had very little bit of trouble in that respect when they got there because I put it together to go through.


When they got the raft, where they rolled ‘em in, they made one clamp down, run it down and start another clamp.  Then the clamps were about 45 feet wide - normally about an average of 3,000 to 4,000 board feet per clamp.  I have been down on one raft that was 42 clamps.  You sorta get an idea as to the length of that raft. Let’s see, 42 times about 18.  You’d go around bends that you couldn’t even see the back of that raft. Normally when we went through # 1 Locks, you could put 11 clamps.  #1 and #2 is, I believe, 200 or 210, #3 is 300.   And #1 and #2, you could put 11 clamps through at the time.  Normally, most of the rafts run from about 30,000 to 60,000 board feet. 


In the log rafting days, lot of enjoyment and a lot of endurance.  We usually carried plenty of groceries and a bushel of apples.  Have apples to eat along the way.  I’ve eat most anything from bullfrog, ‘possum, turkey, fish.  We fared good as far as eatin’, but it was a hard life.  A gentleman wrote an article on the Black River and the rafters over there and named ‘em the “raft runners”. Anything of game we had.  In the grocery line we carried Banner Brand sausage, that was easy.  Cooked grits, flour bread, that was a raft dish, it’s easy to fix.


I’ve seen a lot of unusual things along the river and had some experiences. Up above #3 Locks, if anybody’s acquainted with Bond’s Store, back in the days.  Well when I was a young boy there was a Black man by the name of James Brown, he was a rafter.  But he hardly ever got to Wilmington with his rafts. He’d let ‘em go over the dam. I remember my Daddy went over #2 Lock, here and his raft tore up. He give ‘im half for what he could salvage out of the raft. That trip put me in the knife lovin’ business.


One of the toughest trips I remember, I wasn’t on the raft but I remember. My Daddy talked about it.  You’ve heard a lot of talk about the Depression Days.  My Daddy contracted with a Mr. J. N. Bryant who had a mill on Smith Creek, up above Corbett Package Company. When my Daddy got the raft of logs to Mr. Bryant’s mill, he had filed bankruptcy.  He had a raft of logs in Wilmington, with no money. Well I was with him when he went up to Mr. W. A. Corbett’s mill and I remember Mr. Corbett tellin’ him “Marshall”, my Daddy was named Marshall Butler, he said, “I don’t need the logs.” But he bought the raft of logs.  He had a feeling for my Daddy. He did a lot of log rafting for Mr. Corbett.


It’s been quite an experience. One of the most beautiful sights that I have ever seen, I would have loved to have a camera.  An old mother hog with about six or eight little pigs down at Wannock Landing, that’s down in Brunswick County.  She come down in the river and went in, them little pigs, one by one, right behind her. Swum the river and they all went out and went their way.  It was a beautiful sight.


Another occasion, my brother, Tootie (Warren), he got snake bit on one trip.  Had to tie the raft up and bring him back to the doctor. And on another trip, we was cooking and the grease in the frying pan got afire. Somebody spit in it or it got water in it and flamed up and burned his face. Mr. Settlemeyer down there at Carver’s Creek down near #1 Locks brought us back to town for the doctor. And another trip, some of the coldest weather in my time that I ever lived through.  We rafted a log raft and put in just above Elwell Ferry.  I wore one of these ole big Army overcoats while rafting. And the river’d been up and was falling down a little and it broke the ice aloose.  Well, I had a long gig pole that I’d use to get the logs to break.  Well I had to run ice out so I could raft.  And anywhere the water was still in the river up there, it was froze out to where the water was runnin’. Well by the time we got down to Wannock Landing. . .  the 22nd mile board, the Roan Landing, the, some of you might have heard tell of Roan’s Island, down there, that’s where part of the Cape Fear breaks off to the left and goes over to Black River. Well that’s Roan’s Island in there. Just then an old tug boat come up, pushing a barge and there was a creek of ice across the front of that thing wider than this table and longer.  . . . Well the river froze from one bank to the other… about two inches thick.  And the old snag boat was coming up that morning.  You could hear that thing coming a mile or two, breaking ice.  And sheets bigger than this room here would come scooting up on the ice, you know, as he was breaking it.  Now that was a cold day!


There was about 4 or 5 of us on this raft. . .Anyway, we made rules.  And anybody that broke the rules, we tried.  Well, Leslie broke the rules.  Neil King was his lawyer. In pleading his case, he told him “The little idjit didn’t know no better.”  His sentence was getting wood for the raft the rest of the trip.  We knew where to get wood across the river from where the paper mill is down there now. It was light wood up and down that river bank, all you want a get. When it wasn’t foggy, we had that river lit up to where you could see one bank to the other. But now if it was foggy, you better not have no fire.  You couldn’t see nothin’.

(question from audience) Is there still light wood in that area? 

HP: Not like it was.


(question)  How did you set your raft up for cooking and sleeping? You had a house on it?

HP: We always had a tent. … Here is a picture of the last raft that went down the river.  This is me, here at the oar. We had a long oar about 40 feet long.  That’s the way we pulled and steer. But it was my Daddy’s raft. That’s Daddy there at the fire making coffee, I assume. And I got a brother, Stuart.  He don’t show up too good.


(question)  How long were those trips?  How many days?

HP: It depended on the height of the water in the river. Uh, like it was, here a week or two ago, low, from this area, it’d take 5 to 7 days. And we were on it day and night.  The only tying up we did was when you got down to tidewater, we had to tie up to keep from coming back up the river.  And we didn’t want to come back this way.


(question) Did you contract with more than one landowner?

HB: I don’t remember having logs from more than one landowner but if we did, we’d have ‘em in separate clamps.


(question) Did you have several rafts going out at the same time?  Your raft and another man’s raft?

HB: In my Daddy’s day that was the case. In the last few years, we were the only rafters on the river.


(question) How did you hook the clamps together, Mr. Horace?  With a trellis or something?

HB: No, we hooked ‘em togther, we called ‘em collars. They were about this long or longer.  We clinched penny nails (40 & 60 penny nails).  Usually had about 4 collars in each clamp. When I made one I made it to Wilmington.

My Daddy, when I was 15 or 16 year old, turned me loose with a raft to get it to Wilmington.  I wouldn’t be afraid to saddle it down with as many as 50 or a 100 in my time. I never, ever lost any logs. Back when Mr. Holder and Mr. Myers were rafting, we picked up a few that they let get away."



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