Rock Island History - Lost Records
Three records of early Rock Island history were written and have been lost.
The Rock Island Feather Deposit
Have you ever heard of the "Feather Deposit?" The name is almost unknown today but was well-known 100 years ago. This is the story as told to the writer by Mrs. Jennie Hash Rucker in 1934.
Hardly had the first settlers established their log homes along the western slopes of the Cumberland Plateau and in the Rock Island area before the first adventuresome peddlers found their way into the newly opened territory. They traveled in their covered wagons drawn by two and sometimes four and even six horses. It was customary to make the rounds twice a year.
A number of these early peddlers traded fine cotton thread in exchange for feathers. This thread was used for the warp in finer weaving. In order to increase business they paid a local housewife to act as their agent and look after the Feather Deposit.
The foundation rocks of an old square log building were pointed out to the writer. The site was directly across the road from Capt. Hash's house on the river side of the old Stage Road. It was on a steep hillside. There had been a large basement room for the storage of feathers and also the thread to be given in exchange.
Beeswax and tallow were also used in trade. A few women made feather fans but most feathers were traded in bulk. As time passed, roads became better and stores were established and the feather business gradually died out so that today there are but few people who can remember even hearing about the trade.
The Circus Comes to Rock Island
Back before the Civil War the country folk around Rock Island were, and had to be, hard working men and women. Their day began before sunrise and usually ended after sundown by the light of the candle or the glow from the big kitchen fireplace.
However they all had their pleasures as well as their trials and tribulations. Picnics at Rock Island were always looked forward to and enjoyed to the fullest but there was nothing to match the joy of both young and old when news came that the Circus was coming. It usually played at McMinnville, then Rock Island and the next day at Sparta. In those days, before there were railroads, the Circus traveled by wagon.
The show grounds at Rock Island were located on a level field near the old Miller farm on what is now the Bone Cave Road. The field is on the left of the road at the top of the hill where the road turns down to the Blanks Bridge across Rocky Rivers and to what used to be the Blank's Mill or as it was once called, the Miller Mill.
Capt. Hash often told of one circus day that he remembered from his boyhood days. The Circus came in August and an extremely hot August it was! The elephant, the first that ever had been seen at Rock Island, and the monkeys were the chief attractions. After playing at the Show Grounds the wagons started for Sparta.
Arriving at the Rock Island ferry an over-optimistic elephant man tried to lead the animal onto the ferry boat. The elephant refuse to be led. Coaxing, pleading, pushing, pulling and cursing failed to move the elephant. Finally the animal, being afraid of the ferry and probably being a little cross due to the hot weather, lunged forward and jumped into the river. The cool water soothed the animal. He lay on its back and blew water over himself.
The elephant man tried every possible way to get the animal up but without avail. There is a limit to everything and the elephant, becoming tired of the attention he was getting, decided that a little water might help his keepers so he began blowing water over them. They tried to slip up on him in boats. He paid no attention to them until he could see the whites of their eyes and then he let them have it! The natives watched in amazement as the elephant blew water all over his keepers as they tried to slip past him.
The Circus manager saw that they would not make Sparta that day - at least not with the elephant - and he was the main part of the show. A fast rider was sent ahead to spread word that the show would be a day late. As the day past and news of the strange doings spread over the country, men, women and children flocked to the island. They came in ox carts, on horseback and on foot. The hours passed all too quickly watching the strange animal. It was the first time most of them had seen an elephant.
As the sun dropped behind the hills and the air turned cooler, the elephant got up and quite meekly allowed his keeper to take him across the river and on to Sparta. It had been a great day for all concerned, including the elephant.
Recollections of James McGiboney
James McGiboney was born a short distance west of the present village of Campaign in 1847. He told the writer that he always understood that the was born about the time that John Cunningham of Rock Island, a Revolutionary soldier, died.
Mr. McGiboney knew the area around Rock Island from the time he was able to walk, having gone to the mill there as a small boy. The mill was located on the Island at its lower end. There was a timber dam at the lower end of the slough about 8 feet high. The old bridge across Caney Fork was nearly gone in his youth - only a few timbers remaining. The bridge just skirted the upper end of the Island with an opening in the side so that a person could either stop at the Island or go all the way across the river. The bridge was originally built by the Mayberry family. They operated it for several years until it got in rather bad repair. Peter Burem then took over, repaired the structure and operated it unto John B. Rodgers bought it, along with the surrounding land. Peter Burem (Buram) was a preacher and sometimes preached at Asbury.
As time passed the mill pond became full of silt and the mill rotted down until it stopped operating about 1866 or 1867. Other mills had been built in the mean time. The bridge had been a toll bridge.
Rock Island was a great place for picnics. They were held on the island. Mr. McGiboney remembered that the Rock Island ferry operated all the time during the Civil War.
In talking about the Iron Forge on Rocky River, Mr. McGiboney said that a corn mill was operated at the same location and that it was one of the first mills in that section of the country.
The area bounded by the Collins River and the Caney Fork from the mouth of the former to the Narrows was called the "Wilderness" and was the home of the Cunninghams. The old Cunningham Ford across Collins River was very rough.
The Iron Forge and mill were located on the left bank of Rocky River before (downstream from) the Rowland Ford.
In speaking of the Old Kentucky Road Mr. McGiboney said that going North and after crossing Falling Water Creek it bore off to the right to Algood and another branch turned left to Cookeville. Going South across Caney Fork River it followed the present McMinnville Road (Hgw. 70) to the Red Store (Junction of 70 & 30 to Spencer) and left Hgw. 70 crossing Collins River at Shell's Ford. It passed on to Viola and the Elk River and South to Alabama. In the early days it was used for transporting mules and slaves from Kentucky to the Alabama and Mississippi plantations.
The pool of quiet waters just above Frank's Ferry was known as "Kings Eddy." Steam boats came up the Caney Fork as high as Frank's Ferry. The last one to make the trip sank on the return trip. After that Pin Hook was the head of navigation on the Caney Fork.
The saw mill at Bailiff Ferry (where the summer camp for Webb School was later established) was operating before 1847. Mr. McGiboney's father had lumber sawed out at the mill for his house. He packed it up the 200 foot bluff to the top of the hill on his back and then carted it to his home. There were some carts (2 wheels) but very few wagons in that part of the country before the Civil War. A few farmers owned horses but oxen were used for he most part for work on the farm.
Mr. McGiboney went on to tell about Yankee Biscuit.
Natives Eat Yankee Army Biscuit
The Bosson Ford just above the present Great Falls Dam was not far above the Falls and was a rough ford. Mr. McGiboney said the first wagon he ever saw cross the river at that ford was a four-horse biscuit wagon belonging to the Yankee troops. After a fight above Sparta some of the troops in their retreat crossed at the Bosson Ford. The wagon came down the hill at a full gallop. It was hard on the wagon and many a young sapling was torn up by the roots. A short time later the axle broke near what is now Campaign and tins of biscuits were scattered over the road. At first the natives were afraid to touch the tins but as the Yankees had dashed off with the horses and did not come back for the wagon the local people gathered up all the biscuits and enjoyed eating Yankee food because the local flour supply was very limited. All the irons on the wagon were carried off as iron was also scarce.
Sam Grissom was Rock Island's philosopher and had bits of his wisdom, in his hand writing, hung about the store. Some one asked him what was Rock Island's population. "Heck," he said, "who knows where the city limits are?"
The Hash Family
The Hash family of Warren County are descendents of John Hash of Grayson County, Virginia. His family were French Huguenots (Hache) from France who settled in Buncombe County, Virginia and then moved to Grayson County. The Hash family built Fort Osborn during the Revolutionary War.
John Hash had two sons, William and Thomas, who moved to The Rock Island areas in Warren County.
Early Grants and Land Transfers - Hash
The Hash home was located at the top of the bluff on the left side of Rocky River 2 miles by water and 1 mile by road from the Island. The rod was at the top of the bluff at this point and the house on the opposite side. (1972 - House still standing.)