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Letter from Lorenz Jones Davis Submitted by site visitor Paul Hoyer, Hoyer's Genealogy Home Page
Letter from Lorenz Jones Davis to his mother. He was never heard from again.

"Running Water, S.D. 9/15/98
Dear Mother Your kind and welcome letter received and I must admit my negligence in writing and will promis to try and so better hereafter. Tell Hattie (Pete) and Ella to both be sure and write and I will answer forthwith- write me all the news from away back. Mr. Sauford (? Sawford) whom I have been keeping books for has had me in charge of a couple of steamboats he has for the last 2 months and has kept me pretty busy is one reason I have not written. I tried to get out of it but he said I was the only one he could trust (which made me feel somewhat important) so I went at it as he has always been very good to me. We run from this point up about 150 miles hauling lumber and mdse up and wheat and livestock down here where it is shipt by rail Sioux City and Chicago. I have charge of everything in the business part of the biz. and have got a long very will so far. We will probably be able to run until about the 1st of Nov. I feel a ittle shaky sometimes as I am compelled to carry considerable money at times and this is considered a pretty tough country especially along the river and among the class of men who work around steamboats. It is mostly a new country just opened up and lots of cattle rustlers and half breeds along the line who would not hesitate at anything if they knew a man had money. I have not heard from Elton for a long time but I expect it is my fault as I believe it is my turn to write. I hope I can see my way clear to pay you all a visit this winter. But will not promise for certain for I have promised so often especially to Mollie (Mollie Bruner) that I guess she thinks I can't tell the truth. Give my love to Pa, Arthie, Hattie, Ellan and accept a portion to yourself. Your Prodigal L.J.Davis"

Excerpt from "Last days of real steamboating on the Cumberland"
Nashville Banner, October 19, 1930 -
(original spellings included)

A great wagon yard for the teams and wagons occupied an open space in South Nashville. Many of the buildings still standing in the business section, were then cotton warehouses. In the eighties, though the river trade was not what it had been, it was still great. The wharf was a busy place, piled with products and merchandise of every description. The steamboats had become stern-wheelers, so that they could navigate the shallow stream, but they were doing business. The picturesque Negro deckhands, and roustabouts, in charge of a profane mate, lent color to the scene at the landing, as they hurried back and forth, singing and laughing, and paying little or no attention to the mate's voluble oaths and threats. The latter swore by note, and the mate seemed to think it a necessary part of the routine.

All day and all night the hoarse whistle of the boats could be heard. Before they left they whistled to noti­fy belated passengers and deckhands they were about to start; and when they arrived they whistled to let the "night-hawk" hacks know they were coming with passengers; and to let the local roustabouts know they were coming with freight to be unloaded. When a boat reached the landing, the "night-hawks" and the roustabouts would be there.


It was the custom for all the Negro hands to gather on the swinging gangplank as the boats backed out and started on their journey, and sing boat songs and spirituels, while a leader gestulated and led the sing­ing. No one, who has stood on the Woodland Street Bridge as a steamboat passed down stream, and has witnessed the scene described and heard the wonderful chanting of these natural-born musicians, will ever forget the thrill of it.

The steamboat season opened about the middle of November and lasted until about August 1. During the low-water period between these dates the boats went to the Ohio River and took the place of boats of deeper draft, until the fall rise came.

The main steamboat lines during this time were the Cincinnati and Nashville Packet Co., the Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, the Nashville and Burnside Packet Co., and the famous Ryman Line. The principal products handled were corn, tobacco, wheat, all kinds, of merchandise, pig iron and iron manufactures from Pittsburgh. Coal by twoboats was brought from Pittsburgh for the Nashville Gas Co. Coal was also brought to Nashville from the Poplar Mountain Mines, thirty miles west of Burnside, Ky., and from the Cumberland Coal Co., at Burnside. It was brought in broad-horn barges. The Cumberland Coal was much like that from Pittsburgh.

Merchandise from Eastern cities was picked up by the boats at Ohio River points. Livestock was brought to Nashville from up and down the Cumberland and mules were shipped from Nashville to New Orleans and other Southern markets.

Passenger business on the river was also of large dimensions. An enormous emigration went from Kentucky and Tennessee to Texas. Through tickets would be sold to them, and the last part of the trip would be by rail.

Travel by boat was fascinating. There were good bands and bars; and in the evening dancing, card playing and other forms of amusement were engaged in. The captain and chief clerk were the masters of ceremony. They saw that the passengers were introduced to one another, that those who wished to dance had partners. They looked after the comfort of all and saw that everything was properly conducted. These men were Chesterfieldian in their manners; they had known many and varied experiences and were generally fine conversationalists.

Among the well known steamboat captains of the eighties were: T. G. Ryman, T. M. Gallagher, W. S. Bowman, Shepherd Greene, William Strong, Thomas Armstrong, A. T. Armstrong, Ben Goad, John S. Tyrner, William Gracey, John Crouch, W. W. Parminter, Doc Lovell, Jim Level and Fred Wyatt. William Litterer who became a wealthy citizen and who served one term as Mayor of Nashville, was once a Cumberland River pilot.

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