LookBack10.1

In 1934, the Rowena was the last steamboat to travel commercially up the Cumberland River. It was a steamboat like it that carried two men to their fate in 1912.

We spent September looking at some local talented athletes, particularly high school and college football players. We have not exhausted the subject and will return to it in the future — and there are other sports that we can write about!

Also remember to send the Historical Society any old newspaper clippings on Trousdale County people who have made the headlines. We depend on your contributions to the archives as a source of information!

Since this is October and since the sometimes scary holiday of Halloween is at the end of the month, we will tell a few ghost stories and help get people in the mood for what is probably a stay-at-home Trick or Treat due to the pandemic.

In my file of ghost stories is this one that was written down by a man familiar with the legends and stories of the river. When I say river, I mean our own Cumberland River.

There was a time when steamboats ran day and night from Nashville up the river to Hartsville and kept going, as far away as Burkesville, Kentucky.

People, livestock, tobacco, hogs, produce and merchandise of every kind would be loaded on the shallow-bottomed boats and carried up and down the river. There was a lot of money made by the big boats and over the years a lot of stories developed surrounding the crews of the steam-powered vessels.

Around 1912, a large steamboat was on the return trip from Burkesville. It headed downriver past Carthage and Rome and towards Hartsville, where it would pick up hogshead barrels of tobacco to be delivered to markets in Nashville.

The men who worked on these boats were a rough lot.

The work was hard, the pay little and the demands of the job miserable, but there was always a class of men who would take the work. They often drank a little to cut the chill of the night air or to help them forget the long hours and backbreaking work.

One such fellow — they were called “roustabouts” — had the nickname of Crowfoot. They likely all had nicknames, based on some physical or character trait. There were some we can’t repeat in polite company.

Crowfoot had been drinking and got into an argument with the Captain’s Mate, the man who told the roustabouts what to do.

To make our story shorter we will just say that in battle of words, a scuffle began and Crowfoot was tossed aside, causing him to lose his footing and fall into the river.

The boat was going full steam ahead and the mate decided to let old Crowfoot stay in the water. Perhaps it would cool him off and they could pick him up on a return trip.

But the crew didn’t see Crowfoot come back up from the dark waters and if he made it to shore, nobody ever saw him again.

Now we don’t believe in ghosts or that a spirit can do a body harm. But the way the story goes, that was just the case of Crowfoot and the Captain’s Mate.

Six months later, once again the steamboat passed Carthage and Rome and was headed to Hartsville. Once again on a dark and damp night, another man was drunk. This time it was the Captain’s Mate himself.

As the story was written down, “…when the boat reached the approximate point where Crowfoot had been kicked into the river, a weird thing happened.

Passengers on the Texas deck screamed, roustabouts covered their eyes, and even the captain gaped in open-mouthed amazement as a black, swirling mass swept down out of the starlit sky and shoved the mate into the swirling waters of the Cumberland. His screams were stifled in the foam as the boat sped past him, and the last anybody saw of the mate was a hand waving pathetically for help as it sank beneath the surface of the water.”

According to the story, the captain made an attempt to stop and turn around and rescue the poor man. But the boat refused to obey and sped on its way — just the way it had done when poor Crowfoot fell overboard.

We are just repeating the story as we read it. Make your own judgment!

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