Logging Ten Mile Bay

The early sawmill operations of Wiregrass Georgia required a constant supply of  timber to maintain production and profitability. Smaller sawmill operations could be moved close to the timber tracts where logs were being cut. For larger operation, such as the Clements Sawmill on the tracks of the Georgia & Florida Railroad at Ray City,  logging timber typically involved transporting cut logs to the sawmill by skidder and tram.

Skiddermen like Claudie RoyalRobert Christopher Powell and Lawrence Cauley Hall used two wheel “Perry” carts pulled by a team of horses or mules to drag  or skid felled logs.  According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 1918 publications, in Georgia a typical skidderman worked a 60 hour workweek, for a wage of 22.5 cents an hour, or $13.50 per week. The skiddermen dragged logs from where they were cut the short distance to the tracks of the railway tram, where they were loaded and hauled to the sawmill.  Oxen could be used pull skidders in areas too wet for horses or mules,  but even oxen couldn’t skid logs out of the deepest swamps.

Ten Mile Bay northeast of Ray City was one of the first places in this section where logs were hauled out of the swamp by overhead skidder.

At Southernmatters.com, Bill Outlaw relates how the deep swamp of Ten Mile Bay provided a hide out for Confederate deserters and draft dodgers during the Civil War. You can read Bill’s observations on Ten Mile Bay at http://www.southernmatters.com/image-database/upload/Nashville/Nashville-051.html The fact was, there were significant numbers of Southerners who did not support Secession or the war. Outlaw describes Ten-mile Bay as lying east of a line drawn between Alapaha and Nashville. William M. Avera, son of Daniel Avera and Tobitha Cook Avera, constructed an earthen dam from 1880 to 1884 across the lower end of Ten Mile Bay.  This impoundment at the southern outfall of the bay created the Avera Mill Pond (now known as Lake Lewis), the mill run forming the Allapacoochee Creek (now known as Ten-mile Creek), which is the eastern boundary of the W.H. Outlaw Farm. Beyond the actual bay, a considerable area of land is quite swampy.

Bill Outlaw cites the unpublished papers of W.H. Griffin Jr., (1863-1932) in which Griffin describes the Ten Mile Bay as a deserter’s stronghold:

“Lying in the Northeastern portion of orginal Berrien county, four miles southeast of Allapaha, and six miles northeast of Nashville,lies an almost impenetrable swamp known far and wide as the ‘Ten Mile Bay.’ It is the sourse of Ten mile Creek, a stream running southward through the flat woods of eastern Berrien, flanked by numerous flat ponds and fed by sluggish pond drains until it mingles its wine colored waters with those of the Fivemile Creek,  near where Empire church is located when together they form Big creek, as stream of no mean importance in the county and which, harboring thousands of perch, pike, jack and trout, to say nothing of the unlimited nimber of catfish, winds its tortuos and limpid way on past Milltown to mingle its leave stained waters with those of the Alapaha river…Its denseness, its dreary solitudes, its repulsiveness on these accounts and on account of the numerous wild animals rattle snakes that frequented its fastnesses rendered it a place which the ordinary mortal dredded to enter. It covers an area of about twenty square miles, being about six miles from North to South and a average with of three to four miles. It is covered in water for a portion of the winter and spring season with a depth of anywhere from one to three feet deep, and interspersed with numerous elevated hummocks which lift their surfaces anywhere from six inches to a foot and a half above the water and from a quarter to a half acre in extent.  These hummocks are overgrown with vines and brambles, Ty Ty other swamp growth and thickly dotted with the tall growing huckleberry or blue berry bushes anywhere from three to ten feet high and from which every year thousands of berries are gathered by the neighboring citizens, who often go from a distance of ten miles away to gather berries.  It  takes a stout heart and brave resolution, to say nothing of intrepid courage and a power of endurance to hardships to get a tenderfoot into that swamp a second time. Only the person who has been through the swamp under the direction of native guides is willing to undertake an excursion into this ‘No man’s Land,’ for the chances are that he will become lost and consequently experience the greatest difficulty in finding his way out of the dreary wilderness of bog and fen, bramble and thicket. This dreary place became the rendezvous of many deserters during the war…”

When the Bootle & Lane sawmill brought overhead skidding to Berrien County in 1917 to log Ten-mile Bay, the news was reported in the Lumber Trade Journal.

1917-logging-ten-mile-bay

The Lumber Trade Journal
September 15, 1917

Complete Construction Work

Savannah, Ga. – Bootle & Lane, who moved to Nashville, Ga., from Charleston, S. C.. a short time ago to embark in the sawmill business, have just completed the work of erecting their mill, six miles east of Nashville, on the Georgia & Florida railroad, and are beginning to make their first shipments of lumber to the markets.  This firm purchased a large quantity of swamp timber in that county.  They are now taking logs out of the Ten-Mile Bay with overhead skidders.  This is an innovation in this country as no such powerful skidders were ever seen there before.  There is a large quantity of valuable timber in this swamp, but no one has ever thought it feasible to get it out.

The overhead skidder was powered by a steam engine which could be moved from place to place on a logging railroad flatcar. The steam engine drove a drum around which there was a steel cable which would draw in the logs to drier land where they could be loaded and conveyed to the sawmill. The steam-powered rig could drag logs from the swamp up to 900 feet in all directions.  Where this equipment was used to pull logs along the ground it was referred to as a “ground skidder” or “possum dog skidder.” But when the system of steel cables and pulleys were rigged from trees allowing logs to be suspended and hauled out above the muddy swamp, it was called an overhead skidder. Operating steam powered skidders was dangerous work.  The logs being pulled in would sometimes encounter obstructions.  Then the flying logs could move in erratic and unpredictable direction.  The steam skidders were worked by teams of men, and communications were passed from the crews to the skidder operator by flagmen, such as Henry Howard Thompson of Ray City, who signaled when the logs were ready to pull. The men knew to stay away from a log on the skidder line.

Advertisement for overhead skidders manufactured by Lidgerwood Mfg. Co. appearing in the Lumber World Review, November 10, 1921. Overhead skidders were used by the Bootle & Lane Sawmill to extract timber from Ten Mile Bay, about seven miles northeast of Ray City, GA.

Advertisement for overhead skidders manufactured by Lidgerwood Mfg. Co. appearing in the Lumber World Review, November 10, 1921. Overhead skidders were used by the Bootle & Lane Sawmill to extract timber from Ten Mile Bay, about seven miles northeast of Ray City, GA.

Advertisement for steel cable used in overhead skidder operations, manufactured by Williamsport Wire Rope Company, appearing in the Lumber World Review, November 10, 1921. Overhead skidders rigged with pulleys and steel cables were used by the Bootle & Lane Sawmill to harvest timber from Ten Mile Bay, about seven miles northeast of Ray City, GA.

Advertisement for steel cable used in overhead skidder operations, manufactured by Williamsport Wire Rope Company, appearing in the Lumber World Review, November 10, 1921. Overhead skidders rigged with pulleys and steel cables were used by the Bootle & Lane Sawmill to harvest timber from Ten Mile Bay, about seven miles northeast of Ray City, GA.

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Me and Mrs. Jones: Harmon Gaskins Had A Thing Going On – Twice

Over the course of his life, Harmon Gaskins twice married widows named Mrs. Jones.  He first married Melissa Rouse Jones, widow of Clayton Jones, and second married Mary McCutchen Jones, widow of Matthew Jones. For nearly forty years, Harmon Gaskins and his family lived near Five Mile Creek, about six or seven miles northeast of present day Ray City, GA.

Graves of Melissa and Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Graves of Melissa and Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Harmon Gaskins was one of the early pioneers of Berrien County, originally settling along with his father, Fisher Gaskins, and brothers John and William near present day Bannockburn, GA. They made their homes on the west side of the Alapaha River about 16 miles distant from today’s Ray City, GA location.

Born in Beaufort, South Carolina around 1808, Harmon Gaskins was the youngest son of Rhoda Rowe and Fisher Gaskins, and a grandson of Thomas Gaskins, Revolutionary Soldier.  Fisher Gaskins and his family appear there in Beaufort District in the Census of 1810.  That same year, when Harmon was perhaps two years old, his mother died.   His widowed father packed up the five young children and moved the family back to Warren County, GA, where the family had lived prior to 1807.  There, on January 17, 1811 his father remarried.  Harmon’s new step-mother was Mary Lacy.  Her father, Archibald Lacy, was also a veteran of the Revolutionary War. His stepmother’s brother, the Reverend John B. Lacy, would later become a prominent Primitive Baptist Minister

It was about this time that Harmon’s father, Fisher Gaskins,  began to expand his livestock operations. Soon he was looking to acquire good land on which to raise his growing herds of cattle. By 1812,  Harmon’s father had moved the family to Telfair County, GA where there was good grazing land for his cattle. His father was very successful in the cattle business and soon had large herds, not only in Telfair County, but also in Walton and other surrounding counties where good natural pasturage could be had.

Around 1821, Harmon’s father moved his family and cattle yet again, this time to the newly created Appling County, GA, south of the Ocmulgee River.  Harmon Gaskins, now a lad of 12 or 13 years, moved with the family.

By the end of 1825, the Georgia Legislature formed the new county of Lowndes out of the southern half of Irwin County. It was around that time or shortly thereafter, Harmon’s father brought his cattle herds and family father south into that portion of Lowndes County that would later be cut into Berrien County.  Fisher Gaskins (Sr.) brought his family into Lowndes County and settled west of the Alapha River perhaps a little south of the present day Bannockburn, GA, and about 15 miles north of the area where William A. Knight, Isbin Giddens,  and David Clements were settling their families above Grand Bay.

Around 1832, Harmon’s father moved farther south into Florida where it was said that there was even better pasture land for cattle. Harmon stayed behind, as well as his brothers, William and John.

Harmon Gaskins married about 1835 and first established his own home place on the Gaskins land near Gaskins cemetery.  Harmon Gaskins, and his brothers William and John, were among Captain Levi J. Knight’s Company of men who fought in the Indian Wars of 1836.  Many published accounts of the pioneer skirmishes with Native Americans at  William Parker’s place on the Alapaha River and at Brushy Creek have been related on the Ray City History Blog.

In the late 1830s, Harmon Gaskins moved his family to a location near Five Mile Creek, about six or seven miles from present day Ray City, GA.  The Census of 1850 shows the Harmon Gaskins place was located next to the farm of Mark Watson, which was  in the area of Empire Church.  Harmon Gaskins kept his residence here until 1875, when he decide to build a place nearer the Alapaha River. Just two years later, Harmon Gaskins died and was buried at the Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Sixty years after his death, the Clinch County News ran an account of Harmon Gaskins life in Berrien County:

The Clinch County News
April 23, 1937

Harmon Gaskins – 1808-1878

    This the youngest of the three sons of Fisher and Rhoda Rowe Gaskins, was born in 1808, and began life for himself as a laborer on the farm of a neighbor, Mrs. Clayton Jones.  He was about grown when his father decided to move to Florida; and ere long he was in love with Mrs. Melissa Jones, widow of Clayton Jones.  Mrs. Jones’ husband had moved to this county from Emanuel County along with the Sirmans family of Clinch and Berrien counties.  Her husband died about 1830 or 1832 and left her with three children, viz; Irving Jones and Henry Jones and Harriet who later married Wm. M. Avera.  The daughter Harriet was only about two or three years old when her father died, she being born in 1829.  Mrs. Melissa Jones was an illegitimate daughter of Miss Martha (Patsy) Rouse who later became the wife of Jonathan Sirmans of this [Clinch] county. The father of this illegitimate child was named Rowland, a fair-haired, blue-eyed Scotch-Irish man of handsome mien and who deceived the youthful maiden and went away never to return.  This illegitimate child grew up and married Clayton Jones in Emanuel county, and they came to Berrien county about 1825, and he died about 1830-2 as already stated, leaving his widow possessed of a home and farm and with five children to take care of.  Harmon Gaskins, about her age, but a little younger, after working for her on the farm a year or two, proposed marriage and was accepted and they were married about 1835.
    Their first child Rhoda was born Jan. 17, 1837, at the old homestead which was located on the Willacoochee Road leading east from Nashville by way of Avera’s Mill 7 miles east of Nashville and near the Gaskins Graveyard.
    The early life of Harmon Gaskins was not  different from that of other pioneers’ sons growing up in the atmosphere of frontier life.  He was reared to live the chase and many were the conquests made by him in company with his father and brothers of the wild beasts that then abounded and roamed through the country.  Like his father and brothers, he became the owner of a vast herd of cattle, and from the proceeds of sales of his beef-cattle each year he was able to save up gold and silver which in his hands stayed out of the channels of trade for years at the time. He was inured to the hardships of life as it then existed.  His only mode of travel was horseback unless he had to make a trip to a distant trading-point for supplies that could not be produced on the farm.  In such event of a trip, the horse was hitched to a two-wheeled cart of his own construction he being an excellent blacksmith and wheelright; and journey made in company with two or three neighbors situated like himself.  They drove their carts sitting astride their horses, and took rest-spells by occasionally walking by the side of the horse.  Such trips had to be made to St. Marks, Fla., or to old Center Village in what is now Charlton county.  An occasional trip would be made to Savannah but most of the trips were made to the other points named; these trips were usually about once a year, and would last a week or ten days.
  After the birth of two or three children the homesite of Harmon Gaskins was moved to a different location on the same lot of land and for many years he lived near Five-Miles Creek just east of his first location. This was  his home until about 1875 when he decided to locate on a lot of land which he had owned for several years lying nearer the Alapaha River and east of his old home.  Here he constructed a plain log dwelling and began the work of making a new home for himself and family, renting out the old home-place. He died at his last location.
    After the death of his first wife, Mr. Gaskins was married to Mrs. Mary Jones, widow of Matthew Jones and daughter of Robert and Cornelia McCutcheon, pioneer citizens of Irwin and Berrien counties.  By his two marriages, Mr. Gaskins had fourteen children – nine by his first wife and five by the second wife.
     Harmon Gaskins’ death was sudden and was deemed by his older children to appear to have been surrounded with peculiar circumstances.  A suspicion arose that he was poisoned by his wife.  This suspicion was nursed and grew in the minds of the children until it was determined several weeks later to have the body exhumed and a post mortem examination of the stomach made.  The State Chemist failed to find any trace of poison and the decision reached that he came to his death by natural causes.  This however engendered much bitterness and ill-feeling between the widow and her step children, and she entered suit for damages for slander.  She was given a verdict for $1600.00.  She later married Alfred Richardson by whom she had four children, and with whom she lived until a few years before her death in 1918.
    Harmon Gaskins enjoyed but few and limited opportunities for obtaining an education.  Nevertheless he was one of the best-posted men on political issues and economics of his time.  He was a liberal subscriber to the newspapers of his day, and he had a good collection of books on history and other subjects of all of which he was a great student. His counsel was found to be safe and his judgement sound; he was often sought after by others.  He was appointed one of the first judges of the Inferior Court of Berrien County, serving many years.  After the court was abolished he served many years as Justice of the Peace.  However, he never sought political office but rather preferred to stay home.  He labored with his own hands as long as he lived, and put in a good day’s work the day before he died.
At the death of his father in Columbia county, Fla., he inherited a large stock of cattle from the estate which ranged in Volusia and St. Johns counties, Fla., and until a few years preceding his death he made trips down there once a year for the purpose of rounding up the cattle, marking and branding the calves, and talking over his business affairs with those he had arranged to look after the herds.  The men were usually men living in the neighborhood there and under their contract were to look personally after the cattle and pen them about three months in the spring and each summer in order to keep them tradable, and sell the beef steers in the summer, and bring the money from the sales to the owner. For this service the herder was to receive every fifth calf raised and these calves were marked and branded for the herder at the April round-up.
I
ncompetent and probably dishonest herders in due time began to appear among those entrusted with the care of the Florida herds, and this with the gradual failing of the range and the development of the country there and the influx of people, all worked to the detriment of the enterprise. The income from the cattle grew less each year until Mr. Gaskins decided to sell what he had left and let Florida cattle growing alone. Thus he sold out about 15 or 20 years before he died. After his death some sixteen hundred dollars in gold and silver coin and several hundred dollars in paper money was divided among his heirs after having lain in his trunk for many years.
    The children by the first wife were:
    (1) Rhoda, born Jan. 17, 18–, married first to Francis Mobley and after his death in the civil war she married Wm. M. Griner.
    (2) Martha, married first to Thomas Connell who was killed in the civil war; second to William Parker who died three months later; third husband, Hardeman Giddens, was a first cousin on her mother’s side.
(3) Nancy, married Solomon Griffin of Berrien county.

    (4) Fisher H., married Polly Ann Griner.
    (5) Harmon Jr.  Never married, died a young man during the war.
    (6) Rachel, married William Griffin.
    (7) Sarah C., married Samuel Griner.
    (8) Thomas H., married Rachel McCutcheon.
    (9) John A., married Mary Bostick.
    The children by the second wife were: Wayne and Jane who died in childhood; Harmon E. Gaskins, never married, living single in east Berrien county; William H. Gaskins  and David D. Gaskins, The latter married Elsie Hughes.

Grave of Melissa Gaskins, 1810-1864, wife of Harmon Gaskins, buried at Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Grave of Melissa Gaskins, 1810-1864, wife of Harmon Gaskins, buried at Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Grave of Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave of Harmon Gaskins, Gaskins Cemetery, Berrien County, GA