History of Texas County’s Timber Industry

Lumber companies outside this area were represented locally by tie buyers. This picture, believed to date in the late 1800’s, shows two tie buyer, Bill Peoples and Tom Jeffries, at right. Ties purchased here were stamped with a company brand and sent down the Piney River.

Originally published in the Houston & Republican, Sept. 10, 1964

By Mrs. Ed Ward (Gladys Ward)

President, Boiling Springs Association

(The following history and material is the property of the Boiling Springs Association. Any reproduction or use of this material must have permission from Boiling Springs Association.)

As far back as 1816 the forest of virgin pine and oak timber was Texas County’s chief industry. The modern equipped lumber mills of 1964 still require a large amount of skilled operators to make the business a success.

Since pioneer days the timber workers have had to face danger and be hard working, ambitious men. The pioneers of our country before 1820 had no saw mills, no roads to market their timber. Their axe and Piney River was their only means of processing timber and getting it to market in St. Louis. By rafting down Piney to the Gasconade River, then in to the Missouri River and on to St. Louis.

It would be hard for this modern generation to imagine the life of the pioneer rafters. According to history their customs and ways of living were simple but happy. Those old rafters never questioned another’s honesty. If one needed to borrow money, they could do so simply by asking. There were no such things as security notes. The man’s word was sufficient.

In 1820 Big Piney was filled with rafts of logs and hewed and sawed lumber. These were sawed by a man named Pettit, who owned the first water powered mill on Piney. It was known as an upright saw, similar to a jigsaw. The logs were hauled and dragged to the river by oxen.

In 1826, several mills were in operation, the Buckhart Mill, Thomas Cork Mill that was later purchased by John Ornsby (John Ornsby’s grave is in the Ornsby graveyard about one-half mile from Boiling Springs on the Ben Wiggians farm.) In 1828, the Trusdale Mill was seven miles north of Houston, The Baldridge Mill six miles below the Trusdale Mill.

 Logs arriving at the Herman Hayes Mill near Venable (northeast of Ellis Prairie) were transported by mules. Sitting on the log is Hayes and at left is Noah Haney. Power supply at the mill came from a steam engine (below.) Standing on the engine’s wheel, at left, is Hayes’ son, Willard. These photographs were taken about 1925



In 1833 a gin mill was built on Piney by Mr. Nesbitt who sold it to Mr. Richardson in 1834. Mr. Richardson sold it to David Lynch and John Fourt in 1835. They later sold to Mr. Upton who suffered a loss when the mill washed away during a rise on Piney. Later another was built by Albert Bates.

It is not known who sailed the first raft down Piney, but a man named Bob Gallaghn was one of the first we have record of. During these early days the rafts were led around the river bends by means of grapevines as there were no ropes available.

The trip from a point on Piney to St. Louis took from 40 to 80 days. The men were paid 50 to 60 cents per hundred feet of lumber. As much as 36,000 feet could be put in a lumber raft, but smaller amounts were rafted at times.

The lumber rafts fastened together with three couplings between each square, which was made with white oak pegs called grubs. Nine grubs were used in one square with binders crosswise on the raft. After a few trips were made the time was cut to 35 to 40 days round trip. When the rafter reached his destination the only means of transportation home was walking.

These men lived chiefly on wild meat, fish and berries. A supply of liquor went with every raft. They were armed with cap and ball type rifles and pistols. They had no matches. The method used for starting fire was by flint rock, steel and spunk. The rock was hit against steel, causing sparks that ignited the spunk found in decayed logs. Their only lights were made by pine knots.

The customs of tradition of pioneer days remained with little change until 1840. By this time Texas County was being settled by town and villages and a few farmers. There were 10 sawmills on Piney that year. One was on Steam Mill Hollow owned by E. Shobe, operated on the farm now owned by Joe Richardson about one mile above Boiling Springs.
Rafts on the Piney River in early days were steered by long poles. 
Ties and lumber were stacked on the rafts in layers for the trip
 down Piney, to the Gasconade River and then to St. Louis
 on the Missouri River. Pioneer lumbermen are, from left, 
Grover Upton, an unidentified man, John Hayes and Louis Upton.

This farm is one of the few places you can visit and see signs of the pioneer days. You can see several deer, quail, rabbit, squirrel, coon and you can hear the gobble of wild turkey in the spring. There is also a cabin overhanging the bluff that was built by one of the pioneer sawmill men, Henry Hayes, years ago.

It was near here where it is believed the last lumber raft was started down Piney. It is believed about 1916 the last lumber raft was started at the Blue Hole and rafted to Newburg by Fred Hayes, Dow Hayes and Bert Bates.

Some of the other mills along and near Piney were operated by Andy Venable, Henry Hayes, Fred Hayes, John O. Platter and the Adeys. George Platter had a grist mill at Raftville on what is now known as Big-M-Resort owned by Maurice Murray. Raftville (Boiling Springs,) was one of the large tie yards along Piney. Many ties were hauled to Raftville and rafted down Piney.

The most expert rafter we have record of was Nathenil (Stub) Border. Stub, as he was known, was a fearless tie rafter. Many times he ran a raft alone. Some of the other rafters we have record of are: Dave Border, Ike Hifflin, Devis Wade, George Platter, Bill Wade, R.D. Jackson, George Jackson, Jasper Gaiter, Andy Thompson, Ed Bates, Fan Border, Herman Hayes, Fred Hayes, John Platter, Jim Adey, Bud Adey, George Sells, John Lewis, Elmer Slaughter, Walter Ward, Jim Ornsby, C.T. Smith, Clabe Hayes, Steve Hayes, Adam Elmore, Jim Riden, John Williams, George Adey, John Kimrey (the authors Great Uncle), Grover Upton, John Hayes, Louis Upton, J.F. Bridgewater, Bert Moore, Charlie Kimrey and many more that we didn’t have time to get. It is believed that the last raft was run by Jim Adey, George Adey and Clabe Hayes.

Some of the other sawmills near Boiling Springs was one owned by J.P. Bates operated on Jack Tarr Hollow. He also owned and operated a general store there and a few years later set up a shingle mill near there. Later Mr. Smith, father of C.T. Smith, moved to Jack Tarr Hollow.

There is at this time a spring on this place called Spout Spring. The spring got its name because in 1901 a man named Dave Odell cut a 40 foot pine pole and cut a groove down it and placed it in the spring so the water would run out through it and could be caught in barrels. Many folks hauled water from there that year. Sixty years later this pole is solid and in good condition (see picture).

Intact after its placement 63 years ago is this water spout at
Jack Tarr Hollow near Boiling Springs. Fashioned from a pine
pole, the spout was erected by Dave Odell. Its purpose was to
channel water from the spring for filling barrels.
General Jackson was another one of our pioneer sawmill men. His mill was at Vada. He also bought ties for the Tossic Tile Company. Some more of our pioneer sawmillers were Furd White, John A. Benson, Ed Bates and McCllen. Ed Bates (still living) bought ties at Raftville for Pillman and Hussey Tie Companies.

Tom Jeffries bought for different companies. (See pictures.) All companies and tie buyers possessed branding hammers which left the owner’s insignia when it was hit against the end of the tie. These hammers were registered at some county seat.

The first county seat of Texas County was originally planned to be placed at Ellsworth about one-half mile from Boiling Springs. There the first term of court was held in Texas County on April 21, 1845. Also the first dram shop license was issued to a man at Ellsworth. Later it was decided to move the county seat to Houston since it was near the center of the county.

There is a lot of difference in the way timber is obtained in this age. A float down Big Piney will give you some idea of what our pioneers experienced. There are still several tie slides to be seen. There is one just below Boiling Springs, also parts of rafts can be seen along Piney.

Time out for food – A rafting party stops work on the Piney River near Boiling Springs to prepare a meal. Members of the group, from left, Elmer Slaughter (who is holding a bread board,) Bert Moore, Ed Bates, G.F. Bridgewater, Jim Slaughter and John Kimrey. Ties can be seen on the bluff in left background


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