Volume 6, Number 12, Summer 1979
There are rivers, and there are men who fish them. The rivers, and the men, change, but the joy of float-fishing in the Ozarks remains the same.
The White River has changed--it no longer exists. Flooded by Taneycomo, then Bull Shoals, then Table Rock, then Beaver, the White lies buried under millions of tons of water, and we will never see it again to know what it was like.
But for eight days in August, 1907, three of the Woodbury boys, and three other young men, put boats on the White at Branson. Charles (Tod) Woodbury, then just 17 years old, recorded their experiences, and there is a magic in his words: A picture of the river, and the land, and the people who lived there, that we cannot comprehend.
Tod is dead now, and so is Buzz Woodbury, and so is Frank Woodbury--whose son, Bob Woodbury, saved this journal--and so are their friends. And so is the White River. But one cannot help wishing.
WED. AUG. 21, 07:
On the morning of August 21, in the year of 1907, we pushed off from Branson, Mo., and headed downstream. Our luggage and provisions were evenly divided in the three boats. Frank Parker started in the first boat, Clement Parker, Frank Woodbury and Bill Young (the guide) followed in the second boat while Harold Woodbury and myself followed, or rather tried to follow, in the third, but only succeeded in waltzing from one side of the stream to the other. In due time, however, we headed straight and then floated with the current.
How clear the sky, how cool and bracing the air! As the boats floated along, great beauty is seen in the bottom of the river, and words to describe this wonderful, ever-changing, many-hued picture are hard to find. The mirror-like river twining away in the distance, the high strata of rocks above, while the foliage of the trees is reflected so plainly in the beautiful water as to make a double picture. At any point the bottom was plainly discernable. Sometimes the color ranged from pure white to dark green, through the most beautiful shades of green and white combined, or in rich coloring of brown, gray and black. Again columns in brown and gray--decorated by waving fronds of the most beautiful ferns and grasses--which had been cut by the heavy rocks which had ground them out by the action of the current. Then again, the imagination could picture priceless carpets set with beautiful and fantastic figures on the white polished floor of the ballroom.
As we floated along all manner of fish were seen. Here and there darted the rainbow trout, jack-salmon, buffalo, red-horse, suckers, and enormous catfish. Big fighting fellows, which we soon found from experience.
Far ahead we could see Frank and Clem trying to unravel the art of casting, while still farther we could see Frank Parkers paddle flashing as he sent his boat onward.
Now we were gliding swiftly by cliffs 150 feet high. Not a sound broke the stillness.
We stopped at a cool spring that trickled and bubbled from under a rock. We filled the canvas-covered water jugs and a little farther on stopped for dinner. Every one had a good appetite and after dinner our first real work began (cleaning the dishes).
After paddling for an hour or so a slight rain sprang up and we put on our ponchos which consisted of a piece of oil-cloth with a hole cut in the middle for the head. How strange and scary they looked as I turned and looked back through the misty rain at those far behind. They reminded one of four silent ghosts coming after us.
We heard the guide shout but did not know what he said until we found ourselves in the rapids. We narrowly missed a tree in the middle and were soon racing down stream at a great rate. Faster and faster we flew, narrowly missing hidden rocks and snags.
When about the middle of the rapids we heard a shouting, and looking back saw Frank Parker perched on a tree in the middle of the river. Coming down-stream was our suitcases, sitting straight up, racing with Franks straw hat. The boat had disappeared. We barely had time to pull in shore and when we hit the bank we undressed, swam out and caught the hat and suitcases.
Nearly all the baggage and provisions were pretty well soaked. We pulled up for the day a little below the rapids and spent the rest of the time before supper setting out a trot line and casting.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 22, 1907:
We sang (?) ourselves to sleep last night and arose about 5 oclock.
After breakfast it was still raining and we all congregated in the tent. Bill entertained us by singing sarcastic verses about Parkers "afternoon bath in the river". We
told stories and cracked jokes until noon, and as it had cleared up a bit we thought it wise to journey on.
It soon started raining again and we were all, despite the ponchos, thoroughly soaked. For two or more hours we paddled steadily in the drizzling rain. It seemed as though we were never going to reach shelter. Frank Parker caught the first fish in the rain near "Clatmans Ferry". We passed some fine springs but we had all the water we wanted on the outside. "Water, water, everywhere and all that you could absorb."
Dripping and shivering we ran up a bank at Forsythe, where warm clothes and a fine dinner revived our spirits. Arrayed in sweaters, we trooped single file up the main street and filled up on sodas and candy.
The people were nearly all typical "bohunks" with the exception of a few town-people and they stared and gaped open-mouthed. After supper we sang and Bill and I made two new casting poles. Bill said Frank Parker ought to have his new book nearly finished. When we went to bed he was still writing to his bride-to-be, Lucy.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 23, 1907:
After a good nights rest we resumed our trip and made 21 miles and camped near Moore s Ferry.
Clem caught a one-pounder and the mess of fish we caught tasted fine. We also bought some fine melons and had a feast royal. Clem and I went in swimming after supper and had a fine time. The current is too swift to swim against.
We went to sleep that night with the rippling waters singing its soft lullabys in our ears.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 24, 1907:
We had an early start and I was lucky enough to catch the third fish.
During the day we fished for bass or dreamed as we lay idly watching the sun glint from crest to crest of the wooded hills, which changed tints and shadows as we drifted along. We saw cliffs rise sheer from the waters edge hundreds of feet high, the color changing gradually, layer by layer, from a beautiful golf-gray at the top to a rich pink, where it rests on the next stratus.
We were in swimming when a light rain-storm sprang up. We made camp at the mouth of Bear Creek on a kind of rock bar. After it stopped raining Frank Parker and myself went on a fishing and exploring expedition up Bear Creek about a mile. We saw hundreds of fish swimming idly about, it but they did not bite good.
We heard thunder and started to return to camp. It was soon dark and we made a good fast cross-country run for the camp. When we arrived, Bill had supper ready but we were destined to be disappointed in eating right away. With a whistling noise the storm broke. The rain came down in buckets full and we were forced to lay on the sides of the tent to keep her from blowing away. After a half hour the storm abated somewhat. We finished supper and set out a trot line. After singing a while, we turned in.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 25, 1907:
We had just turned in last night when we heard a low trickling noise. Bill sat up and said, "This dont sound right" and started to get up, but stuck his feet in about four inches of running water and promptly drew them up again. We had a great time rescuing the boats, as had risen from the creek behind us and we found ourselves in the wave of a spring freshet. I lost all my pictures.
We were up early and started downstream. It was a glorious day. The smoothly flowing water transparent as glass, while a stretch of yellow gravel, clean and shiny, bounded the river line. Then came a fringe of green, a mass of narrow but dense foliage, and above towered a cliff to the blue skyline.
Clem, Buzz and myself raided a watermelon patch and secured a good many melons. Only about three were ripe. These we finished and saved the rest (the green ones) for the other fellows.
Buzz tried to cast in the rapids and consequently lost our minnow. The other boats were away ahead and we went in swimming and this made us still later and farther behind.
We stopped at a small house that sat about a quarter of a mile back from the river. The string of tousled-headed boys and girls was endless, and as we entered the yard they followed and stared open-mouthed. The women had on new gingham dresses for Sunday but the whole family was barefoot. They sold us three dozen eggs and looked at us as if they thought we were crazy when we asked them for canned fruit or preserves. I believe there were almost as many dirty dogs and pigs as there were boys. Some of the family had sore eyes, others had cuts and bruises and on the whole looked like they led a very desirable (?) and model country life.
We did not catch up with the rest of the crew until they had prepared camp and supper.
I never saw such a sore bunch. We showed them the (green) watermelons and it kind of cooled them down, but when they opened them they had to laugh, not a ripe one in the bunch.
Clem and I were not wearing any socks today and we had sunburned bracelets around our ankles.
We camped on a pebble bar and far up on the mountains on the other side of the river we could hear a wildcat calling lustily.
We hardly were aware that we were resting on the Sabbath as all days seem alike down here.
MONDAY, AUGUST 26, 1907:
We had an early start and stopped at a beautiful gurgling spring down the river. The locality we passed through is historic in a sense, and history about which nothing but guesses can ever be made. On one side of the river, far up on the side of a perpendicular cliff, could be seen a large hole, with holes farther to the right and left. The large hole was an entrance to a cave where, it is said, years ago a southern patriot held the passage up and down the river. The only way to reach this cave is by swinging down by a rope from above.
Farther on is seen an old battle ground or relic field not even yet exhausted of relics. Flint arrowheads have been thickly strewn here in some long-forgotten savage battle, mingled with stone hammerheads, lance-points, and other barbarous instruments. After a hard rain skulls and bones have been picked up. Nobody knows the history of this race, but the strongest evidence is shown by their manner of life, or the time of the occupancy of this continent by race that must have been here before the Indians. All along the valleys are low mounds, always near the water, and they have no story either. The single word "moundbuilder" tells all that is truly known of this strange people.
We passed about noon the "whiskey-boat" of the moon-shiners. They evade the restrictions of the law of the two states by claiming that they hold a government license and that the county has no authority over the river.
A little below the "whiskey-boat" we went pearl hunting. We all went into the water and filled the ends of the boats with muscles (sic). These are opened and the pearl is found along the thin skin near the "hinge". No one was lucky enough to find a pearl and we pulled up for the night on a rocky beach. Clem and I set a trot line, and succeeded in capturing a 5-pound redhorse in the morning.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 27, 1907:
We broke camp about 6 oclock. We opened some more mussels and every one in the crowd found one or more pearls.
The day was ideal, the turquoise sky; the flowing river; clear and mirrorlike; the light and dark green of field and forest; the browns; grays; blues; brilliant and sombre tints of the mountains made a gorgeous scene of beauty, and everchanging, never-ending panorama of nature at her best.
We noticed great bunches of mistletoe hanging from the cottonwood trees as we passed, and Frank Parker climbed a tree and cut some off.
At dinner, Clem tried to make some flap-jacks but we all decided it was a shame to spoil such a good imitation of India rubber, so we held aloof.
As we gazed down the river, the landscape appeared in billowly vastness and almost awed one into silence.
We camped as usual on a rock bar and we were very highly entertained by "cousins" (mosquitoes) . They had their annual that night.
Clem and I set out the trotline and succeeded in landing a 4-pound cat.
We all slept outside except Buzz. We sang ourselves to sleep and thought we had developed a pretty good sextette. Bill says this is the unluckiest trip and approaches "nearer the limit" than any he was ever on.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 28, 1907:
As usual we broke camp early. Last night as we lay on our cots, the moon came peeping oer the mountains and its dull brilliancy shone on the river and looked like a large bar of shimmering gold. It was a beautiful and awe-inspiring sight. We passed a great many people pearl hunting and also spear fishing.
We struck the worst rapids and falls on the trip. The boats fairly flew and we were obliged to keep behind the guide or we would have turned turtle. We dodged rocks and shot over low falls and it was very exciting while it lasted.
Clem, Buzz and I were the first to reach Cotter and we took a good swim under the stone railroad bridge. This bridge is about 300 feet long.
We made a very long run today and Bill said it was a good run when the river was up, let alone when the river was low.
That night as we lay on our cots singing, we could see people standing over on a hill behind us listening. We ended with a watermelon feast and then turned in.
Our trip while floating down the White River was "still life". It is true, but a restful, sweeting, heart-thrilling life, a life with one of nature s masterpieces and experiences that we will treasure always.
Sept. 2nd., 1908
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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