A Trip Down the Allegheny on a Raft
(From History of Cattaraugus County, N.Y., L.H. Everts, J. B. Lippincott & Co. (Publishers),
Philadelphia, 1879, p. 410):

“Scarcely a man can be met, who has lived along the river for twenty years or more, or who is “to
the manor born,” who has not made the voyage on a raft down the Allegany and Ohio Rivers.  The
life was a rollicking one, and country youths, while down the river, were enabled a glimpse of city
life, as represented in Pittsburg and Cincinnati.  Not to have made the trip and walked back, once at
least, lessened one’s worth, ability, and manhood in the estimation of himself, his fellows, and all
veteran raftsmen.”


A Trip Down the Alleghany on a Raft
By Fanny Bell
April 28, 1886

The rafts that we see go down the river in the spring are made by fastening boards together with big
planks and grubs.  The pieces, which are run on the Alleghany above Warren, are called Warrens.  
They are about thirty-two feet wide and one hundred and sixty feet long.  These rafts have four oars
with two men at an oar, making nine men with the pilot.  Every third raft has a cabin.  If you look
inside one of these cabins, you would see a table, stove, and several bunks, to say nothing of
potatoes, hams and other provisions stored away for hungry men.  The first raft, which was run out
of this part of the river, was probably brought down the Oswayo more than sixty years ago.  Then,
there were no railroads or market for the lumber at home, so the lumbermen took the lumber down
the river.

While the rafts lay in the Eddy, everything has a lively appearance.  The boats and provisions have to
be loaded on the rafts, and the men have to be hired.  This last, I should think, would not be very
much trouble, for there always seems to be twice as many men as it takes to run the rafts.  When the
finishing stroke has been given, it is quite interesting to know “who is going.”  Sometimes, a party of
ladies and gentlemen go down the river for a few miles on a pleasure trip, and truant school boys are
to be seen all over the raft.  They go to have just as much fun as they can.  When the line is “tied
loose,” as the raftsmen say, the raft slowly floats down the river.

But as the rafts go farther, the current becomes more rapid and they soon move along quite lively.  
The first thing of interest is Weston’s dam.  After this has been passed, the rafts generally run quietly
along, stopping the first night at Carrollton.  When the rafts pass Allegany, they are then in the
Seneca Reservation.  This reservation is one half a mile wide on each side of the river and extends
for forty miles along the banks of the river.  The rafts leave Carrolton and, by a good days run, reach
Warren that night.  

At Salamanca is the Hemlock dam and just below this dam is the White Woman Riffle.  This is so
called from the fact that Mary Jemison crossed the river here when escaping from the Indians. The
next place of importance is Corydon.  This is especially interesting for when this place is passed, the
last of the dreaded mill-dams has been passed.  Above Warren is a little reservation, which was given
to an Indian named Cornplanter.  Cornplanter, though smart, as well as friendly, was murdered by
some whites.

The banks of the Alleghany are mostly high.  While running down between these hills, we can have
time to notice the pilot and crew.  The pilot is sometimes tall, broad shouldered with very
commanding appearance, or sometimes he is a smaller man, who looks very determined and just as
though he knew everything there is to be known about rafting on the Alleghany.  He word is law to
the men over whom he rules.  The stories these pilots tell about being stove up on the different
islands and sand bars and about the ever changing channel of the river, are quite as remarkable as
anything else connected with the lumberman’s craft.

When Warren is reached, three Warrens are coupled together to make one Alleghany.  Six oars are
necessary for one of these rafts.  Below Warren are many little eddies and villages, but there are one
or two things worthy of mention, among them, the “Indian God.”  The Indian God is a rock, which
once stood on the bank of this river.  It has been undermined by the river and has fallen into the
water.  The hieroglyphics have never been deciphered.

Below this is Brady’s Bend, named after Brady, the great scout.  Washington probably crossed the
river between Oil City and Pittsburg, but upon the exact place, historians do not agree.  As the rafts
float down the river, the villages become more numerous, until, at last, the smoky city of Pittsburg is
seen.

We can imagine how different this must have looked in Washington’s time, when instead of a busy
city, the walls of old Fort DuQuense rose in the forest.  A few days are spent at Pittsburg in coupling
the rafts together.  Many Alleghanys are made into one Ohio.  Cincinnati is at last reached and the
men waste no time in getting ready to start home.  Every man is very glad that he has the railroad to
come home on, instead of being obliged to take a long walk through the woods.


(A copy of this essay by Fanny Bell Parish was given to the Portville Historical and Preservation
Society years ago by her son, Mr. Earl Parish).
The Portville Historical and Preservation Society
17 Maple Avenue
Portville, NY 14770

www.portvillehistory.org