Monday, April 27, 2015

Fire on the Water: The Burning of the Sultana

“About 50 more dead bodies have been recovered from the wreck of the Sultana.” -- The Nashville Daily Union, May 10, 1865

On April 27th, 1865, the worst maritime disaster in American history took place: the burning of the Sultana on the Mississippi River just outside Memphis. Edward Dudley vividly described the gruesome scene in this April 1865 diary entry:

"The Steamer Sultaner [sic] exploded just above the city on the 27ins. Thare [sic] was 22 hundred passengers aboard mostly paroled federal soldiers, 14 hundred lives lost the boat caught on fire and floated just passed the city and sunk. The stream was gorged with dead bodies."

Built in Cincinnati and first launched on January 3, 1863, the Sultana was a coal-burning steamer with a side-wheel. The Sultana was said to be ultramodern and boasted the most up-to-date safety equipment for its day. During its short lifespan, it often made trips on the Mississippi River between St. Louis and New Orleans, frequently carrying military personnel.

Last & Only Known Extant Photograph of the Sultana & Doomed Passengers. Helena, Arkansas, April 26, 1865. Library of Congress photograph featured on the Tennessee State Library and Archives' "Disasters in Tennessee" online exhibit.



On April 15, 1865, as news quickly spread about President Abraham Lincoln's assassination, the Sultana left Cairo, Illinois. According to Nathan Wintringer, the Sultana’s chief engineer, “as all the wire communications with the south were cut off at that time, the Sultana carried the news of his assassination and death to all points and military posts on the Mississippi river as far as New Orleans.”

On April 21, 1865, the Sultana left New Orleans headed back toward Cairo. Sometime before the ship’s routine stop in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Wintringer discovered a leak in one of the boilers. After docking at Vicksburg, Captain J. Cass Mason ordered mechanics to place a metal patch over the affected area so they could quickly be on their way. Wintringer had the following to say about that supposition:

"Now it was claimed by some at the time that this boiler was not properly repaired, and that was the cause of the explosion. In a short time those boilers were recovered and the one that had been repaired at Vicksburg was found in good condition, whole and intact, and that it was one of the other three that caused the explosion. Now what did cause this explosion? The explosion of the “Walker R. Carter” and “Missouri,” in rapid succession, I think fully answers that question. It was the manner of construction of those boilers. After these three fatal explosions they were taken out of all steamers using them and replaced with the old style of boiler." -- Chester D. Berry’s Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors, 1892

Rev. Chester D. Berry was a Sultana survivor who later published a collection of survivor accounts. Berry recalled that the Sultana arrived in Vicksburg with about 200 total passengers and crew on board. He further described the load that the Sultana took on in Vicksburg:

"She remained here little more than one day; among other things repairing one of her boilers, at the same time receiving on board 1,965 federal soldiers and 35 officers just released from the rebel prisons at Cahaba, Ala., Macon and Andersonville, Ga., and belonging to the States of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Besides these there were two companies of infantry under arms, making a grand total of 2,300 souls on board, besides a number of mules and horses, and over one hundred hogsheads of sugar, the latter being in the hold of the boat and serving as ballast." -- Chester D. Berry’s Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors, 1892

While the soldiers had to endure crowded conditions, they were jubilant in the knowledge that the conflict was finished and they were homeward bound. Many survivors recollected that there was great joy - including singing and dancing on board as well as much talk about seeing their homes and loved ones again. Otto Bardon, Company H, 102nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, USA, recalled “We were put on the steamer, Sultana, - About 2,400 men were on their way to ‘God’s country,’ as we called the North, and we all felt happy to know that we were on our way home and that the war was over (hallelujah, Amen).”

On April 26, 1865, the Sultana docked in Memphis about 6:30 p.m. After off-loading the barrels of sugar and making more repairs to the boiler, the Sultana headed to a coal yard on the west bank of the river in Arkansas. At about 1 a.m. on April 27, the Sultana proceeded out from Memphis and on toward Cairo. About seven miles north of Memphis, the boilers suddenly burst. In a historical sketch by J. H. Curtis for a 1920 article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the noise of the explosion was similarly compared to the “noise of a hundred earthquakes, starting with one great explosion which rolled and echoed and re-echoed about the woodlands of Arkansas and Tennessee for several minutes.” Capt. J. Walter Elliott, Company F, 44th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry, commented on the scene:

"I have seen death’s carnival in the yellow-fever and the cholera-stricken city, on the ensanguined field, in hospital and prison, and on the rail; I have, with wife and children clinging in terror to my knees, wrestled with the midnight cyclone; but the most horrible of all were the sights and sounds of that hour. The prayers, shrieks and groans of strong men and helpless women and children are still ringing in my ears, and the remembrance makes me shudder. The sight of 2,000 ghostly, pallid faces upturned in the chilling waters of the Mississippi, as I looked down on them from the boat, is a picture that haunts me in my dreams." -- Chester D. Berry’s Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors, 1892

The resulting loss of life was great. Though the official number of deaths (as recorded by the Customs Department at Memphis) is 1,547, the exact death toll remains unknown. Most estimates fall in the 1,500 to 2,200 range with the average consensus among historians being between 1,700 and 1,800.

As some continued to search for bodies, others undertook the sad duty of notifying loved ones. Pvt. Solomon Bogart, Company F, 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, USA, wrote a letter to his sister, Martha, to inform her that his brother-in-law (Martha’s husband), Henry Marshall Misemer, and two of their brothers, Levi and Harrison Bogart, were killed. On the outside of the letter Bogart writes “lost, lost, all is lost.” He begins the letter by scrawling “horrid Disaster” at the top of the page. Bogart conveys that he is well except for a bruise on his hip which he sustained during the explosion. He also details looking in every hospital all over town for their lost family members. Bogart concludes “they are all lost and their Remains to day lays in the bed of the Mississippi River horrid thought.”

Bogart and his family members all belonged to the regiment that seemed to be the hardest hit by the tragedy, the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry out of East Tennessee. In the days that followed the catastrophe, the 3rd Tennessee were quick to honor their fallen comrades by releasing a memorial resolution on May 15, 1865. The resolution was published in Brownlow’s Knoxville Whig, and Rebel Ventilator on May 31, 1865. The 3rd Tennessee also erected a monument in Knoxville’s Mount Olive Baptist Church Burial Ground. The monument was dedicated at their reunion on July 4, 1916.


Photograph of the dedication of the USS Sultana monument in Knoxville’s Mount Olive Baptist Church burial ground at the 3rd U. S. Cavalry reunion, July 4, 1916, Looking Back at the Civil War in Tennessee Collection.


Photograph of Sultana Survivors Association members from the 3rd U. S. Tennessee Cavalry, Knoxville (Tenn.), circa 1900, Looking Back at the Civil War in Tennessee Collection.



Those lost on the Sultana continue to be remembered. In May of 1989, a monument to Sultana victims was placed in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. Perhaps the best summation for the remembrance of the Sultana disaster is in the words of one of its survivors, Cpl. P. S. Atchley, Company K, 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, USA:

"We were highly elated with the thoughts of going home and seeing loved ones, when suddenly, as we were a few miles above Memphis, Tenn., one of her boilers exploded and hundreds of souls were ushered into eternity. My experience on that terrible morning no pen can write nor tongue can tell. I was thrown into the surging waves of that mighty river, into the jaws of death, and life depended on one grand effort, expert swimming, which I did successfully, and after swimming six or seven miles, according to statements given by citizens living on the banks of the river, landed on the Arkansas shore without any assistance whatever. There I found a confederate soldier who came to my relief, and took me to a house near by, and gave me something to eat, and I felt something like myself again, thanks to the Great Ruler of the Universe. The said confederate soldier worked hard to save the lives of the drowning men, and brought to shore in his little dugout about fifteen of them…I will close by wishing God to bless every survivor." -- Chester D. Berry’s Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors, 1892

For additional information on the Sultana tragedy, please visit TSLA’s online exhibit, “Disasters in Tennessee.” http://www.tennessee.gov/tsla/exhibits/disasters/sultana.htm

Monument to Sultana victims placed at Elmwood Cemetery in May 1989, Memphis (Tenn.), August 18, 2011, Photograph by William M. Thomas, Exhibits Committee Photograph Collection.


The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Free Presentation to Highlight Love and War in the 1860s

Theirs was a love story without the scandal and treachery found in the novel, "Gone With the Wind." However, a collection of love letters between East Tennesseans Oliver Caswell King and Katherine Rutledge King does provide valuable real-life insights into social and military history during the Civil War.

On May 6, the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) is hosting a free public presentation about that collection, which was donated to TSLA last year by siblings and King descendants Olivia King Inman and Judge Dennis H. Inman. The collection of letters chronicles the romance between Oliver King and Katherine Rutledge, which led to their marriage.


Letter from Oliver Caswell King to Katherine Rebecca Rutledge King, May 10, 1858.
Oliver Caswell King and Katherine Rebecca Rutledge King Papers, 1856-1893
Tennessee State Library and Archives


Because East Tennessee was a stronghold of Union support, the couple's pro-Confederacy views were somewhat unusual for people living in that region.

Oliver King, a student at Tusculum College, initially supported the Union cause, but later switched allegiances and enlisted in the Confederate Army. Catherine Rutledge, a student at the Masonic Female Institute in Blountville, was a staunch Confederate supporter who wrote to her beloved that "if my sweet heart hadn't to have went [to war] I don't believe I would claim him any longer."

After aligning himself with the Confederate cause in 1861, Oliver King wrote that "we'll just have to fight it out if it takes us a whole generation." He was gravely injured in a battle in Virginia in 1864 and taken as a prisoner of war.

The collection documents the couple's life during and after the war.

The May 6 presentation will be led by Susan Gordon, an archivist at TSLA, and Jess Holler, a graduate student at Western Kentucky University. The hourlong event will begin at noon that day in TSLA's auditorium.

TSLA's building is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, directly west of the State Capitol building in downtown Nashville. A limited amount of free parking is available around the TSLA building.

TSLA will soon make the collection available online.


The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Learn Facts about the Women's Suffrage Movement in Tennessee Online

On this date in history, Mary Cordelia Beasley Hudson etched her place in history by becoming the first woman to legally vote in Tennessee. Hudson cast her vote - for the winning candidate, she proudly noted - in a Camden mayoral election just five days after a law giving women the right to vote in Tennessee took effect. (The man she helped elect, A.V. Bowls, told a Nashville newspaper he was “puffed up” to have won the first election in which women were allowed to participate.)

That story is just one of many chronicled in the Tennessee State Library and Archives’ online exhibit about women’s suffrage. The exhibit titled,“Remember the Ladies!”: Women Struggle for an Equal Voice, can be found online at http://tn.gov/tsla/exhibits/suffrage/.


Marching Suffragettes, ca. 1915, Sadie Warner Frazer Papers
Women march for the right to vote in this Nashville parade.


Perhaps Tennessee’s best-known and most important contribution to the suffrage movement came when a young man decided to listen to his mother.

Although giving women the right to vote had been debated for decades, the suffrage movement did not gain steam until the late 19th Century. A constitutional amendment was proposed, and by 1920 required only one more state - the 36th - to ratify before it would become law.

Tennessee proved to be that pivotal state. However, not all women favored the right to vote. In Tennessee, there was a powerful anti-suffrage lobby that vigorously opposed ratification. Both anti- and pro- “Suffs” mobilized their forces for the final fight and set up headquarters at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville.

On the day of the final vote, it appeared the anti- faction would win. But Harry Burn, the youngest member of the General Assembly at age 23, cast the deciding vote. Burn had been allied with the anti-suffrage group, but after receiving a letter from his mother with the words, “Hurrah, and vote for suffrage!” he changed his vote.

This online exhibit is just one example of the types of resources that are available at the State Library and Archives, many of which are available to Tennesseans online, 24 hours a day, free of charge.

"Remember the Ladies!" can be viewed online at http://www.tn.gov/tsla/exhibits/suffrage/index.htm.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tennessee Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Highlighted During National Library Week

The Tennessee State Library and Archives wishes to acknowledge National Library Week this week by turning our attention to one of the crown jewels of the Secretary of State's office. The jewel in that crown is the Tennessee Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped.

LBPH's book collection of over 50,000 titles includes popular fiction and nonfiction, best sellers, classics, history, biographies, religious literature, children's books and books in foreign language. There are also 70 popular magazines available.


The Tennessee Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped (LBPH) is Tennessee’s only public library with the mission to provide library services to all Tennesseans who have physical disabilities - permanent or temporary - that prevent them from reading standard print.

LBPH gives you the freedom to read your way, in the format you prefer, including braille.


The library’s collections include the same types of books and magazines for all ages that are available for loan from a typical Tennessee public library, including popular fiction and non-fiction, mysteries, westerns, love stories, and classics ranging from Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty to Plato’s Republic. The only difference is that these books are in audio, braille and large print formats.


A patron utilizing BARD: Braille and Audio Reading Download.


In order to borrow books and/or magazines from the Tennessee Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped, people must have physical disabilities that prevent them from reading standard print. Eligible disabilities include:

  1. blindness
  2. low vision—if a person needs large print, they are eligible to borrow any of our formats
  3. a manual dexterity problem that prevents someone from holding a book and/or turning pages, such as cerebral palsy or arthritis
  4. a reading disability, certified by a doctor of medicine or osteopathy on the application as being of a physical origin

Audio books provide patrons of all ages a window into the world of literature.
 
For more information or to obtain an application, visit the LBPH’s website at: http://www.tn.gov/tsla/lbph/index.htm, or call the LBPH at (800) 342-3308. You may also visit the library, which is located inside the Tennessee State Library & Archives at 403 Seventh Avenue North, Nashville, TN.

 

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

George W. Puryear and the Victory Loan Flying Circus

George Wright Puryear of Gallatin served as a fighter pilot with the 95th Aero Squadron during World War I. On July 26, 1918, during his 10th sortie as a fighter pilot, Puryear forced down his first and only German plane during World War I. After landing his plane on what he believed to be Allied territory, he soon realized he was behind enemy lines. The Germans quickly captured Puryear and imprisoned him on the same day. Just four and a half hours after Puryear landed, the French 63rd Division captured that area from the Germans. However, the Germans had taken Puryear away by that point.


George W. Puryear's POW identification card, Villingen, Germany, September 15, 1918
Puryear Family Photograph Albums


In the months that followed, the Germans sent Puryear to several different POW camps. On October 6, he took part in a mass escape attempt from a POW camp in Villingen, Germany. After five days on the run with very little food and covering around 25 miles on foot, he swam across the frigid, swift-flowing Rhine River to reach Switzerland, thus becoming the first American officer in World War I to successfully escape from a German POW camp. As newspapers trumpeted his successful escape, the United States government sent Puryear to various Air Service units (including his old squadron) so that he could relate his experiences in German prison camps to his fellow pilots.


Map of southern Germany showing George's escape route from Villingen to the Rhine River. The places between Villingen and Waldshut where he stopped to rest are circled and the date written next to them. An "X" across the Rhine River from Waldshut marks where he came ashore in Switzerland.
Puryear Family Photograph Albums


After the war, he was assigned to the 9th Aero Squadron based at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California, and from April to May 1919, he served as a pilot with the No. 3 (Far West) Flight of the Victory Loan war bond campaign. The Victory Loan war bond campaign brought together groups of former combat pilots to stage air shows across the country in order to induce people to buy war bonds to help pay for the recently-won war in Europe. It was also referred to as the Victory Loan Flying Circus, a reference to the Allied nickname for Jagdgeschwader 1 (the German fighter squadron commanded by Manfred von Richtofen, a/k/a the infamous Red Baron). The Far West Flight put on air shows throughout California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, and Arizona. The commanding officer of the Far West Flight was Major Carl A. Spaatz, who later commanded U.S. Army Air Forces in the European theater during World War II and became the first chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force.


George W. Puryear, Maks Dembinski, George Higbee, and "Dutch" McCroskey standing next to a Fokker D.VII, serial number 8542, during the Victory Loan war bond campaign, April-May 1919.
Puryear Family Photograph Albums


A curious incident occurred while the Far West Flight was in San Francisco, California. On April 12, 1919, the group put on an air show there and a two-page article about it appeared in the next day's issue of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. The article contained a photograph of Puryear flying a Fokker D.VII in the air show, and it quoted him giving a fantastical account of his escape. The article stated:

"Lieutenant George W. Puryear crashed two Hun planes before, as he says, he 'pulled the second biggest bone of the war,' followed down a German he had crashed and got himself captured. He was so disgusted with himself that, not caring what happened to him, he made a break in broad daylight, jumped the German trenches and the wire, dashed across No Man's Land, and made the American lines in safety."

First of all, official Air Service records only give George Puryear credit for shooting down a single German airplane (and he shares the credit with four other pilots from the 95th Aero Squadron). Second, anyone with any knowledge (especially firsthand knowledge) about conditions on the Western Front would know that his story about leaping trenches and barbed wire and racing across no man's land was complete and utter balderdash. So, why did he tell such an outlandish story about his escape?


April 13, 1919 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper showing George W. Puryear piloting a Fokker D.VII (top right) during the air show on April 12.


There are several possible answers to that question. On the one hand, the reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle could have greatly embellished Puryear's story or even invented it from whole cloth. While that explanation is certainly plausible, it does not seem very probable. It could also be that Puryear embellished his story for his own personal aggrandizement, but that does not seem very probable either. Accounts of his escape had been appearing in U.S. newspapers for months, and the first half of his own autobiographical account of his escape had appeared in that month's issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine (with the second half appearing in the May issue), so the true account of his escape was already known or, at least, easily verifiable. Furthermore, since the other pilots in the Far West Flight were all veterans of the air war on the Western Front, any such blatant attempts at self-aggrandizement by Puryear would probably have not sat very well with them. Instead of being an attempt at self-promotion, Puryear's account of his escape could also be read as a group of veterans having a laugh at the expense of a gullible civilian. One can almost imagine the group of them looking at each other with knowing smiles, embellishing the story to an absurd degree simply to see how much of it would be believed. It could also be that Puryear was simply bored with having to repeat the same story over and over again. Ultimately, however, the true reason why Puryear gave that outlandish story about his escape will never be known for certain.


Crowd watching Lieutenant Colonel William Thaw II sitting in the cockpit of a SPAD S.VII, serial number B9911, at San Francisco, California, on April 12, 1919. Ornamental statues salvaged from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (1915) form the boundary of the roadway. The view is toward the Golden Gate.
Puryear Family Photograph Albums


When the Victory Loan war bond campaign ended, Puryear resumed his duties with the 9th Aero Squadron at Rockwell Field (which was transferred to the U.S. Navy in 1935 and is now part of Naval Air Station, North Island). While on border patrol on October 20, 1919, he flew to El Centro/Calexico, California, the eastern terminus of the patrol route. Source documents list both places as the airfield's location, but the two towns are only a few miles apart. Shortly after taking off around 2 p.m. on his return flight to Rockwell Field, the engine of his DH-4 cut out. He attempted to bank and regain the field but didn't have enough air speed to complete the turn. The plane stalled and struck the ground on its left wing and nose and then rolled onto the right wing. He suffered a broken leg, broken jaw, and skull fracture. He died of his injuries within minutes of the crash.

On October 27, his remains arrived, via train, in Memphis and were taken to the home of his brother, David. An article in the next day's issue of the Tennessean newspaper gave a detailed account of the procession from the train station to David's home. On October 28, George Puryear's remains arrived in Gallatin and funeral services were held in Gallatin Cemetery. Sometime later, the airfield at El Centro/Calexico was named Puryear Field in George Puryear's honor.


George W. Puryear's grave (on the right) in Gallatin Cemetery, Gallatin, Tennessee, ca. October 28, 1919.
Puryear Family Photograph Albums


The Puryear Family Photograph Albums, 1890-1945, on the Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA) provides a fascinating visual record of the early history and aircraft of the Army Air Service, which would become the United States Air Force after World War II. Visit this one-of-a-kind TeVA collection at: http://www.tn.gov/tsla/TeVAsites/Puryear/index.htm.


The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Monday, April 6, 2015

History With a Kick

They have served in war zones across the globe, including the Boer War in Africa at the turn of the 20th Century to World War I in the 1910s. In World War I alone, their losses numbered in the tens of thousands. And wherever they have served, they are regarded as sure footed, sturdy and hard working.

They are Tennessee mules - and they have been highly valued during wartime throughout much of our country's history.

From April 6-April 12, more than 200,000 people are expected to visit Columbia for the Maury County town's annual Mule Day celebration. While much of the focus will be on the important role mules have played in Tennessee agriculture, their wartime contributions are noteworthy as well.

Thanks to their hardiness and adaptability, mules have played a role in American military conflicts for decades. In the Civil War, for example, a mule-drawn wagon train was credited with resupplying Union troops at the Battle of Gettysburg, possibly preventing the troops from suffering a devastating defeat in one of the conflict's key battles.

Columbia's mules were so prized that the British army purchased many of them for the Boer War and World War I.

Mules have played an integral role in the U. S. military. In this August 31, 1918 photo, a mule transports injured soldiers to the hospital, 137th Ambulance Corps. Camp de Galbert, Alsace, Germany.
Frierson-Warfield Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives


As for the stereotype about mules being stubborn, that's open for debate. Some of the animals' defenders say the horse-donkey hybrids just have an innate sense of self-preservation that keeps them from taking undue risks or working past their capacity.

You can learn more about mules, military and civilian, by visiting the "Got Mules?" online exhibit at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The exhibit documents the history of mules in America dating all the way back to Christopher Columbus. It can be found online at http://www.tn.gov/tsla/exhibits/mules/index.htm

"Columbia's Mule Day is one of Tennessee's great cultural events," Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. "Mules have been a big part of our history, serving important roles in agriculture, the military and other tasks. I encourage people who want to learn more about mules and the part they have played in our history to check out the State Library and Archives' online exhibit."

Bettilyn Barnes, the 1949 Mule Day Queen, is shown with the King Mule, Brown’s Sunshine, at the Mule Day Celebration in Columbia, Tennessee.
Department of Conservation Photograph Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives


This photograph was taken on the north side of the Henry County Courthouse in Paris, Tennessee during the annual Mule Day celebration on April 5, 1948.
Looking Back at Tennessee Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives
.

In this staged 1939 photograph, Lucille Keith tugs at a 3-month old, 40-pound midget mule, owned by Lex Watson of Columbia.
Department of Conservation Photograph Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives

Gabriel Broadside, February 23, 1872.
Library Broadside Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives



The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Friday, March 27, 2015

From the Tennessee Supreme Court Case Files: Leisure boats and the Lumber Industry on the Wolf River (1917)

While cataloging the vast collection of Tennessee Supreme Court records, members of our staff frequently come across some interesting finds. One such case is from 1917 and comes out of Shelby County.

In the case of Patton-Tully Transportation Company et al. v. Memphis Power Boat Club, the Patton-Tully Corporation stated that it towed rafts and barges of logs from the Mississippi River and tributary streams to the Anderson Tully Company, Tennessee Hoop Company, Memphis Stave Company, Anchor Saw Mills Company, and the Moore & McFerren firm (all located on the Wolf River in Shelby County). The above-mentioned corporations were all engaged in the lumber manufacturing business and were co-complainants with the Patton-Tully Transportation Company in the lawsuit.

The Memphis Power Boat Club was “a corporation organized for the purposes of affording sport and recreation to its members.” The individual members owned “pleasure boats of various sizes and capacities.” The boat club maintained a boat house on the east bank of the Wolf River, immediately north of Keel Street in the city of Memphis and maintained a collection of pontoons in the river. Members of the club moored their smaller crafts to the pontoons. Patton-Tully claimed that, even though they employed “none but skilled river pilots,” the leisure boats obstructed the waterway and made it difficult for them to navigate the river without running into one of the smaller vessels and damaging them.

The case detailed Section 1814, Shannons Code, that stated “it is made a misdemeanor for any person to obstruct the main channel of any navigable stream or river by building mills, erecting dams, or locks in or across same (unless authorized by law) or by any other means whatever.” This crime was punishable by a “penalty of $250.00, one half to the use of the person who sues for it and the other one half to the use of the State.”

The proceedings also detailed that Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act (as approved on March 3, 1899) made it a crime to obstruct any U.S. waterway without authorization from Congress. The litigation stated that not only did the Memphis Power Boat Club not have approval from Congress to block the river; but also Major M. J. McDonough of the Army Corps of Engineers sent the club a cease and desist letter. The letter, dated September 16, 1916, read as follows:

Gentlemen:

The Tennessee Hoop Company and certain other local interests claim that the mouth of the Wolf River is chocked up with motor boats; that this collection of small crafts very greatly interferes with their right to navigate Wolf River in the prosecution of their industry. I have investigated the locality and find the motor boats are tied up four, five and six deep against the bank, and this collection of boats effectually prevents the industrial use of the stream. It is requested that you will take measures to string out these boats so as not to block the channel. Any damages received from collisions of boats under the present circumstances will fall wholly upon the owners of the small craft who occupy undue portion of the stream contrary to law. I shall be glad if you will use your influence to abate the present condition. Will you kindly reply at your earliest convenience?

The Tennessee Supreme Court materials contain several photographs and a blueprint depicting the obstruction. The blueprint shows the width of the Wolf River and the Hatchie Chute as well as how much of that width is being taken up by the Memphis Power Boat Club. The photographs illustrate how difficult it is for a tow boat pulling a barge with logs to come off the Hatchie Chute and make the turn into the Wolf River without hitting any of the smaller vessels.

Patton-Tully sought a temporary injunction requiring the Memphis Power Boat Club to remove the obstruction they created in the river and to prohibit club members from “tying up or anchoring” pleasure crafts to the pontoon boats. The plaintiffs also requested that the leisure boating group be enjoined from “maintaining pontoons permanently anchored in the channel of the Wolf River,” from maintaining “its pontoons in front of the ferry landing on Keel Street,” and that they pay the $250 penalty as established in Section 1814 of Shannons Code.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that the pleasure boats could continue to use the river, albeit with some restrictions.

Among the vast amount of information available at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), Tennessee Supreme Court records make up by far the largest single collection. The volume of cases is extraordinary, with well over 10,000 boxes of material in storage. Chronologically, the cases encompass the period from about 1809 to approximately 1950. With individual case files that sometimes include hundreds of pages and stretch over several generations, the entire collection takes up most of an entire floor of TSLA's building. For more information about Tennessee Supreme Court Cases at TSLA, please visit: http://tnsos.org/tsla/SupremeCourtCases/.

Photograph from the Tennessee Supreme Court case files, Patton-Tully Transportation Company et al. v. Memphis Power Boat Club. "Taken from the top of bank south of Keel St. looking North West."
Tennessee State Library and Archives
 
Photograph from the Tennessee Supreme Court case files, Patton-Tully Transportation Company et al. v. Memphis Power Boat Club. "Taken from bow of wooden barge west of plant of Patton Tully Transportation Company looking due north."
Tennessee State Library and Archives
 
Photograph from the Tennessee Supreme Court case files, Patton-Tully Transportation Company et al. v. Memphis Power Boat Club. "Taken from the top of bank south of plant of Patton Tully Transportation Company looking North West."
Tennessee State Library and Archives

Photograph of a loaded barge from the Tennessee Supreme Court case files, Patton-Tully Transportation Company et al. v. Memphis Power Boat Club.
Tennessee State Library and Archives



The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.