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Elias Jones.

A trip up the Pocomoke, through the wooded wilds of the Eastern Shore online

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A TRIF UP THE POCOMOKE



JUGK riJS WOODfcL WILD, OF HiE U.A3TERM SHORE



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A TRIP UP THE POGOMOKE

THROUGH THE WOODED WILDS

OF THE EASTERN SHORE.



The Black Water One of the Most Plo-
turesqac of Navigable Streams,
Though ^eglected by Map Makers-
Through the Old and the New South.

r.Tn.ps of Maryland show the mere thread
ci a river which rises in the southern part
of '< iM.jawt»re to become the boundary
between several Eastern Shore counties
and finally between Somerset in Mary-
land and Accomac in Virginia. So small
is the stream that on many maps it is not
even named, and no map remotely hints
its tru«^ character. This treatment of
the Pocomoke River at the hands of the
cartographers would lend one to suspect
that it. had no commerce, and only those
who have sniled its waters know it for
•what it really is— one of the most pic-
turesque of navigable streams.

The Indians called the stream Poco-
moke, meaning "black water," and 6uch
for most of its course it is, for it runs
through dense swamps, is fed by tribu-
taries from a like country and bears sea-
ward a dye from the soil black with the
deposit of ages. For miles it snakes its
narrow way through the forest, deep,
swift, in shadow inky black, in sunshine
almost the color of strong coffee.

From the wide mouth where it enters
Pocomoke Sound, an arm of the Chesa-
peake, to the head of steamboat naviga-
tion at Snow Hill, the county seat of
Worcester county, Md., the distance la
about thirty-fire miles in direct line-
but by river nearly fifty miles. From
Snow Hill to its source in the swampy
lowlands of Sussex county, Delaware, is
another twenty -five or thirty miles.

The Pooomoke, perhaps 400 yards
wide immediately above its entrance to
the sound, gradually narrows, sweeping
the while in long, easy double curves
through alternate marsh and upland,
until the cypress swamps close in and
leave it scarcely breathing space. Thence
upward to the head of navigation the
river is most of the time lost in a wilderness
apparently as remote as the wildest of
Adirondack streams or the forest choked
rivers of Florida.



The voyager finds himself with the sun
/low on this side, now on the other, with
his prow now pointing north, now south,
and as he looks across the marshy mead-
ows in the lower course of the stream he
sees almost within a stone's throw the
wharf that he loft half an houf before.
Cattle stare in amaze from marshy pas-
tures, and white flocks of domestic geese
rock above their mirrored selves in safe
bays as the vessel wheezes past.

Those who love the Pocomoke are of
divided mind as to the season at which the
river is loveliest;. It is entrancing when
mid- April or early May has wrought the
marshes to an unspeakably vivid green,
fathered the deciduous trees with tender
new Jeaves and set the native shrubs
abloom. Then the Carolina wren, the
field lark, the familiar robin and catbird
and the glorious mocking bird sing in
woodland and meadow, while belated
wild fowl rise at the approach of the
vovager to speed away on whistling
piniond over the lowlands.

All day long the sun is warm and at
night the air is deliciously mild. But
those who have seen the Pocomoke when
its banks are clad in the hues of autumn
hesitate to recommend the spring voyage
to the novice.

By the middle of October the cypress
trees, which are the chief ornament of
the Pocomoke, are wrought to the richest
of warm browns, the swamp maples are
aflame as they seldom show in the North,
and the oaks are dyed the duskiest red.
The calm reaches 01 the river are then as
long mirrors reflecting the lavish glory
of the foliage, and miles of marsh are
clad in amber as of garnered sunshine.
Even up to the middle of November rich
colors linger, and warm days of windless
delight are frequent.

Those whom duty calls two or three
times a week to navigate the stream in
midwinter say that its rarest aspect
comes after a sleet storm or a January
fog followed by freezing weather. Then
the miles of forest along the banks are !
mail clad, and beneath the wintry sun !
the trees glitter in amber and gold and all i
the colors of the rainbow.

In the ordinary course of steamboat'
navigation one makes the whole voyage
both up and down the Pocomoke by day-
Hght, upward in the afternoon, downward !
from early morning to about noon, but
iho upward voyage is often belated so
that the last two hours come after night-
fall. The sunset aspects of the stream
are of the rarest beauty, and if there is
a large moon the scene is enchanting.
Twilight in the narrows of the Pocomoke
comes with a charm that it would be hard
to match in any other voyaee.

So narrow is the stream that the steam-
boat is followed by a bore of turbid foam
8tretohing from bank to bank. As the
bore approaches the banks on either
hand are first bared of water and then
flooded as the bore goes tearing in a mad
and noisy swirl through the low swampy



woodland or boils around jutting: cape's
in the heart of shallow hays. When the
bore approaches the little tributary
streams they suddenly begin to flow
*s headlong torrents into the momen-
tarily lowered river, and an instant
later are themselves brimmed bv the
artificial wave in the vessel's "wake.
Native fishermen who traverse the stream
in ridiculously long, narrow bateaux bear-
ing at the prow huge and nearly circular
nets at the end of long poles, land at the
approach of the bore and hold hard by
tree or shrub, but even then the boats are
sometimes swamped.

The five or six hours vovage up the
Pocomoke is a long succession of odd and
interesting sights, the more delightful
by contrast with the brilliant scene*
in the sound, the bay and the ouaint
little Virginia harbors traversed during
the long morning since earliest dawn.
One encounters few sailing craft except
in the lower course of the stream, since
the crookedness and narrowness of its
course make navigation difficult for ves-
sels without artificial power.

Schooners of fifty or sixty tons do
ascend to Pocomoke City, and oven to
Snow Hill. Now and then the steamer
encounters such a craft with hor nose
against the bank, her bowsprit among
the trees, and her stern swept by the
foliage on the other side, trapped in the
vain effort to round some sharp curve;
and a vessel may remain thus until a
change of -wind or the aid of a steam craft
enables her to back off and proceed. A
schooner's voyage up the Pocomoke
sometimes occupies the better part of a
week.

The true Pocomoke bateau seems made
©specially for this stream, and is perhaps
the narrowest boat in proportion to its
length commercially employed on any
waters of this continent. It is really an
extreme development from the canoe,
and its nearest cousin is the racing shell.
True canoes are also seen on the Poco-
moke, neat little craft cut from the trunk
of a single tree, sitting beautifully serene
an «?«;) keel and adzed to an admirable
g-:bu6g& within and without.

The rope ferry is another quaint insti-
tution of the Pocomoke. A sudden break
in the woodland wall discovers a delight-
fully sylvan road of moist sand terminat-
ing at the water's edge. Here, standing
patiently until the steamer shall have
passed, is a cart drawn by a mule or a
single bullock. When the steamer is well
out of the way the broad, scowlike ferry
boat is pulled laboriously across the stream,
bearing cart and beast across.

Giant pines and cypresses, the latter
with the characteristic swollen boles and
their huddled families of smooth, pointed



knees, bright green hollies gay with red
fruit and many varieties of oak, some
decorated with gray green tufts of mistle-
toe, are part of the woodland panorama.
Now and then, even late in the autumn, the
mocking bird breaks into song. He never
becomes commonplace, even to the native,
and his music sets men to talking who
have known the bird from boyhood.

Sometimes a crane will accompany
the steamboat for hundreds of yards,
gliding on swift, noiseless wings be-
tween the vessel and the shore, lighting
until overtaken, and then rising to parallel
again the cours9 of the voyage. Every-
where is the turkey buzzard, wheeliu*
in majestic flight far overhead, floating
down the wind on moveless pinions,
sweeping low across the vessel's courso
and sunning himself with wings spread
wide against a sandbank. In flight the
buzzard is one of the most beautiful of
feathered creatures, but seen near at
hand and moving afoot about the rear
premises of farm or village, he is repul-
sive in his ugliness.

At intervals the nest of a fish hawk
appears, usually on a dead tree, which
sometimes grows on an island. The
steamer passas near several such moated
castles, and the passengers see the parent
birds in the act of alighting upon the
nest with prey in their talons and the
eager fledglings open mouthed in antici-
pation of a feast.

The bare, gaunt ugliness of many farm-
steads ashore is distressing. Perhaps
a bit of stubborn upland has been wrested
from the wilderness, and here upon the
eandy soil struggles a sickly crop of
Indian corn or garden vegetables.

The dwelling may be a tall, narrow
thing of thin, knotty boards without paint
or whitewash. Broods of ague smitten
children burst from the door to stare
through tangled locks at the vessel. At
the wharves slatternly girls in unseason-
able straw hats or suhbonnets and groups
of idle men in patched overalls look curi-
ously up at the passengers.

The river wharves contribute a few
local passengers to the voyage. A pale
young^mother with four children near
together in age excited the wonder and
interest of a recent voyager. She could
hardly have been past her middle twen-
ties, and she still bore marks of a faded
childish beauty along with the facial
lines of a woman twice her age.

Her lips were pale, but her faded gown
and frowsy hat had once striven to
be fashionable. The children happily
seemed in better case. All left the boat
at a lonely wharf a few miles above their
place of embarkation to find shelter in
one of the paintless, homesick houses of
the wilderness ashore.

Of a different type was the strapping
young man who came aboard in care of
three or four mules at a wharf far up the
ri'ter. He looked under 30. was nearly
feot tall and finely proportioned, and
carried himself with unconscious native
ease and grace.

His dense brown mustache was clipped
rather short and slightly curled at the
ends, and his whole face was bronzed
to a uniform, wholesome outdoor tint.



rtis strong, well moulded jaw was smooth
shaven, but its blue-black hue told of a
beard that unrazored would soon have
clothed him far down the breast. He
talked easilv with both men and women,
and was plainlv an acclimated native,
vigorous in body and will, one hkelv to
grow into local importance and adding
sandy acie to sandy acre at length, with
multiplying interests and activities, 1
become a magnate.

Sometimes a farmstead showed evi-
dences of thrift and prosperity, and if
the dwelling was old it, usually had charm
of line and proportion. Most impressive
of all the dwellings along the Pocomoke
is Beverly, the homestead of the Denises.
They obtained- a vast tract of land along
the river before the middle of the seven-
teenth centurv and were rich in slaves and
timber. Beverly itself is a huge rectangular
brick pile painted j'ellow and standing
amid a deliciously green lawn that slopes
to the river. Landward the front looks
down a Ions avenue of century old cedars
to the public road. .

The house was begun in the middle of
the Revolutionary war and finished about
the close of the struggle. All its timbers
were adzed, in the barn, under condi-
tions to insure their soundness for gene ra-
tions. The beautiful wrought iron door-
way visible from the river, was imported
from England and kept for years under
cover until a mechanic was found with
skill to put it in place.

Hard by the house is the family burying
eround. Here lies a former master of
Beverly with his four wives beside him,
one the ward whom he vainly sought to
induce his son to marry, and finally mar-
ried himself in order to keep her and her
fortune in the family. There is still a
family gathering in the great house at
Christmas, when hollv from the neigh-
boring forest adorns the walls and huge
logs blaze on the wide hearths.

Nothing is more characteristic or the
Pocomoke than its Sudden transitions
from dense wilderness to the activities of
civilization. Soon after Beverly fades
from view the vessel begins to wind
through the cypress swamp with un-
broken woodland on either hand and
an aspect as of the remote wilderness.
Then suddenly appears a railway draw,
and an instant later the vessel blows
for the wharf of a populous town.

This is Pocomoke City, a genuine bit
of the New South with the varied ac-
tivities of 3,500 enterprising inhabitants,
commonplace with its array of neat little
wooden houses facing rectangular streets
on a dead level, but sufficiently pictur-
esque as seen from the deck of the stea mer,
because of the shipping which by some
miracle of patient navigation has come
thus far up stream. .

Civilization fades out again with the
last glimpse of Pocomoke City and for
miles on either side the forest hems the
river Now the stream is sown with
lovely islets each bearing its group of
cypresses or its single tree; and now a
sluggish tributary comes m, revealing
for an instant tne imsuspected depths
of swamp or woodland. The ylstas back-
ward and forward are rich in the mirrored
Toveliness of sky and forest and long
reaches of the river burn with the ripened
tints of oak. hickory, tuhp, poplar and
swamn manl*



Now and again a fishing hut lone amid
the woodland hints the neighborhood of
human habitations. One such hut on
the right bank is really a group of low
buildings partly constructed of old un-
seaworthy scows safely bottomed upon
a long sandspit, the sentinel of a spark-
ling little bay. Tiny windows peep out
at irregular and unexpected places,
fishing boats rock at anchor within a
step of the quaint doorway, and timid
children shyly look from doors and win-
dows at the passing steamer, while the
family dog with damp feet barks angrily
at the disturber uf domestic peace.

Three minutes later Snow Hill appears
as if suddenly called into being by magic
out of the wilderness. Here is a busy
little town with broad shaded streets
and quaint old homesteads, humming
sawmills and tall masted schooners ar-
rived at their destination after no one
knowB what wearisome adventures in
the narrow, tortuous stream. A giant em-
browned cypress, its head in a pioturesque
flurry, sentinels the wharf, and a church
spire in the distance defiantly testifies
of civilization across the clustering tree-
tops of the nigh wilderness.

Just aorosfr the stream from the build-
ings of the town is the forest with its
myriad of brds, and when dusk settles
upon the seme the visitor looking out
upon that aspect of his surroundings can
scarce convince himqelf that his adven-
turous voyage has tfeatly brou ght him
to a populous haven.

. Su- —

Orvtlle Wrtght's Schoolboy Essay.

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

"I wr in hi?h school at Dayton at the

same time as Crvilte Wright, now famed as

inventor of , he aeroplane," remarked

Ernest F. Cruiimel. "We were not in the

I same class, bu I remember one essay that

! Wright prepaid for one of the literary

programmes, kt was about airships, and

Wright read fJom his paper that the time

would come wlen m*n would navigate the

"'•'He read on so enthusiastically that the
other students V\\ laughed good naturedb
at him for writ ng nlong such J° h °' 1 ?. h n h '; e *:
Thev all told him a man would be era/; , to
try to ride an airship. But ns everybody
knows to-day. Wright's youthful enthusiasm
has carried him along to success and fame
in just that very direction. .



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Online LibraryElias JonesA trip up the Pocomoke, through the wooded wilds of the Eastern Shore → online text (page 1 of 1)