mcwhorter casey county kentucky timber rights
McWhorter Lives and Times

Yosemite Has Allus Had a Fightin’ History

It ain’t the rip-roarin’ place it uster be but the way the boys has signed up fer the Army shows the old spirit ain’t dead

By Fee Simple

IT'S kinda comfortin' in these times when everything seems turned bottom side uppards to read sech pieces in the paper as that'n about Kentucky havin' the highest per capita voluntary enlistment in the standin' Army. Comfortin', but not surprisin', fer it's allus been thataway.

Ner wuz any of us Casey Countians surprized a few days ago at seein’ in the paper that every eligible male citizen of Yosemite had jined up in Uncle Sam's Army. Yosemite had 123 citizens April 1, but twenty-four boys have marched off to the Army, leaving the town with a population now of ninety-nine.

Which, if it surprises you, it is a sign you don't know Yosemite. Not the real Yosemite. Why, Gramp McWhorter and his brother, Jim, fit through the War Between the States on opposite sides, and wasn't quite ready to quit when Lee surrendered. Jim was the Rebel and Gramp the Unionist, and they used to blaze away at each other with squirrel rifles till their hats looked like sieves, long after the war was over. But that was kinda on account of a railroad, too, and it's another story besides . . .

Yosemite is down in Casey County, on the west bank of Knob Lick Creek, just before it runs into the headwaters of Green River. The river is mostly fishin' holes. The creek is usually dried up, exceptin' right after a hard rain, and Yosemite itself never perks up much. In fact you can drive right through without seeing any civic enterprises much--a couple of stores and fillin' stations.

Click for larger image.

That's about all there is to Yosemite--and don't call it Yosemmitty, like that California place. In Casey County it's Yo-se-might, jest like it rhymes with dynamite, and bear down on the Yo. Not much to Yosemite, outside of a handful of mighty fine people who take life pretty easy, raise some corn and terbacker and vote the straight Republican ticket when they get a chance. Fishin' is tol'ble good, but they ain't no likker stores, and moonshinin' is hard work.

Scrip and likker

But it wasn't allus thataway in Yosemite. Once it was a rip-roarin', hell-raisin' boom town, fer it had five open saloons and a railroad. There was hundreds of wagons always comin' in to Yosemite loaded with logs, sawed lumber, tanbark, whisky barrel staves, and loud-mouthed buckaroos dressed in cowhide boots and corduroy suits. They would be cussin', drinkin', fightin' and gamblin' aplenty jest like they do it in the movies and a bunch of irate women once run a painted lady out of town. People used mostly scrip for money which was sometimes confusin', as they was a heap of Confederate money left over from the war.

I'm talkin' mostly by hearsay from the last remnants of the old-timers, but as I was incidentally borned there I will take you back to 1791. A feller who called himself Col. William Casey and about thirty ragged individuals come over from Virginny and chased off a couple of thousand Injins and never lost but one man and that was only a Methodist preacher. He probably was a pacifist, er maybe a little slow on the draw. Casey settled his mob in the outskirts of what later was to be the city of Yosemite proper.

Acres for paper

The War Between the States caught Casey County with about 600 slaves so some citizens went with Jeff Davis. But mostly everybody took up with Lincoln and become died-in-the-wool Republicans.

Our Grandpappy, Robert, which Granny called Bob Mack when she was belligerent and Yore Gramp when she was in good humor, didn't have any slaves, went North, shot off a finger while chasing a sheep fer a souvenir and got himself took prisoner. He allus claimed he durn near starved to death up there in Libby Prison, fer they was dredful short on corn likker.

Click for larger image.

Anyway he had some hillside land which was full of fine timber of all kinds, and so did his brother Jim. Jim was a Confederate. Jim and Gramp got mixed up with a feller named Eugene Zimmerman from Cincinnati, who was a tycoon of his day. He come down to Casey and looked over all that easy money standing' on them hillsides. He looked at them cowpath roads and that dried up river and decided to build a railroad. There was already one just thirteen miles away--the Queen & Crescent running through Kings Mountain.

The baron Zimmerman spent his money for land at a dollar an acre, and got out stock and bonds for the railroad. Gramp and Jim turned over their land for paper, which later turned out to be not so good. Paw was jest of the courtin' age when the baron brung his pretty daughter down to Casey for to name the town. Paw didn't make much headway, fer the gal's paw was plannin' to buy her a duke. The one he finely got was the Duke of Manchester from England, but being rich he could easy afford such luxuries for his only child.

This gal had been to lots of famous places besides Casey County, so she just took one look at them majestic trees and that beautiful valley where the depot was to be and said it should be called Yosemite, as it was ever bit as scenic, if not more so, than some place out in California.

Them stocks and bonds said the railroad was called the Cincinnati & Green River Railway. It was a high-falutin' name for one engine, six boxcars and a caboose. Gramp said they was about forty men on the construction gang and they got 50 cents a day in scrip. They had a shirt-tail water boy whose entire equipment was a yoke, two buckets and a dirty shirt.

Finely they got the tracks and trestles built, and got a passel of people believin' the trains would always come through endways and not sideways. They made four round trips a day when they stayed on the tracks, or some trestle didn't break down, which was frequent. They left a tree at the end of the switchback, which was a sort of a square arrangement for turning around, but the tree got knocked down and a car run loose into town and killed a mule.

Of course all that industry the railroad brought in went away when the railroad went out. But to give an idea of what it amounted to, we'll mention the Board of Trade's report of 1889:

"We now have immense stave, tie, hoop pole and lumber mills; a tanbark yard, a engine house, pumping station, stores, blacksmith shops, livery stables and hotels and five excellent saloons where one may get good whisky at 50 cents a quart."

Gramp's brother Jim got to making some real money out of the land he had owned and he decided it would be fittin' that he should wear his hat at all times whatsoever. He kept it up, too, until he got married fer the second time. Then he took it off at meals and said grace, too.

Jim Drye allows he kin remember strings of wagons more than a mile long comin' in to Yosemite with their loads, and that they would make camps and play banjos. We kin remember when Jim used to have that string a half a mile long, Jim also tells about a couple of swains who borried the engine of the railroad to go courtin' with.

Bonds comin' due

By about 1892 the timber was gcttin' somewhat thinned out, but they was still plenty of it left according to the people who hated to lose their railroad. What with the haulin' and the courtin' trips the engine was gettin' kinda run down, and the bonds was jest about comin' due. The Wall Street panic of 1893 done away with the notion of running the road on through to Nashville, Tenn. Instead of doin' that, some junkmen from Cincinnati came down and carried off the Cincinnati & Green River Railway. They didn't leave nothin' but the trestles and the bonds. Gramp allus thought the fellows up at Cincinnati were supposed to refinance or amortize or somethin' in place of liquidatin' and eliminatin'. Gramp was peeved about some of the committee goin' out West along about that time and he talked some about making such a trip hisself.

Anyway I came into this confusin' world just about the time they was haulin' the lone ole engine off to the boneyard and many's the crosstie we have seen dug up to poke in a fireplace built especially for that length. A lot of ole brake shoes and such were left layin' around, but the derned junkmen wouldn't buy no "railroad iron," forgettin' that there wasn't no more railroad. The blacksmith would occasionally borrow a bridge bolt to fix something about a wagon, or to make a strong clevis fer a plow.

Nowadays there ain't much trace left of the C. & G.R.R.R. Trucks still take out some timber, but the mills and things are all gone, and every day seems like Sunday. The five saloons are gone, too. Fact is Yosemite hasn't even got a likker store, and how in the heck everybody kin keep so healthy on just plain suIphur water is more than we kin understand.

Published in the Louisville "Courier-Journal" August 25, 1940

Last updated   5/30/2003      Copyright© 2003 by Karen McWhorter Wilhelm