A Dance on a Raft
Old Time Tales of Warren County


A Dance on a Raft

There was many an impromptu dance on the rafts which rode the Allegheny between the years when the vast virgin forests of Warren County began to fall and when they ceased to be. Fiddlers were often taken along to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville for the entertainment of the crew. A fairly good fiddler could usually get a job as one of the crew. He was expected, of course to fill in odd hours playing. The pilot liked to have a fiddler along, it helped him keep his men on the raft when they were tied up at night, a thing it was desirable to do if there was a tavern or perhaps a brewery handy. Amateur buck and wing dancers were plentiful and there were "shufflers" among the old timers who knew their stuff.

As the long noiseless rafts moved down the river the sound of a violin might often be heard, perhaps a solitary player, playing for his own amusement between turns at the oars. Among the pilots were at least a dozen men, whose fame with the bow was almost equal to their reputation as pilots. Some of these men made it a point to carry their fiddles with them on trips down the river, one pilot declaring he knew of nothing in the world, which would do so much to keep his men out of mischief while the raft was tied up, as good lively music.

o But there was one square dance on a raft that made river history in Warren County. It was in June of the year 1881, with a fair June rise rolling down the river, when Warren witnessed a regulation square dance on a lumber raft with two full sets stepping to the music of the fiddles as the floating island of pine planks passed by the town.

Hook Marsh, a jobber for Wheeler & Scudder at Onoville, arranged the rafting trip of the dancers. John Tome was the pilot in charge. The orchestra consisted of three pieces, Hugh Sutherland and Sid Bullock each with his fiddle and Jesse Martin with his dulcimer. The crowd came aboard at Onoville and a picnic dinner was eaten, as the raft came floating down the river toward Warren. The affair was planned, partly as a picnic, and to give the town of Warren a fine show. As the raft reached Glade the fiddles were tuned up and two full sets of dancers formed amidships. And to the lively tunes of "Fisher's Hornpipe," "Speed the Plough," "Miss McCloud's Reel," and other prime favorites of the day the dance went forward, with Sutherland calling off the figures.

Word had come down the river ahead of the raft, that a full fledged dance would be in progress as it passed Warren, and a large crowd stood on the bridge and river bank to see the spectacle. As raft and dancers hove in sight the shouting of the spectators all but drowned out the squeak of the fiddles and whang of Martin's lively dulcimer. It was in broad daylight, early in the afternoon when John Tome piloted his famous raft-dance by Warren, answering with many waves of his hand the salutes of his friends ashore. The smooth surface of the clean, pine planks made a fine dance floor, nobody minded skipping over a lash-plank occasionally. There were no mishaps. Men and women dancers disembarked safely at Clark's Eddy, below Warren.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 129-130: Old Time Tales of Warren County; Meadville, Pa.: Press of Tribune Pub. Co., 1932


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