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Rivermen of the Cumberland Chapter I

By Chris Bennett

Chapter I: "Why would anyone want to take a River Trip"?
In the early spring of 2007 I logged on to and ordered two items. These two things, a total of thirty-three dollars and sixteen cents, would forever change my life.

The first was a DVD copy of a PBS documentary by filmmaker Ken Burns, "Lewis & Clark - The Journey of the Corps of Discovery" (1997). Everyone should watch this film!

Columbia's resident adventurer, electrician, and author Chris Bennett's series is now available in the softcover book, "Rivermen of the Cumberland."

It can be purchased from or ordered through your local bookseller with ISBN 978-0-557-05263-9.

For fastest home delivery, order online today at, where it is available both in softcover book form or formatted as a PDF for instant downloading to your computer or portable book reader.

The second item was a paperback copy of "The Journals of Lewis & Clark". It is the personal written accounts of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's 1804-1806 expedition. President Thomas Jefferson had commissioned the duo's journey "up the river Missouri, to the western ocean" in 1803.

As I examined their journals, and watched the film repeatedly, I became obsessed with going on my very own expedition. I wanted to seek out new life, and new civilizations, I wanted to boldly go where no electrician, or used guitar salesman had gone before, . . . .but . . . in our time there are really no "unexplored rivers" or "undiscovered countries" available. Deep space travel also seems to be out of my grasp.

I could take trips of discovery

I guess I can never go on a trip like Lewis & Clark, but I can take trips of personal discovery and exploration.So the next question I asked myself was, "What should I explore"? When I was a child my mother would read books to me every night, before going to bed. My favorites books were either about how Daniel Boone explored and settled the land we now called Kentucky, or books written by Mark Twain that involved the Mississippi River.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and "Life on the Mississippi" are books that are designed to inspire young boys to take river trips. Another thing I like about Mark Twain's writing, it is written like "folks talk". Personally I call this dialect Fairplay English, "cause that is where I learned it growing up".

I didn't have to ponder very long for a Cumberland River trip to make the top of my list of things to explore. I guess the short answer to "Why would anyone want to take a River Trip" is"Because it is there".

I was about 22 years old the first time I went "trout fishing" on a boat, on the Cumberland River. I guess I must give credit to the man who introduced me to the river.

Mike Harris, the man who introduced me to the river

That man would be Mike Harris "Attorney at Law". Mike was nice enough to take me fishing, and teach me his special "trout fishing" techniques. After one fishing trip to the Cumberland, "I was hooked"!

In March of 2000 I bought myself a new 17' aluminum Bass Tracker boat with a 40 hp Mercury engine, it is the perfect Cumberland River vessel. The Cumberland is extremely shallow in some places. It is important to have a boat small enough to navigate obstacles, and shallows in the river, but if you buy one too small you loose stability.

At this point I need to add that I easily mastered Mike's trout fishing techniques and developed my own. Now it's pretty much common knowledge around the river that for every trout Mike catches, I easily catch 50-100, and mine are all bigger. Thanks Mike!

Since the first time I went fishing with Mike, I have "lived" on the river. Hunting ducks, and geese with great success, mixed in with years of fishing for trout. I have gained "quite a bit" of river experience in the areas of Wolf Creek Dam and Creelsboro. I have traveled the 19-mile stretch of the river between Burkesville and Winfrey's Ferry many times, but I had never traveled more than 6 miles below the boat ramp located in the center of downtown Burkesville. Beyond that was the unknown!

The river is 678 miles from headwaters to the Ohio

From the "headwaters" of the Cumberland River near Harlan KY, to the confluence with the Ohio River at Smithland KY. The river flows 678 miles crooking, and winding through southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee. There are five man made lakes that were built starting in 1942 to control flooding, and generate electricity. Recreation on these lakes has become a major boost to the local economies of the areas.

Lake Cumberland is the first and the deepest lake east of the Mississippi and the largest of the Cumberland River system. Often it is referred to as the largest lake east of the Mississippi, this is by volume, Kentucky Lake has more surface area.

The second lake is Cordell Hull, named for a Tennessee politician. He was best known for being Secretary of State for 11 years under FDR, and played a major roll in the creation of the TVA.

The third lake is Old Hickory, named for President Andrew Jackson. Old Hickory is located just a few miles from "The Hermitage" Jackson's plantation. Old Hickory dam is located 25 miles above Nashville Tennessee.

Next there is Cheatham Lake, near Ashland City it is the smallest.

The last lake on the Cumberland, and the longest at 134 miles is Barkley, named for Alben W Barkley, a native Kentuckian who was elected Vice President under Harry S Truman.

After leaving Barkley Dam the Cumberland flows 38 more miles to Smithland KY where it empties into the Ohio River, approximately 460 miles from my starting point of Wolf Creek Dam. As I pondered the trip,I knew the logistics would be crucial, I would really need to do my homework to plan a safe and detailed exploration of the Cumberland.

Next, Chapter II. "Planning" Planning the trip, and finding some one that would go with me.

INDEX to Rivermen of the Cumberland By Chris Bennett
The story is being carried in 9 mini-chapters. They will go online as they are written. Just click on each chapter title, underlined and linked, as it is posted, to read it.
Chapter I. "Why would any one take a river trip" tells my history on the river, and what inspired me to go on my trip.
Chapter II. "Planning" Planning the trip, and finding some one that would go with me.
Chapter III. "Day one" Creelsboro to Burkesville, 25 miles traveled in 5 hours
ChapterIV. "Day Two" Burkesville to Cordell Hull 89 miles traveled in 11 hours
Chapter V."Daythree, Cordell Hull to Old Hickory Dam
Chapter VI. "Day three, Old Hickory Dam to Nashville"
Chapter VII. "Day Four "Nashville to Lake Barkley"
Chapter VIII. "Day Five, Mississippi here we come"
Chapter IX. "Old Tennessee River, take us to Pattis 1880's settlement"/b>

This story was posted on 2008-08-24 15:48:01
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