Excerpt from Family Memories of Tim Cox, Bette’s husband.
December 26, 1964, a dozen members of the 1964 Class of Kingstree High School, most home from our first college semester, took a boat trip down Black River for fun, fellowship and adventure.
Charlie Bell, Tommy Bishop, Buford Boyd, Tim Cox, Danny Fry, Paul Jacobs, Billy Jenkinson, James Hugh McCutcheon, Richard Mims, Frank Seignious, Phil Stoll, and Johnny Tanner distributed ourselves among seven small boats of varying sizes, all powered by small outboard motors.
An adult friend, Aubrey Williamson, served as unofficial guide for the first leg of the trip and carried our supplies in his large 16-foot boat.
One of South Carolina’s scenic rivers, Black River is indeed black although clear, not muddy, with a white sand bottom. If you scooped up a glass full, the water would look just like brewed tea.
Tannic acid from cypress trees growing along the river darkens the water, like the tannic acid in tea. Lynches River, Little Pee Dee, Waccamaw, Edisto, and Black River all have black water from cypress trees.
The morning after Christmas dawned sunny and cool. We put in below Kingstree, planning to end the day at Brown’s Landing. Near Kingstree the river was barely twenty feet wide and in narrow spots the water ran swift, but suddenly the river opened out into a beautiful vista.
Except for navigating around the occasional log we had smooth travel for miles. Ducks and deer peered at us from the banks as we put-putted by. There were no snakes or alligators to worry us, being winter time.
Our 4:30 arrival at the Landing left little daylight to set up camp and unpack food supplies. As the sun went down and the temperature with it, we scrounged for kindling and started a camp fire. Aubrey’s ride arrived and he departed for home and his nice, warm bed.
Hot dogs, Vienna sausages, peanuts and junk food made our supper, but our favorites that night were coffee and hot chocolate. It was growing very chilly.
We were all dressed appropriately for the occasion, we thought – heavy coats, hats, gloves, hunting boots and thick socks. Each had a sleeping bag and Charlie Bell and Tommy Bishop even had a tent. We kept the fire going until too tired to tend it, sleeping bags spread in a semicircle around it.
Crawling in fully clothed with hats pulled low and just our noses poking out to breath, we thought sleep would be easy. It wasn’t. We were not prepared for the 24-degree weather that night, plus sleet.
Tree branches kept the worst of the sleet off of us, but Charlie soon got so cold he decided to re-start the fire. The sound of Charlie chopping down trees to feed the fire awakened the rest of us every couple of hours.
At daylight all we wanted was coffee and hot chocolate to thaw us out. Ice had formed in the bottom of some boats and Billy Jenkinson and Frank Seignious’s outboard engine refused to crank. Billy pulled until his arm tired out and Frank crawled to the back to help out.
Unbalanced, their two-man boat tipped one way, then the other, and water poured in on three sides. Bailing out their boat delayed our departure, but finally we got that last engine cranked up.
Aubrey didn’t return that morning – guess he thought it was too cold – so Danny Fry took over solo control of my boat, I moved to Aubrey’s 16-footer, and the smaller boats moved out in front.
Aubrey had warned us that the river was deceptive close to the landing, and he was right. In the daylight the water appeared to run straight ahead but the map showed a 90-degree turn to the right.
Sure enough, some guys missed the turn and ran out of water. They thought for sure they’d have to haul the boats through the woods to find the river again.
Watching from behind, I circled around and slowly ran down the right hand side, checking the current until I found the turn between two large cypress trees. The opening was only 12 to 15 feet wide. We re-grouped and started again.
Down river we stopped at a cabin where some guys came out to chat. “We hate to tell you,” they said, “but there’s some fallen trees blocking the water downriver. Those small boats might make it but you’ll never get that big boat through.”
Well, being teenage boys we decided to go for it anyway. Sure enough, a few miles downstream the river was blocked. Now, some of our dozen had been football players, big strong guys, so they climbed out to clear enough of the brush on one sandy bank to carry the boats around.
The small boats were easy, but Aubrey’s 16-footer was nearly impossible. Wearing his waders, Richard Mims eased out into the water. We all yanked, pushed and pulled to make a gap big enough to manhandle the big boat through. A solid hour of precious daylight was soon gone. “Are we still having fun?”
Things seemed to be going fine again, when we hit a “T” where it looked like the body of Black River ran into some other river. As the boats up ahead turned right, I watched to see which way the water flowed. Yep, that was the wrong way.
Back-tracking was getting old, but nearing Andrews where the water gets wide we thought we could make up for lost time. And we did, until we reached the Andrews Narrows and yet another log jam.
This time there was no way around. Ropes were made fast to one log, then another, the outboards were cranked up, and gradually we pulled the downed trees apart.
Another long hour had passed, but all the boats were through. We were getting short on fun and a little long on adventure…
Out in the wider water there were no trees close enough to serve as windbreaks. The cold was seeping through to our bones, and with daylight getting away we speeded up and stretched out.
My boat had a smaller engine than the others and Danny had trouble keeping up. The rest of us arrived at Brown’s Ferry, piled out and got a bonfire started, but still no Danny.
When Aubrey rejoined us at the Ferry he and another guy took off in his boat upriver, searching. They found Danny still put-putting along, holding up a gas lantern to see where he was going.
Huddled around the bonfire we tried our best to get warm. Buford Boyd pulled off his frozen boots, stretched his feet close to the fire and said, “If I could figure out how to levitate and hold both feet out at one time that sure would be great.”
After a moment he added, “You know, I’m mad at my mama.” We all asked why? He said, “She had better sense than to let me come on something like this!”