Roaring River and The Frenchman

It is said that this river was named because of the "roaring" noise the water made coming over rocks and boulders while winding it's way into Cumberland River.

Just exactly where is Roaring River? Iíve never really thought about it before, but after doing some research, I realized how very little I do know about that river. One thing I do know is that it is one source of water for the Town of Livingston, but to actually be able to go to where a portion of it runs and point to it and say, "thatís Roaring River," I would have trouble doing that. If I were asked before doing this story to take someone to a place where Roaring River crossed the highway, I would have mistakenly gone just past Keith and Novine Stocktonís home and said, "thatís Roaring River." But that is incorrect. The creek that crosses the road there is known by older citizens of this area as "Matthews Creek." To explain a little about Roaring River, Iím borrowing some information from Callie Melton. Here is a portion of what she had to say:

"The headwaters of Roaring River is made up of two creeks ... a right prong and a left prong. The left prong comes from Town Creek by way Bohannon Springs (now Neil and Brenda Winton property), meandered down by Aunt Beadie Daleís place (now Harris Windle property), or down by Uncle Tum Carrís (in the area of Alvin Huddlestonís home), then by Billy Crawfords (now Tracy McCormick/Hamp McCormick/Jeff McCormick property on West McCormick Road) before it joined the right prong. The right prong rose from two big springs in the Oak Hill area. From there, it meanders down past Okalona, down through Sulphur where it picks up Sulphur Branch, on down past the Walter Qualls place (now John and Betty Alcorn property), then a little farther down, it joins Town Creek. Where the two creeks converge is the head of Roaring River, the exact sport where Roaring River begins."

At one time, the State of Tennessee Department of Transportation put a sign near Keith and Novine Stocktonís home on Matthews Creek that said "Roaring River." Hereís what Callie wrote about that:

"Those of us who care resent the fact that the State of Tennessee had the gall to put up a sign on Matthews Creek at the bridge on Highway 42 near Okalona that reads "Roaring River." Asa Crawford, a grandson of Billy Crawford, lived to be around 100. He lamented the fact to his dying day that people didnít know where Roaring River was because of this misplaced sign. I resent so strongly the fact that the state feels free to come in to the Upper Cumberland area, Overton County in particular, and try to change history. I donít travel Highway 42 too often now, but when I do, I want to stop at the bridge, get out of the car, and throw rocks at the Roaring River sign!"

Roaring River has had some well known names from the past who were connected with the river. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett have both been credited with giving the river that name, and since I donít have any idea which one of these men actually named it, I donít believe Iíll comment any further on that part of this story. Another man whose name probably wonít be quite as familiar as Boone and Crockett, but was one who explored Roaring River in the late 1700s, was a Frenchman by the name of Andre Michaux. Hereís what Iíve learned about him:

Michaux was born virtually in the shadow of the palace of the French kings at Versailles, France, but was a child of sturdy farmers on the kingís estate. His education included learning Latin and Greek, something that helped him throughout his life. Reading the Latin classics created a real desire in this young man to travel to exotic foreign lands. It is said that his schooling ended at age 14 when his father took both Andre and his younger brother from school to instruct them in agriculture. He wanted his sons to become acquainted with the hardships that were an everyday part of farm life in the 18th century.

Andre Michaux learned his fatherís lessons well. He developed a marvelous ability to make plants grow, and in time, he gained a reputation as a grower of difficult plants, something that brought him to the attention of King Louis XVI. But his life took on an entirely different course following the death of his young wife, Cecile Claye. She died within days after giving birth to their only child. Michaux never considered remarriage. Cecile was the love of his life. Losing her after only 11 months of marriage left him devastated. Leaving his young son safely in his familyís care, a despondent Andre Michaux sought new horizons. The kingís physician had observed the young manís extraordinary talent for agriculture and he encouraged Andre Michaux to study botany. Michaux now sought to make himself useful to his country, so he decided to travel to foreign lands with climates similar to that of France, collect their useful plants, and return to naturalize them in his native soil. Eventually, Michaux included his young son in his travels. He became a good friend of Benjamin Franklin, who then served as the American minister in Paris.

Some of his work included establishing a 30 acre garden near Hackensack, New Jersey. On one of his trips, he visited with George Washington at Mount Vernon. In September of 1786, he sailed with his son to Charleston, South Carolina, where he established a larger garden on 111 acres outside the city. Extended journeys exploring the frontier and collecting plants followed quickly after his establishment of the garden Charleston. In all, he ventured into the territory of three-fourths of the states east of the Mississippi. His methods of travel included dugout canoe, birchbark canoe, but most of his thousand of miles of wilderness travel were in the saddle or on foot. Each day he rode or walked a few miles more, stopping to examine any interesting plat he found in his path. He made the most of each journey, searching for new plants along his route. He traveled with a minimum of baggage and secured provisions along the way. On the long journey to the Mississippi River, he rode alone, carrying everything he needed on a single horse. He might find hospitality among settlers, but he was always prepared to sleep under the stars.

Many plants have been named for Andre Michaux. The most spectacular of these is the rare Carolina Lily. In 2003, the North Carolina legislature enacted a law making this the official wildflower of the state of North Carolina. Michaux is also credited with the discovery of Purple Laurel found in the wild of the peaks of some of the highest peaks in the Southern Appalachians. This evergreen shrub is one of the genetic parents of many beautiful rhododendron hybrids. These are only two included the very large number of plants that Michaux discovered.

A website entitled "The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture" says that "in 1802 French adventurer Andre Michaux explored Roaring River and trekked through the county as he moved west across the state." Even though this statement indicates that Michaux explored parts of Roaring River that are in Overton County, the exact location where he spent time remains unknown. Itís too bad we donít have that information, along with the names of plants he may have taken from the Roaring River area.

If we were able to see the places Michaux explored on Roaring River exactly as he saw them when he traveled here, Iím sure we wouldnít be able to tell where we were. The lush forests growing then, along with litter free, unspoiled landscape had to be a beautiful sight to behold. And even though Matthews Creek and Roaring River had not been named when he explored this area, Iíll just bet he would have known the difference in those two bodies of water. And more than likely, had he been around when the misleading sign was put up on old Highway 42, he would gladly have helped Callie Melton throw rocks at it too! And by the way Callie, should you wish to travel old Highway 42 once more, you wonít have to get upset when you cross Matthews Creek now. Thankfully, the false and misleading sign bearing the words "Roaring River" is no longer there.


BACK