Crossing the Flatrock River again



Approaching the Flatrock River valley on the Dublin Pike

(October 1, 2011) I was ten miles into the first of four day rides before I stopped here for photos, where the land starts to drop down into a little valley that holds the Flatrock River. I had stopped here to enjoy the view back on August 27 (Flatrock River Crossing). Unfortunately, even though I understood the geography of the watershed systems a little better this time, it didn’t help me take better photos.

Maybe I should blame it on the local drivers. When I got closer to the bridge I waited a while for a red car to come along to add a spot of contrasting color to the view. Alas, there were no red cars. But I didn’t wait overly long, either, because I had 60-some miles to go yet. And it was almost noon already; I had spent most of the morning figuring out the day’s destinations.

In the pile of historical material in our B&B living room, our host, Deana, had included a copy of a biography of William A. Rifner, the man who in 1845 had built the house now known as the Mulberry Lane Inn. It was taken from one of those county history biographies, in this case the 1884 history of Henry County. It made me decide to visit the gravesite of Mr. Rifner’s parents, near the Ohio border in the general direction of Cincinnati. That cemetery, near the intersection of US-52 and I-74, was the day’s final destination.

The excerpt below is not exactly the part that inspired me to use Mr. Rifner’s family story for some of my destinations over the next four days, but the scene in the photo makes me think about this part of his life, partly because the shape and grassy cover of the land reminds me of scenes much further west in the United States. The grass here is now Zea mays, but in a place like this you can see the shape of the land underneath like you can in so much of the west. And although a road with a name like the Dublin Pike belongs in eastern Indiana, the Flatrock River would be a fitting name out west, too.

Our subject remained at home till twenty-four years of age, and then engaged in selling goods at Whitewater, Ohio, two years. He then went to Jacksonburg, Wayne Co., Ind., and engaged in the mercantile business, and in buying and selling fat stock. He was one of the largest drovers in the country, his droves never numbering less than 1,000 head.

[A YouTube video that was here no longer exists]

A cattle drive! Cue the theme music from Rawhide!

Despite what some of us learned from the television shows and movies of the 1950s, cattle drives didn’t take place only out on the great plains. There had been cattle drives in Illinois and Iowa before transportation improvements made such operations viable on an even grander scale further west. And even before that, there had been cattle drives in Indiana and Ohio.

It would be interesting to know whether Mr. Rifner drove cattle all the way to Cincinnati, or whether he instead took them east the Miami and Erie canal. A look at the map suggests there wouldn’t have been a lot of point to using the canal.   It would save only 20 overland miles which hardly seems like it would pay for the trouble of loading a thousand head of cattle on canal boats.   A more direct route would have been roughly along the route I was taking today.

Later the Whitewater canal was built along this day’s route.   But it didn’t get finished as far north as Jacksonburgh until after Mr. Rifner had got out of the cattle business and gone into farming in Henry County.   Maybe it had something to do with his going into his new line of work.

On the other hand, maybe Cincinnati wasn’t even the destination, and maybe it was the railroads rather than the canals that made long-distance cattle driving obsolete.   Maybe canal boats were too slow and cattle too much in need of feed along the way.   Allan Bogue (“From Prairie to Corn Belt” 1963) refers to a cattle driver in 1845 who took a herd all the way from Iowa to Philadelphia.   There are also other references to Philadelphia being a major destination in the early days of cattle driving in the Old Northwest.   It would be nice to know if Philadelphia was Mr. Rifner’s destination, too.
Cattle Drive movie postersI suppose it would also be interesting to know if Mr. Rifner was also armed and dangerous like the men and women in the cattle movies that were advertised in the above posters.    (I like that line about Ronald Reagan:  “dangerous friend…deadly foe!”)   There may have been a grain of truth to that portrayal in the movies.    Wikipedia tells us that even back in the 18th century, when cattle droves were the means by which large herds were taken to market in Great Britain, that cattle drivers were exempt from the gun control legislation of 1716 and 1748 that disarmed the population following the Jacobite uprisings.

Dublin Pike bridge over the Flatrock RiverBut Mr. Rifner’s biography makes no mention of guns.   The only weapon it refers to is a sword.   More on that another time.

The Rawhide theme song says “my true love will be waitin’ at the end of my ride.”   Toward the end of his cattle-driving days Mr. Rifner married a woman who came from a family that lived southwest of Richmond.   The Rifners are both buried, not near their home in Henry County, but back where his wife’s family lived.   That site was going to become another ride destination a few days later.

YTD mileage: 63.0

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