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Oral History


William H. Satterfield Worked on the Diving Bell Boat

As told by Charles Satterfield to Anne Dismukes Amerson


The Satterfield family has owned land on the Chestatee River since the early 1800s, and Charles grew up hunting up and down both sides of the river. A large iron pipe sticking up out of the water was a familiar sight to him, and he was one of the few who knew its purpose.

Although his grandfather died before he was born, Charles heard stories from his father (Grover Cleveland Satterfield) about how his father (William H. Satterfield) and his brother worked the sluice boxes on an early dredge boat when they were young men back in the mid-1870s. Charles was aware that some people thought the pipe was a smoke stack from a steam driven dredge boat, but he knew it was an air lock entry tube by which miners descended from the boat deck down into an iron diving bell to work the bed of the river for gold. 

Charles also grew up knowing that the owner of the boat (Philologus H. Loud) had paid his grandfather 10% royalties on gold that men in the diving bell had gleaned from the riverbed below the Boley Fields shoals. Loud had also contracted with W. H. to mine the river running through the Satterfield bottomland above the shoals. However, it had been a dry year, and the boat was tied up waiting for the rains to come and raise the water level high enough to float it over the shoals.

“Dad remembered when the boat broke loose,” Charles explained. “He said that when the waters started rising, the man who was stationed aboard as caretaker fired up the boiler, and that set the horn to blowing. People from miles around could hear it. The caretaker had orders to get the boat over the shoals once the water got high enough, but I guess it was a bigger flood than was expected. The boat broke loose and got washed down-stream a couple of miles.  When Mr. Loud found it, he and his men got it tied off to trees alongside the bank not far above Neisler’s Ford” (now the Highway 60 bridge). 

Note: The October 20, 1876 issue of the Dahlonega Mountain Signal gave an account of “The Sinking of the Loud Boat”: “He (P. H. Loud) returned nearly an hour before sundown and his astonishment may be imagined when he saw the outer gunwale was at least two feet under water, and the boat badly carried.  Her condition would have been almost beyond remedy, as the water is quite deep here, had it not been that she was hugged jam against the bank, and being held by the stout hawsers, she could not sink but a few inches on that side.” 

The Signal went on to report that “No work had  been done on her since last  week  and the only theory  that seems reasonable is, that some wretch, having revenge  in his heart for some fancied  grievance, finding the boat  unprotected and the tools  handy for his hellish work,  opened the hatch and bored  a hole in her bottom.” The article concluded with the statement, “Capt. Early in-forms us that Col. Loud has returned and is hard at work righting her.

A terse statement in the same issue noted that “The Loud boat operation has been abandoned, the products derived from it not being equal to the labor expended”.

The last known published  reference to the fate of the Loud  boat and diving bell appeared  in the November 24, 1876 issue  of the short-lived Dahlonega  Advertiser: “We made mention several weeks ago of the  sinking of Loud’s Boat on the  Chestatee River, together with  the engine and all of the other  machinery on it at that time.  We are now informed by Mr.  Loud, himself, that he has succeeded in raising the machinery, but will be compelled to abandon the boat.”

According to the story passed down in the Satterfield family, Charles Loud (P. H. Loud’s 21-year-old son) bored the bottom of the boat full of holes. Apparently his father was spending more than he was making on the mining operation, but he had bad case of gold fever and wouldn’t give up and go home. That may have been Charlie’s motivation to take matters into his own hands. 

Charles Satterfield notes that the Chestatee River is much shallower today than it was when the Loud boat was working the river bed 1875-1876. He attributes this to a dam break that took place upstream in 1906. Although Gorge Dam was carefully designed to withstand the periodic floods for which the Chestatee is noted, a third of it was washed away by the destructive “Freshet of 1906.”  The dam break deposited so much silt downstream that it reportedly became hard to find places deep enough to be “swimming holes.” The sunken Loud boat with its attached diving bell was likely covered with sand and silt at this time - except for the top of the air lock/entry tube, which continued to be visible until it was pulled out of the Chestatee along with the diving bell in 1981. 



Article was originally published in the Dahlonega Nugget, p. 6A, Sept. 26,2012 and used by permission.
Image courtesy of Charles Satterfield.
Published online Sept. 29, 2012


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