Tri-City Ledger -

By Kevin McKinley
Guest Writer 

The life & times of Peter D. Enfinger


July 26, 2018

Peter David Enfinger (center)

Following the Civil War Southerners witnessed monumental changes throughout the region. The Reconstruction governments put in place by the North laid a heavy burden on the poor farmers and settlers and times were hard. Among the people who witnessed these events was Peter David Enfinger.

Enfinger was born in Freeport, Florida on March 18, 1855. He was one of several children born to James Monroe Enfinger and his wife Melitha. Peter was interviewed by the Pensacola News Journal in August 1954 as he neared his 100th birthday. He recounted the history of a nation in transition after the war.

Enfinger told of West Florida's plight after the war. It was the story of a poverty-stricken area. Like so many of his neighbors, he worked hard to lift his family from poverty. After his father died in 1876 he moved to Troy, Alabama where he share-cropped to support his widowed mother. He was able to save enough to stake out a homestead at Chumuckla the following year. Enfinger married during this time but lost his wife to one of the various aliments (possibly yellow fever) that permeated the region during those years.

In an age without welfare or government programs the common man could pull himself up only by his hard labor. Enfinger needed money for the Chumuckla homestead so he traveled across the barren pine forests and back roads of the region to the booming river community of Tensaw, Alabama where he began a career running logs.

Running logs was slang for attaching logs into rafts and floating them downriver to the numerous saw mills that dotted the riverbanks. This was dangerous work in that many workers drowned after slipping between the logs.

"I needed money so I went to Tensaw where I made $5 per raft and I got three raft lots per day," Enfinger said.

Enfinger recalled the optimism present at Tensaw during the 1890s. "The post office was Tensaw, the community was called Pine Log, and the boat landing was Montgomery Hill. You can take your choice of names (to call the area)," Enfinger said.

During this pre-automobile era riverboats carried cotton, mail, freight, and passengers from Mobile to points north. Enfinger gave the following account of life on the river boats,

"It was a six hour trip to Mobile and the riverboats had a dining room on the upper deck. It really was nice with big chandeliers, snow white table cloths, and big windows where you could look out and see the houses and people along the banks of the river. At Mardi Gras all the river people dressed out in their Sunday best and went to Mobile, sometimes for three days."

Even though riverboats were used as a common means of transportation, riverboat travel was anything but safe. Low tides could easily snag a vessel, flammable cotton and other cargo could be lit by the flick of a cigarette or by lightening. More common was boiler explosions from faulty pop-off valves. Mud was sometimes sucked in with river water which was used to make the steam. This caused hot spots in the boilers which made the boilers a disaster looking for a place to happen. Boiler explosions were a constant problem in the industry.

Riverboat captains were bold and daring men who were often reckless with their crafts. The ships would race down river and settlers would cheer for their favorite boats much like football fans cheer for a certain team.

Enfinger recalled the boat races, "The two boats were the "Nettie Quill" and the "Tensie Moore", they were old time rivals. I always stuck up for the "Tensie" but the "Nettie" was fastest."

Enfinger's stay at Tensaw lasted 14 months. During this time he was able to raise the money to make his homestead farm in Northwest Florida a reality. His recollections of living on the Alabama River in the 1890s give a glimpse back in time to an era where the horrible memories of a great war was outshone by the optimism and determination of a great people.

The book Shadows and Dust III: Legacies is now available for purchase. The hidden history of our area is documented through ten years of All Things Southern articles. Learn about the Canoe Highlands Colony, the ghost town of Falco, Alabama as well the forgotten history of the last great act in the drama that was the War Between the States as Union troops marched through the area. Shadows and Dust III is available online at Lulu or by sending $35 (this includes shipping-the book cost without shipping is $30) to Kevin McKinley at PO Box 579 Atmore, AL 36054. Also available: Shadows and Dust I and II and Canoe: History of A Southern Town Shadows and Dust I and II and the Canoe book are available for $20 each


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