The Nottoway River — The Eighth Wonder

Published 10:00 am Friday, July 2, 2021

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Editor’s note: This article was submitted by Lon “Skinny” Marks daughters’, Sandra Marks Councill, Carolyn Marks Bickham, Ellen Marks Butler and Diana Marks McKinnie. 

“Daddy grew up in Pope, Virginia and lived his entire life within 2 miles of there. He truly enjoyed his farm life and the benefits of what the area offered him. Fishing and hunting were his greatest pleasures. In fact, we think he thought God created the Nottoway River for him. We called it Daddy’s river.

“Daddy was always writing about the wildlife and the river he enjoyed. When moving his and mama’s belongings out of the home where he lived and raised a family for 60 years, we found many of his writings on religion, farming, hunting and fishing. This particular essay is so very indicative of how he felt about the river and his friendships. What a wonderful life he and mama offered us girls”

By: Lon “Skinny” Marks, date written unknown.

As far back as I can remember the Nottoway River and its families have been as much a part of my life as ice cream and apple pie. One of God’s most glorious and precious gifts to me has been the Nottoway River and the solace and enjoyment I have found along its banks.

I hear of people going all over the world in search of God’s wonders and beauty, game fish and wildlife trophies. With a little imagination and a lot of truth, I have been able to live it all along the Nottoway.

The best of my remembrances of the Nottoway becoming such an enjoyable part of my life was when as a boy we used to do down to Vick’s Beach every Sunday to swim. Mr. Dashland Barham owned one of the few farm trucks around and every Sunday after church during the summer, he would come through Pope and pick up families and off to Vick’s Beach we would go.

From Peterson’s bridge to the big highway bridge at Courtland, I have walked about every foot of land and fished in about every hole along the way. The several streams that feed the Nottoway to Mill Neck Swamp, the three creeks, the live farm (could not read this word) swamp. Lassiter’s Pond¸ Kello’s creek, Whiteheads Creek and the Assomosick branch all afforded some secret hole around the mouth to fish in.

The Nottoway very seldom would fill up your fish cooler, but most often always afforded enough for a family meal which is always more satisfying for them than to be able to catch them in abundance.

From the time my parents would let me wander off by myself until this day, I spend most of my leisure time along the river. And the older I get the more of its beauty and peacefulness I find along its banks. The real beauty to me now is not just killing the game or catching fish, but just watching it and knowing it is there.

As a young fellow I always liked to coon hunt and Jack Vick and Richard Kello did our share. As boys we were often mischievous with all our pranks. One night we three boys were hunting and the dog treed a coon up a tall cypress tree, about 50 feet high. We decided to cut it down and about time it was ready to fall, we thought it would be a good idea if Richard would go up and shake the coon out. After a little persuasion he decided to go up, when he got almost to the coon, we gave the tree a few new licks and down came tree, Richard and coon. Not until it began to fall did I begin to realize the danger whether old Blue the dog was going to shake the coon or Richard or maybe him getting hurt during the fall, but luckily nothing happened. It was during one of these coon hunts, that the most beautiful version of the song My Blue Heaven was sung. Jack and I were trying to catch an old coon that was eating an acre of corn of Richard Kello’s that he was trying to grow to earn a gold medal as a 4-H club project. We had been hunting him for several nights without any luck, so this particular night we were going to wait until midnight and go after him. Richard had an old man named Plymouth Jarrett that lived near this acre of corn, so during our wait to go coon hunting, we laid on Plymouth’s front porch and from within his shack, he began to sing his songs. And never will I forget his beautiful version of My Blue Heaven.

The Kello home is one of the oldest that I know of along the Nottoway, and as a young man I would go by this home and I would talk for hours with Miss Mattie Kello who was up in her seventies or eighties. Most always she would proceed to tell me some of the stories and legends of the Nottoway. How the different spots along the river got their names: Rock Dam, Devil’s Elbow, the tobacco’s grounds, Pulley’s bend and many more.

As most fishermen and hunters we were always trying to catch a trophy fish or game, and the Nottoway always had them there for me. I wished for the big buck. I tried for several years to take two toes the old raccoon that always seemed to get away, the old gobbler that would always fly out into the middle of the field and Paul and I have never been able  to call to us yet; the Joe Nailer, as my old fishing buddy Mr. Fletcher Creighton would refer to  when we would float him down by the same old log where a big fish lived each time we went by. Well two toes I supposed died with old age, the old gobbler will be there next year when I go, old Joe Nailer will take my hook and bite the next time I go by.

Another of the great pleasures I had on the river was when my lovely wife and four daughters and two or three of our neighbors and their familes would do down and spend Labor Day weekends on an island in the river and sing around the camp fire.

As you read this you can understand why I hate to see the Nottoway dammed or tampered with in any way. Selfish reason I guess, and I would like to think someday that maybe a grandson of mine and one of yours, will able to launch a fishing boat and maybe old two toes, and just maybe old Joe Nailer will take their line and sinker. I am sure if I ever said a sincere prayer it was when I was on the Nottoway.

Only recently a family friend and I put on the river to drift down from the Sussex line to Courtland. Other than observing the beauty of the river, we decided to count the different species of wild game along the way. We saw a rabbit, squirrel, ground hog, two raccoons, beaver, five deer, two wild turkeys, a pair of quail, two ducks and three snakes.