Life along the Chemung Canal led to some colorful characters and interesting stories. Sometimes it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. There are a number of stories about the Chemung Canal, although they may not all be true.
The Story of Katey Driscole
Terrance Driscole and his beautiful wife, Katey, lived along the Chemung River in Knoxsville. Terrance worked hard, but had never seemed to be able to get ahead in life. He dreamed of owning a canal boat to take advantage of using the Chemung Canal to earn a better life, but he had little money. The Driscoles were friendly with a man known as Squire Willson. Willson was a successful, handsome man who owned several canal boats, and made a great deal of money. While socializing together one evening, Terrance and the Squire hatched an idea after drinking a lot of whiskey. Terrance needed a boat, and the Squire found Katey very attractive. When Katey was asked what she thought of being traded for a canal boat, she readily agreed to go with the good looking Squire. When Terrance got his canal boat a friend observed him sitting on the cabin roof and asked him what the initials "K.D." on his boat stood for. Terrance replied, "At first I thought it was for Katey Driscole,.. . . and now, I guess it means Katey defected."
The Sword and the Rope
There was once a canal boat navigating the feeder canal on a regular basis which employed an Indian and an African American. Other canal boatmen complained of this use of "cheap labor" and they decided to show their disapproval. Nathaniel Havens, along with some other men, blocked the feeder canal at the Olcott Bridge in Big Flats using heavy ropes to prevent the boat with the minority crew from passing. When the captain of the boat came upon the impasse he drew a Civil War sword to hack through the ropes. An argument erupted, but finally it was agreed to let the boat pass.
Captain Jim Johnson
Canal boat captains were known for being tough, aggressive, and boastful. Captain Jim Johnson was a canal boatman from Elmira. He traveled the Chemung Canal, Erie Canal, and the many other canals in New York State accompanied by his large pit bull dog. When he left his boat to go into a town he was said to have boasted, "My name is Jim Johnson, my dog can lick your dog and I can lick you." There must have been many times when Captain Johnson had to prove his point.