CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - How the Cheat Got Its Name-Well, Maybe

By Jack Cawthon 2002

Off in the distance I can hear a roaring as the waters of the Cheat River come boiling and roiling over the rapids fighting its way through the rugged canyon only to be brought under control and tamed by tranquil Cheat Lake, which I have dubbed Yuppie Lake for its lakeside dwellers who continually make upward climbs both in geologic and geodynamic endeavors.

There has been much discussion and debate about how the Cheat was named. The French got there first and some think the name came from a Frenchman with a name that sounds like Cheat. As I never learned even English real good I won't attempt the French, but my theory is that it did stem from them. They probably tried to descend the river in those little canoes or dugouts and after about the tenth time becoming ducked and drenched in the cold icy water someone probably exclaimed: "Che-ete!" The word was later corrupted by the hill folk to express disgust but pronounced with an S sound.

Not only is the Cheat maybe four or five miles away as the crow flies but the Big Sandy is even closer. I have never understood how distances are measured as a crow flies as I have never seen a crow fly in a straight line for any great distance. They generally loll around in the sky flapping their wings and making silly cawing sounds, and I would hate to try following one to a destination that I needed to reach in a hurry.

By now you may have guessed I'm up in Preston County, which has been called "The Free State," but unlike the state which boasts "Live Free or Die" I wouldn't test that extreme there as the first winter could well spell the latter and I don't know anyone who can really live free today except with help from the government.

The Big Sandy comes out of Pennsylvania but attains its West Virginity when it reaches Preston County near Clifton Mills. For a time it is calm-flowing through Bruceton Mills but becomes like its fearsome momma the Cheat as it tears through a canyon with waterfalls and cataracts that would amaze people who think that the West has all the fun.

It whomps full force into the Cheat below the Bull Run bridge and the barrier made by man tames both of them a short distance downstream. Both streams carry the yellowish brown stains of years of coal mining abuse, or use, depending on your paycheck, but in recent years the effects at cleaning up the water have paid off. Cheat Lake, and its yuppie counterpart, now contains a goodly number of game fish.

I'm at that almost heaven spot which gives me about a 2,000-foot advantage for a shot on high should I clean up my act and have final rites on that mountaintop. It's a good place to observe nature and its wonders except during deer season when hunters become about as wild as the frothing waters, sometimes aided by frothing beverages.

I found that haven shortly after coming to Morgantown and have retreated there, both in the peaceful sense and the Nixon favorite of "retreat with honor," for more than 30 years. I have hiked through the encircling wilderness and along the Big Sandy on its old tram road up to the now extinct village of Rockville and I've stood on the high ground where I can see the confluence with the Cheat downstream from the Bull Run bridge. I could say that I have heard messages of peace and tranquility from the wild running water, but to do so would open myself to hearing voices, too easily accepted literally by those of you who read this stuff.

But as Daniel Boone found to his sorrow wilderness does not remain static. Already there are scattered houses where I once roamed free and unfettered and houses spell people, something ole Daniel and I both have tried to escape but his efforts were done so much more professionally than mine.

However, over to the west is the rambling almost 12,000 acres of Coopers Rock State Forest which still has wilderness through protection, although it isn't uncommon to encounter wanderers in its midst and yuppies who do something on skis in the wintertime.

Maybe the wilderness and I are both maturing, although some people who know me well may say, "Yeah, there goes the wilderness," but add that I have nothing personally to fear.

It's been a good 30 years, mostly, as I have sought and found a degree of peace through some mystic thought process filtered through the land and the water. I've found that the words from the old hymn can right true here on earth as well as the hereafter: From Mt. Pisgah's lofty height, I view my home and take my flight.