John Cline's Saddle-Rigging Prank

John Cline's Saddle-Rigging Prank

by Sandra (Nipper) Ratledge

Without doubt, John M. Cline enjoyed pulling pranks on gullible acquaintances. He was a son of Lawson H. and Rebecca (Mingus) Cline, neighbors to the Raper clan of Shoal Creek Township in Cherokee County, North Carolina. John's neighbor Martin Thomas "Tom" Raper often recounted the following story about one of John's funniest pranks. At that time, both lived near the Shallow Ford on Hiwassee River in Cherokee County.

Occasionally, John would act as a matchmaker for "old timers" -- trying to "marry off" spinsters to widowers in the vicinity. After arranging a meeting once between a certain fellow and an old maid, he offered his assistance with saddling a horse for the bachelor. Wittingly, Mr. Cline girthed the saddle too loosely. When the man arrived at the lady's house and attempted to dismount, the saddle slipped and shifted all his weight to only one stirrup. Losing his balance, he fell off the horse and plopped into mud below. The startled lady, believing him to be drunk, ordered him to leave the premises immediately and then ran into her house and bolted the door. Totally perplexed by his predicament and apparently having no other choice, the befuddled suitor wiped mud from his face with a handkerchief and departed. Consequently, that particular prospective match was never made.

Of course, old John never admitted to the would-be suitor, that he had deliberately rigged his saddle. What fool would have admitted pulling such a stunt on an unsuspecting soul? Yet, he did tell the story to his good neighbor Tom Raper, and together they enjoyed many hearty laughs about the trick. The identity of the fellow who bore the brunt of this joke is unknown.

John was three years older than Tom Raper. He and his wife Mary "Polly" M. (Carroll) Cline had only one daughter born July 31, 1875. They named her Chapella, but everybody called her "Chap Eller." Her name is reminiscent of "Cinder" Ella, so named by jealous stepsisters because she was made to clean ashes from the hearth grates. After a magical transformation, she was called "Cinderella" in that fantasy.

Like numerous other Clines, Chap became a public school teacher instructing the three R's to youngsters in a one-room school in the Persimmon Creek Community of Cherokee County. There she taught Tom's son "Mart" (Martin) and others in their family. Mart Raper remembered her and that a school term lasted from two to three months. The duration was short because it could never interfere with harvest or planting. Each and every hand was needed for farm labor during those months.

Following the death of Tom Raper's first wife in 1893, he took quite a liking to Miss Chap Cline and called on her very frequently. Both were good conversationalists and found much in common to talk about. However, by 1910, she moved away across the mountains to Monroe County, Tennessee where she was enumerated as a public school teacher living in the Fourteenth Civil District with her parents. By 1920, they relocated farther south to Englewood in McMinn County, Tennessee where a successful textile industry was established. Both she and her father worked in the cotton mill there. This was a more viable livelihood for an aging father and his only daughter. Her mother, a widow, died there on July 6, 1928, of apoplexy.

In 1916, Tom Raper's second wife "Linda" died. Sometime thereafter, he began visiting Chap at Englewood whenever an opportunity presented itself. She lived on Niota Road within the town of Englewood and near several Raper families having Cherokee County, North Carolina origins. Many of them also worked in the sock mills. Tom died of heart failure on February 5, 1936, in the Shoal Creek Community of Cherokee County, North Carolina. "Chap Eller" remained single her entire life. Only nineteen months after Tom died, Chap passed away on September 18, 1937. According to kind old Doc Brendle of Englewood, she suffered with and later died from diabetes and was interred at Cochran Cemetery in Englewood.

Appreciation is expressed for Glen Raper (deceased) who shared this saddle prank with me. The joke was passed down through generations from his grandfather Tom to his father Mart and then to Glen, a distant cousin of my husband Stephen Ratledge. We met Glen, his brothers, and their mother about 1974. Glen knew only that the prankster was a Mr. Cline. I wrote the anecdote above based on my subsequent research.

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Sandra Ratledge

This site is dedicated to the memory of my parents, Tommy and Beulah (Cline) Nipper.