Thursday, September 09, 2004


Researchers discovering history of sunken steamboat "Heroine"


Tuesday, September 7, 2004
FORT TOWSON, Okla. (AP) — More than 160 years after it sunk in the Red River, researchers are discovering the history of the steamboat Heroine.

Archaeologists using scuba gear are diving into the murky water to excavate the paddlewheeler that foundered after two Columbus, Ohio, businessmen took it out for its last trip, launching from Cincinnati.

“They were so close to their destination,” said Kevin Crisman, director of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University.

Divers are using vacuum dredges to remove tons of sand that the river has deposited on the ship, which was laden with pork, flour and other supplies for troops at this frontier outpost.

So far, Crisman and other researchers, including those from the Oklahoma Historical Society, have recovered artifacts that bring the Heroine to life — shoes worn by the crew, the dishes they ate from, the hand trucks they used to load cargo.

Even the smell of pine tar spilled on the floor of the stern compartment seeped through divers’ masks.
“You can really kind of feel the connection with the people who were involved,” Crisman said.

The wreck lay buried in a cow pasture for more than a century until the wandering river caused it to emerge again in 1999.

The ship was known as the Black Hawk when it was launched in 1832 from New, Albany, Ind. The 140-foot-long, 160-ton vessel was later renamed Heroine.

The boat had been in service for six years, a long life among wooden steamboats prone to fires, collisions and other hazards, when two Columbus, Ohio, businessmen engaged in what would be its last voyage.

The ship departed from Cincinnati about February 1838 and made her way down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers before turning upstream when it reached the mouth of the Red River in Louisiana.

At the new settlement of Shreveport, Heroine joined four other steamboats waiting for Henry Shreve to clear a way through the last section of the “Great Raft,” a monstrous logjam that blocked the river to large boats.
“This was a defining moment in the history of the region: the plug was about to come out of the bottle,” Crisman said.

But before Shreve finished, several steamboats, probably including the Heroine, tried threading their way through. Two struck snags and sank, but Heroine made it to open water.

In late April, Heroine reached Jonesborough, a settlement in the Republic of Texas, where the crew waited for higher water.

But concern about Fort Towson’s dwindling supplies and the prospect of a dry summer trapping the boat prompted the crew to try to reach the fort’s landing, only six miles upstream.

But shortly after getting under way, Heroine, “suddenly stopped, swung around and careened over,” according to an account written in 1842 that is included in a draft report by Crisman.

Although there were no reports of fatalities, much of Heroine’s cargo was ruined or trapped in inaccessible forward sections.

John Davis, a historical society interpreter at the Fort Towson historic site and a coordinator of the steamboat project, said Heroine’s decay might limit time for recover of some of her tale.
“The river over the years has taken its toll,” Davis said.

See article here (you must register first).

Related article here. Red River Wreck link here.

The wreck: Fall 1999

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