Friday, March 25, 2005


Red River ship wreck

By Galen Culver

FORT TOWSON - It is one of Oklahoma's most significant historical finds. A riverboat covered by sand for a century and a half.

For two years now archeologists and historians have been pulling up relics from Oklahoma's frontier past. But until very recently the experts didn't even know the name of the ship.

Galen Culver reveals frontier treasure and for the first time a name to go along with it.

For the longest time she sat forgotten beneath a sand bank cow pasture on the red river.

Oklahoma's only shipwreck caused a sensation when the water changed course and revealed her again, but she still didn't have a name or a date, until now. "Well we're still working on some of the details on that but we think we have the right boat...vessel that was lost in 1838. We think it was a vessel called the heroine." "It's like Forrest Gumps box of chocolates. You just never know what you're going to find in a shipwreck."

After much careful study and two summer's worth of artifact retrieval Dr. Kevin Chrisman, who's heading up a team of naval archeologists, thinks the heroine might have been the first ship of her size to try to make it up the red. "It was 140 feet long. It had a crew of 20 or 25."

The Heroine, built much like her sister ship the Yellowstone, was within two miles of her destination when she hit a snag and sank. "The log was like a great big wooden torpedo and punched a hole right through the side of the boat." But the Heroine's epic inland journey is on again.

Slowly but surely the shipwreck is on its way to Texas A & M University where Chrisman and team are restoring what's left and trying to figure out how these early ships worked. "It's the earliest Mississippi river type steam boat that's been found anywhere and it's telling a lot of stories."

There are thousands of artifacts already...old boots...lots of metal pieces...and even a barrel of pickled pork with the meat still on the bone.

"Mind you, you wouldn't want to make a barbecue sandwich out of this." The ships huge, thousand pound rudder still sits in water, but this time at an old airbase in college station.

The Heroine never reached her original destination back in 1838, but her loss is now a much larger gain for the historians who've never been able to touch a ship like her before.


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