Anthropologists rescue artifacts from wreckage of Mississippi riverboat

Two persons in SCUBA gear wade through shallow river water to reach a shipwreck

Researchers at Texas A&M University have helped to expand the narrative of nautical history as the earliest known remains of a Mississippi river steamboat, the Heroine, find new life in the Oklahoma Historical Museum.

On May 6, 1838, at the conclusion of a cross-country trip from Cincinnati to deliver supplies to soldiers residing at Fort Towson, Okla., a pair of steam-powered paddle wheels propelled the steamboat Heroine up the Red River.  Within two miles of its destination, a submerged pine log ripped through the hull, permitting the waters of the Red River to pull the 140-foot vessel to a shallow grave.

After the wreckage was salvaged for any recyclable machineries, supplies, and tools, it sat in a lifeless pause for more than 150 years until being rediscovered.

Working with the Oklahoma Historical Society and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, Associate Professor Kevin Crisman led the excavation process that took place from 2002 to 2008.

The team successfully removed and preserved artifacts that include tools, cargo, machinery, timber, personal items, and the paddle and flywheel.

Crisman directs the New World Laboratory and the Department of Anthropology’s Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation, and is a Nautical Archaeology Faculty Fellow,

“That’s the thing about shipwrecks,” Crisman said. “You find all of these things that you would have never thought to ask questions about. They provide the questions by leaving you with only a portion of the answer.”

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