The Ashley Mansion
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underway on the model barge...click image to enlarge.
In 1988, record low
water levels provided an opportunity and obligation to examine the climax
of the wooden-hulled age. The Mississippi fell to 10 feet below zero on
the Memphis gauge and exposed four and a half acres of water craft remains,
dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s, on the bottom of the Mississippi
River at West Memphis, Arkansas.
The State of Arkansas, the Arkansas Archeological Survey, and the Arkansas
Archeological Society responded with a two month data recovery effort.
The fieldwork received national media attention as good news in the middle
of a drought.
Wreckage of a number
of vessels was found, including a coal
barge, a double-ended barge known as a "model barge", and
the tangled debris of a stern wheel
steamboat, complete with largely intact smokestacks.
It was loudly asserted by some visitors that we had found the
Sultana, a steamboat that blew up near Memphis in 1865, killing nearly
2000 Federal troops recently released from prisoner of war camps. However,
recovery of a boiler steam gauge
with a trademark of 1878 confirmed otherwise.
in situ..click to enlarge.
The project exploited
dry-land field conditions, so we were able to conduct test excavations
particularly in the steamboat area as though we were in a bean field instead
of being on the bottom of one of the greatest rivers in North America.
This produced remarkable results as well, including sets
of enameled metal plates that spilled from the galley or crew quarters,
and even a long bulkhead from the
engine room. The bulkhead had been torn down and used as a staging
area for salvage operations after the wreck, and various
tools and fittings were piled on this impromptu "floor",
including the steam gauge.
Boats on the Mississippi"
crew at work on the steamboat wreckage. Click image to enlarge.
An extended popular
report is being published by the Arkansas Archeological Survey. The report
originated in a symposium at the Society for Historical Archaeology annual
meeting in Tucson, AZ, in 1991. Titled "Ghost Boats on the Mississippi:
Discovering Our Working Past", chapters and illustrations in this
report discuss project history, finds, construction and heritage of water
craft encountered, the application of the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987
within months of its signing, the crucial role of the largely volunteer
crew, and the necessary larger context of resource management in the Lower
Table of Contents
Preface: Leslie C. Stewart-Abernathy
List of Figures
Chapter 1. Introduction: Leslie C. Stewart-Abernathy
Chapter 2. To the Rescue: Hester A. Davis, Mary Ann Goodman, and Leslie
Chapter 3. "Old Al's Going to Get It", for Awhile--Leslie C.
Chapter 4. Historical Background: Leslie C. Stewart-Abernathy
Chapter 5. The Steamboat and Its Debris Field: Leslie C. Stewart-Abernathy
Chapter 6. The Model Barge, and Other Vessels: Allen R. Saltus, Jr., and
Leslie C. Stewart-Abernathy
Chapter 7. Why These Wrecks, Here: Leslie C. Stewart-Abernathy and Allen
R. Saltus, Jr.
Chapter 8. The Wider View: Lower Mississippi River Heritage and Resource
Management: Charles E. Pearson
Chapter 9. Conclusion: Leslie C. Stewart-Abernathy and Allen R. Saltus,
A. Catalogue of Major Wreck Pieces
B. Crew Members
C. Glossary of River Boat Terms
D. Compilations of Memphis vicinity wrecks, 1878-1940
E. Summary Description of Memphis vicinity wrecks, 1878-1940
F. Sources for Illustrations of Model Barges
G. The Arkansas Archeological Society
Mississippi Yields Shipwrecks". Newsbriefs column, 41:(Nov./Dec.,
Western Rivers Steamboat Cyclopoedium. Hustle Press, Leonia, NJ.
Names and Places on the Lower Mississippi River. Mississippi River
Commission, Vicksburg, MS.
Capers, Gerald Mortimer,
Biography of a River Town: Memphis, Its Heroic Age. University of
North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC.
Clay, Floyd M.
Century on the Mississippi: A History of the Memphis District U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers 1876-1976. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Memphis
District, Memphis, TN.
Memphis. E.A. Seemann Publishing, Inc., Miami, FL.
Ghosts of the Big Muddy". Archaeology 42(2, March/April):16,
Fair, James R.
Arkansas: Important River-Rail Terminal". Arkansas Historical
Quarterly 57(2, Summer):191-204.
Gandy, Joan W. and
Thomas H. Gandy
Mississippi Steamboat Era in Historic Photographs: Natchez to New Orleans
1870-1920. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY.
and Queen of the River: The Legendary Paddlewheel Steamboats Delta King
and Delta Queen from the Roaring Twenties to the 1990s. River Heritage
Press, Menlo Park, CA.
Five Years of Dredges and Dredging on the Mississippi River in the Memphis
District. Typescript on file, three volumes, Memphis District Corps
of Engineers, Memphis, TN.
Hahn, Thurston, H.G. III, Allen R. Saltus, Jr., and Stephen R. James,
Landing: Historical and Archaeological Investigations of Three Sunken
Watercraft at Delta, Madison Parish, Louisiana. Coastal Environments,
Inc., Baton Rouge, LA, report submitted to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,
Vicksburg District, Vicksburg, MS.
Voices on the River: The Story of the Mississippi Waterways. Macmillan,
New York, NY.
E. Tappan, Jr., Steamboat Collection, Manuscript Collection 416".
Guide prepared for Special Collections Department, University of Arkansas
Libraries, Fayetteville, AR.
"Historic Lows Uncover Boats". The Waterways Journal
102(14, 4 July): 7, 16.
Helps Uncover Life on the Mississippi". National Geographic Magazine
174(5,November): unpaged, in Geographica section.
Boats on the Mississippi". July 18, page 35.
Pearson, Charles E.,
George J. Castille, Donald Davis, Thomas E. Redard, and Allen R. Saltus,
History of Waterborne Commerce and Transportation within the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers New Orleans District and an Inventory of Known Underwater
Cultural Resources. Coastal Environments, Inc., Baton Rouge, LA. Submitted
to the New Orleans District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans,
Potter, Jerry O.
Sultana Tragedy: America's Greatest Maritime Disaster. Pelican Publishing
Co., Gretna, LA.
Mississippi River Commission: An American Epic. Mississippi River
Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg, MS.
Saltus, Allen R.,
Jr., George J. Castille, III, and Charles E. Pearson
Under the Hill: Historical and Archaeological Investigations of Watercraft
Along the Mississippi River, Adams County, Mississippi. Report prepared
for Vicksburg District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, by Coastal Environments,
Inc., Baton Rouge, LA.
Samuel, Ray, Leonard V. Huber, and Warren C. Ogden
of the Missississippi. Reprinted 1981 by Pelican Publishing Co., Gretna,
Boatwrecks Research". Society for Historical Archaeology Newsletter
"Ghost Boats on the Mississippi: Opportunity, Obligation, and Watercraft
at West Memphis, Arkansas, in the Drought Summer of 1988", Organizer
and Chair, symposium presented at the January annual meeting of the Society
for Historical Archaeology, Tucson, AZ.
Mississippi: The River Gives Up its Secrets". August 22, p.36.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Signet Classics, NAL Penguin, Inc.,
New York, NY. First published 1883.
Life on the Mississippi. Signet Classics, NAL Penguin, Inc., New
York, NY. First published 1884.
Wayman, Norbury L.
on the River: A Pictorial History of the Mississippi, the Missouri, and
the Western River System. Bonanza Books, New York, NY.
Williams, Bobby Joe
the Second Century, Memphis Engineer District, 1976-1981", A Century
on the Mississippi: A History of the Memphis District U.S.Army Corps of
Engineers 1876-1981. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Memphis District,
Young, J.P., editor
History of Memphis, Tennessee. H.W. Crew & Co., Knoxville, TN.
reprinted in facsimile 1974 by West Tennessee Historical Society, Memphis,
TN, by Unigraphic, Inc., Evansville, IN.