Civil War steamer may be the mystery at the bottom of Lake Caddo

By on May 20, 2021 0


History buffs would be remiss to never visit Lake Caddo on the Louisiana-Texas border near Shreveport.

First of all, it is the largest cypress forest in the world. And who knew that cypress trees are among the oldest species still in existence and that they can live over three thousand years?

The lake is also home to whalefish (you can make them spoon-billed catfish) and these little rascals have been around for about three hundred to four hundred MILLION years. Even longer than dinosaurs existed.

Even the very beginning of Caddo Lake sparks the imaginations of these historical minds. Named after the Native Americans, the Caddoans, legend has it that Caddo Lake was formed in the 1700s by an earthquake. It is assumed that this is the same earthquake that caused the big traffic jam on the Red River.

But the mystery that many have yet to hear dates back to the days of the Civil War. What started as a routine trip from Shreveport to Jefferson, Texas, ended in one of the biggest inland boating accidents of all time.

The mystery centers on the steamboat, Mittie Stephens, and what happened to her. And is one of his remains still lying at the bottom of Lake Caddo?

It was February 11, 1869, at around 4 p.m., when the former Union side-wheel steamboat left Shreve Harbor on the Red River for Jefferson, Texas, during that time. which was to be his last trip.

As was common in America in the mid-1800s, not only did the Mittie Stephens carry over 100 affluent passengers and crew, but it also carried government goods, including the $ 100,000 payroll for Union troops, gunpowder and a large amount of hay.

The vessel left the Red River, then crossed Twelve Mile Bayou and briefly stopped at Mooring Harbor on Ferry Lake, now known as Caddo Lake. Once again heading for Jefferson, as the boat neared Swanson’s Landing, crew members discovered smoke rising from the hay on top of the ship.

In a KYTX CBS 19 article, we learn from Ron Holloman, a Mittie Stephens historian:

It was almost midnight, but the captain wanted to do Jefferson in the morning. He ordered the fire baskets to be lit. “These big wrought iron baskets were coming out; he lit the way, a big torch lit in the front, “Hollomon said. A spark ignited the bullets.

Holloman goes on to say that the standard operating procedure at that time, in emergency situations like this, was to steer the ship toward shore at full throttle.

In the end, this is what caused the deaths of many lost souls as they leaped from the ship and were sucked into the side paddles and drowned. The total number lost was sixty-four and it remains an infamous record as one of the deadliest inland navigation accidents of all time.

According to CaddoLakeDrawBridge.com:

Eyewitness accounts of the disaster gave insight into passengers and crew that statistics cannot provide. Stories of greed and heroism began to emerge, of mass graves and mistaken identities. For many years, the hull of the Mittie Stephens could be seen lying in the mud. A few items were recovered from the wreckage, the most valuable being the ship’s bell, which is currently on display in a museum near Jefferson, Texas.

Due to the muddy sediment at the bottom of Caddo Lake, the Mittie Stephens could never be fully recovered and the stories of its disappearance are still a facet of curiosity for many.

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