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The Life of the Beeswing, a Steamer on the Red River

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The Beeswing advertises itself in the Times-Picayune (New Orleans) on June 11, 1844

As I was digging through the digital collections at Birdwell Library, Southern Methodist University, I discovered a receipt, dated February 3, 1844, for coffee, sugar, flour, and rice. These goods were shipped from New Orleans to the "house of M. Cane & Co., Shreveport on board the Steamer Beeswing", which was piloted by Capt. Wilson.

While I haven't done the research on the "house of M. Cane & Co., Shreveport" yet, I decided to take a look at the life of the Beeswing, a steamer on the Red River, because with a name like that, this steamer had to be kind of special!

The receipt for goods delivered on the Beeswing to Shreveport in Feburary of 1844 (SMU).

The Beeswing was a "splendid passenger and mail steam packet" that drew "only 28 inches of water" and visited "all the landings" on the Red River, including Alexandria, Natchitoches, Lake Bisteneau, and Fulton, and delivered freight to Fort Towson (Indian Territory), too. This would have been a steamer used by people who had money and were headed to Texas to claim land in the Mercer or Peters Colony land schemes.

In the Spring, the Red River was navigable, especially after the first Great Raft removal. In the Fall, however, its waters became so shallow that few, if any, boats were able to reach past Grand Ecore. So, by September of 1844, the Beeswing plied the Ohio River instead under Captain Silas Miller. But the whole country must have been pretty dry that year, as the boat ran aground due to low water in October.

By early 1845, the Beeswing was once again swimming in the Red River, and assisted other boats by taking on the cargo and passengers when they hit snags. But tragedy struck the ship in March of that year. The steamboat burned "two miles below Port Hudson, in what is called 'the Reach,'" - a cabin boy drowned, all cargo was lost, and the passengers had to jump into the water and swim ashore.

Port Hudson, which was south of St. Francisville in East Baton Rouge Parish, stood on a relatively high bluff above a major bend the Mississippi River. Over the past few decades, this bend has considerably straightened due to water management further upstream, and Port Hudston is not directly on the river anymore.

This means that the burned hull of the Beeswing lies somewhere beneath someone's house or field.

Port Hudson at the Mississippi River's bend in the La Tourrette's Atlas of 1848 (LOC).

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