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Steam Boat Ticket to White Oak Shoals

A ticket on the Steam Boat Relief from White Oak Shoals to Natchitoches, July 1841, courtesy of Jim Rambin.

A few years back I gave a presentation about steamboats on the Red River at the Grand Ecore Visitor's Center in Natchitoches. My husband went with me because we both wanted to gorge ourselves on meat pies at Lasyone's. He then fell promptly asleep as I was regaling the audience with stories and histories.

Afterwards, one of the listeners and fellow historian, Jim Rambin (I asked permission to use his name) shared with me this steamboat ticket from 1841. This ticket reserved passage on the steam boat Relief, which paddled down the river from White Oak Shoals (Arkansas) to Natchitoches. The price for this passage was $40... to see how much that is in today's money, visit Friedman's inflation calculator.

White Oak Shoals was one of the most dangerous places on the Red River above the raft. Here is a description of it from the journal kept by Reverend Guerdon Gates, who traveled from Kentucky to the Peter's Colony land grant in the northern part of the Republic of Texas in 1841 and 1842 (he returned to Kentucky a year later):

"Tuesday 1st February 1842. A cool morning conducive to health. We made an early start, at the break of day - and by one o'clock pm reached the White Oak Shoals a distance of 16 miles- After dinner we attempted to go over the shoals or a I should say falls, for the river in this place is about as rapid as the Ohio at the falls below Louisville. At this place the river is about 1/4 mile wide and of course, shallow - the main chute, being not more than three or four feet deep - The current being too strong for the number of person on the cordell,* the boat swung and run on a log where, notwithstanding our efforts to get her off, she lay all night. The bed of the river is composed of a kind of shelly soft rock slate or schist which on the surface is smooth, and at the present stage of water, it is difficult to manage a boat in ascending.... [The next day] Notwithstanding the rain, the Captain procured some large poles or spars from the woods and with considerable exertion we removed the boat from the log upon which we were aground, and ascended about two lengths of it up the rapids..."**

In other words, the shoals were so rapid and the current so strong that their stern wheeler went sideways and became, literally, a bump on a log. Ha ha. On the plus side, after they freed their steam boat the next day, the journal mentions that the steamboat Relief (note the ticket!) docked nearby and everyone visited briefly.

A great little story from 180 years ago!

*A cordell involved tying one end of a rope to the bow of the boat. The other end would be cast to the shore, where men (passengers!) had to drag the boat against the current. Fun times!

**Guthrie, Blaine A., and Mitchell R. Guthrie. “CATFISH, CORNMEAL AND THE BROAD CANOPY OF HEAVEN: The Journal of the Reverend Guerdon Gates Describing His Trip on the Red River of Louisiana and Texas, 1841-1842.” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 66, no. 1 (1968): 3–34.

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