Steamer was sucked right out of river
The Banner of Attakapas had to have been one of the unluckiest steamboats ever to travel on Bayou Teche. It was sturdily built in 1848, and had a good captain and crew, but misadventure seemed to follow wherever it went.
In late 1849, E. W. Fuller, its owner, advertised that it would begin running between St. Martinville and New Orleans, “touching at all intermediate landings,” traveling “by the sea route until the navigation through Bayou Plaquemine is open.”
In those days Teche steamers had two main routes to New Orleans. The preferred route was to go up the Atchafalaya River to Bayou Plaquemine, which connected with the Mississippi at the town of Plaquemine. But when water was too low in the bayou or, as frequently happened, its entrance to the Mississippi was blocked by a logjam, bigger steamboats went into the Gulf.
As the Banner’s ad implies, most of those boats were built to operate on inland streams — riding low in the water, not suited for ocean waves that battered the hull or washed over the decks — and had to be modified to use the sea route.
According to the advertisement, the Banner of Attakapas, “only eighteen months old, built in the most substantial manner,” was “receiving those additions … necessary to make her a good sea boat. She has been thoroughly recaulked, bottom, sides, and deck, false sides have been added, giving her 35 feet breadth of beam, also an entire bottom outside of the present one, which will be thoroughly caulked and fastened, rendering it almost impossible for her either to spring a leak or be broken by snags.”
All of that refitting seemed to work in the Gulf. The Banner of Attakapas’s troubles all came on the Mississippi.
It had been running to New Orleans for only a few months when it was involved in a collision with another steamboat on the river. The newspaper in Franklin reported in late December that “the aggressive steamboat … must have been in a starving condition, for she walked into the broadside of the Banner’s cookhouse, and made the pots, kettles and frying pans fly with a rush and in her fury, she flung most of the cooking utensils into the Mississippi.”
High water on the river provided an even greater test in the spring. The boat was about forty miles above New Orleans in early March when it was swept into a powerful stream of flood water rushing through a break in the levee.
According to the newspaper account of that incident, “The steamboat … passed into a crevasse … and took to the woods. … In her wild pranks she ran over several cabins … and pranced over the fields like a lamb in the spring of the year.” When another boat tried to drag the Banner back into the Mississippi, it was also sucked through the crevasse.
Both boats were eventually rescued and the newspaper reported on March 14 that the Banner was “out of the crevasse, and … on her old track” between the Teche and New Orleans.
“Capt. Muggah has command of her,” the account continued, “and we feel sure he will keep his eye on the crevasse as he passes it in future. The Banner will hereafter make her trips to New Orleans by water, she has come to the conclusion that land navigation is not profitable.”
The boat was apparently none the worse off for its experience. The newspaper reported March 21 that it made a trip from the Teche community of Patterson to New Orleans and back in three days and twelve hours, when “six days would be called a quick trip.”
“The Banner is becoming an enterprising boat since she ran off the track,” the newspaper opined. “Indeed, any boat that can dive into a crevasse and work out again cannot be wanting in grit and enterprise. We should not be surprised if the next trip she makes we hear of her … running across … [dry] land from Napoleonville to Berwick’s Bay.”
Gritty and enterprising or not, the boat was still unlucky.
It was near Memphis on June 10, 1852, when, heavily laden with railroad iron, the four-year-old boat ran over something sturdy enough to rip open its reinforced bottom. It took only two minutes to sink.
The Memphis Whig reported the next day that the Banner’s hull was on the river bottom, held down by four hundred tons of iron, and that its cabin had “split from the hull” and floated away.
A few things were saved after another boat caught up to the runaway cabin and the railroad iron was eventually salvaged, but that was the end of the ill-fated Banner of Attakapas. It had made its last dash, either by land or water.
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, Cajuns and Other Characters, is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.