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Steamboats and Military Forts

Military forts and steamboats had a complex relationship in Indian Territory. A military fort is a permanent army post that can easily be defended in the event of war. In the 1820s and 1830s, the primary role of Fort Gibson and Fort Towson was to provide services to the American Indian tribes in the region and enforce the federal government’s removal efforts. Their main responsibility involved maintaining peace among the Five Tribes, who were forced to leave their eastern homelands, and the Plains tribes. In Indian Territory, western steamboats had a significant role in providing military forts with supplies and recruits as well as providing them with news from other areas.

Steamboats in Oklahoma also contributed to forced removal of American Indians from the East. For instance, some Muscogee (Creek) and Chickasaw traveled to Indian Territory from their eastern homes on steamboats. In 1832, the federal government sent supplies to Fort Towson for the removed Choctaw tribe.

Fort Towson was also a major port in Indian Territory. Materials for inland ports were shipped to Fort Towson and distributed via wagon on land. In 1838, Heroine was hired to carry supplies to Fort Towson. However, on its first journey carrying supplies to Fort Towson, Heroine hit a snag and sank in the Red River. The crew survived and salvaged some of the supplies and parts of the boat. The vessel remained hidden under the sand of the river until it was exposed by a flood in 1990. Excavations of the vessel began in 2001. Pork barrels, a soap box, a cotton dolly, flour barrels, two hand trucks, and other artifacts found on Heroine revealed its purpose as carrying supplies to Fort Towson.

Drawing of Heroine hitting a snag (Steamboat Heroine Collection, OHS).

Heroine in the Red River (image Courtesy of The Oklahoman).

Heroine’s snag (Steamboat Heroine Collection, Oklahoma Historical Society).