By Jessica Gorman
A recent social media post from the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development generated much interest locally. Highlighting Louisiana Archeology Month, this post contained a graphic titled “Shipwrecks.” This graphic included what is identified as a boat wreck on Dorcheat. The only information provided is “unknown early 1900s flatboat, possibly a boat or a ferry.” However, there is one story that tells of what this boat may have been.
Those familiar with Webster Parish history are probably familiar with the stories of boats that sunk either on Dorcheat or Lake Bistineau. The remains of the boat in question are mentioned by two different sources of which I am aware. Dr. Luther Longino, considered the first historian of Webster Parish, tells only of its existence in his book Thoughts, Visions, and Sketches of North Louisiana. He says that no one could remember how it had come to be there, just south of the bridge crossing Dorcheat at Dixie Inn. But it seems that someone must have come forward with information. Just a few years later, an explanation for its existence is put forth in the historical edition of the Signal-Tribune.
John A. Walker identifies the boat as the Moonstone. Instead of being wrecked, the story says that it was abandoned sometime around 1880. It had been loaded with cotton for its return trip to New Orleans, but upon inspection, it was decided that it would be unable to make the trip. “It was tied up at the landing and left.”
The landing, referred to as Minden’s upper landing, was located at what was then known as Murrell’s Point. Here, Judge John D. Watkins owned a toll bridge. He purchased the Moonstone and took from it all usable lumber, the engine, and the boiler to construct a cotton gin and a grist mill there on Dorcheat. Ten years later, he sold the gin and mill to Captain Thomas W. Fuller. In the 1890s, it was sold again and the engine and boiler were moved to the Beech Springs community east of Minden where they were used to operate a sawmill until about 1912. Reportedly, the remains of the boiler could still be seen near the site of the sawmill in the 1930s.
I have attempted to locate primary sources related to the Moonstone. So far, all that I have found are a series of newspaper reports in which it is mentioned. All reports are of its travel on the Red River in the fall of 1874. At that time, water levels were low and navigation had become difficult. The trip from New Orleans to Shreveport took almost a month to complete. After its arrival, the Moonstone remained at Shreveport for about a week before returning to New Orleans with no freight due to a lack of insurance. This is the last mention I find of the boat referred to as the “little side-wheel chap.”
While disappointing to have not yet found any direct evidence of the abandonment of the Moonstone, this could in fact support the story. A boat that had simply been abandoned wouldn’t necessarily have been newsworthy in comparison to having met a disastrous end. Whether the Moonstone or not, the remains of this boat are still visible during low water and pieces of it can be viewed at the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum.
(Jessica Gorman is the Executive Director for the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum, Webster Parish Historian, and an avid genealogist.)