On the
Red River

From The
Red River Project

In 1832, Jeremiah Diller, a successful Louisville cabinet maker, purchased the recently
constructed Heroine from her builders in New Albany, Indiana, a town situated across
the Ohio River and slightly west of Louisville, Kentucky. Heroine was the only vessel
known to have been owned by Diller, which was common for the time and place, since most
western river steamboats were small-scale operations owned by a single businessman
or a limited number of investors. Heroine was also similar to her contemporaries in
that she tramped the western rivers, taking on whatever cargo and passengers were
available and delivering them to ports between Louisville and New Orleans.
At various times during her career, she carried bales of cotton, immigrants,
foodstuffs, businessmen, and even supplies and volunteer troops for the Texas
Revolution. During June of 1836, William Fairfax Gray of Virginia took passage
on Heroine from Vicksburg, Mississippi to Louisville. Initially, he described the
steamer as “a sorry old boat,” but towards the end of his journey he revised his
opinion, writing “The officers…are very attentive. The steward, an old black man,
is the best steward I have seen on the western waters.”

Six years after her construction, Heroine was considered an old vessel in a trade
that often sank or retired vessels in less than half a decade. In the winter of 1838,
she was running a scheduled packet service between Vicksburg and various ports on the
Red River when she was hired to transport the annual re-supply of provisions to the
U.S. Army garrison at Fort Towson, Oklahoma. The steamer was one of the first boats
to pass through the channel in the “Great Raft” (a more than 100 mile long log jam
on the lower Red River), newly-opened by Henry Shreve in March. The crew laboriously
worked the boat up the shallow, treacherous river as far as Jonesborough, Texas
(near modern Davenport), a mere four miles (6.4 km) short of the Fort Towson landing.
Hampered by low water, Heroine paused briefly in Jonesborough before beginning the
final push upriver on May 7, 1838. Shortly after departing, the steamer met disaster
two miles (3.2 km) east of its destination when she struck a log and sank. Everyone
escaped the wreck safely and the engine and some cargo were salvaged before a sudden
rise in the river filled the hold with sand. The wreck remained visible for five
years before a great flood in 1843 shifted the river channel and buried the vessel
until it was re-exposed in 1991.


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