By Wes Helbling - Bastrop Daily Enterprise
Professional archaeologists may have finally solved the mystery behind a sunken steamboat in Bayou Bartholomew that has intrigued local residents for decades.
Dennis Jones with the state Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism, Division of Archaeology and Allen Saltus Jr. with Archaeological Research Inc. conducted the first formal study of the site Friday.
As a result of their work, the sunken vessel can now be confirmed as a steamboat and will be recorded with the state archaeologist’s office.
The shipwreck had been exposed for a few weeks during the recent drought. By Friday, the boat was once again submerged and buried in sand.
Jones and Saltus determined the boat’s dimensions -- close to 150 feet long and up to 17 feet wide -- by marking the unseen perimeter with metal probes and then mapping it in sections via tape measure and graph.
In addition to the size, Saltus, who specializes in underwater archaeology, found several hidden clues that may help identify the boat.
“This vessel shows evidence of burning,” he said, noting a charred piece of cross planking that has become detached from the hull.
Evidence of burning has caused past visitors to wonder if this could be the Jim Barkman, which was captured and burned by U.S. Col. E.D. Osband in 1865. Saltus noted the wreck is too large to be the Barkman, which only measured 93 feet in length.
Saltus found the possible ruins of a metal boiler midship, and evidence at the stern to indicate this was a sternwheel boat. That rules out another proposed candidate, the Bastrop, which was a side-wheeler.
“We’ve eliminated those two boats,” said Saltus. “Based on preliminary observations, I would say it fits the Big Horn.”