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FromThe Intelligencer (Wheeling, WV), Aug. 4, 1960:

The River
Ralph Conley

A reader writes and would like the history of the Ben Hur, an old packet which ran on the Ohio River. The Ben Hur was built in 1887 at Marietta as a sternwheel packet with wooden hull and the usual "texas" deck. She was 165 feet long. Although built as a packet, her first job was towing a circus up and down the rivers. It was John Robinson's Circus. The following year she went into the Pittsburgh and Parkersburg trade as a regular packet. She was in this trade from then until 1909. In 1888, her first year, with Capt. Fred Kimpel, Jr., as master, she reportedly made $14,000 in seven months. Owned by the Cramer family of Clarington, the Ben Hur established herself as a good packet in this trade. In 1904 her master was Capt. Edward Sims. In June, 1909, she was sold to interests on the Mississippi River. What trades she was operated in down there is not recorded in our notes but in March 1916, she sank at Duckport, Miss., and was lost. Thus, her span was from 1887 to 1916, or 29 years. A feature of the Ben Hur was her famous whistle. It was originally on the steamer George Strecker, built in 1880 and which burned in 1887 at Beverly, O., on the Muskingum. The whistle was fashioned by a farmer living near Grape Island. This is the same whistle which was later on the Liberty and well known to river fans because the Liberty operated until 1936. After the Liberty quit, the whistle went to the towboat Mildred and where it is today is anybody's guess. The whistle was also on the Bessie Smith before it went on the Liberty. But it was probably one of the nicest sounding whistles ever to echo among the hills of the upper Ohio Valley.

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1999, Excavation in Progress Submitted by a site visitor

The BEN SHARROD is at present being recovered [excavated]by a consortium of private investors. The Sharrod is lying upside down about one mile from Ft. Adams and approximately 1.3 miles from the present channel of the Mississippi River. About 50 feet of the vessel has been uncovered at this date. She was burried beneath appx. 70 ft. of sand and mud. The area of material around the vessel is dry, so the hull timbers are in excellent condition, like new. It is surmised that her cargo, which was loaded in New Orleans and bound for upriver, is still intact, i.e. no water damage.

The following submitted by site benefactor
Jerry Canavit

I don't know how much could be left of the BEN SHERROD to excavate. The fire must have consumed quite a bit - and the following explosions must have distributed boat and cargo over a pretty wide area. If you learn anything more about this project, let me know.

BEN SHERROD accident recap from Jerry:

On May 8, 1837, while racing the steamer PRAIRIE, the BEN SHERROD caught fire about 14 miles above Ft. Adams, MS. The deck and engine room crew were snockered on whiskey and the boilers became overheated and set fire to about 60 cords of resin-dripping wood. The forward section quickly became an inferno.

The fire burned through the wheel ropes as the SHERROD continued upstream with no method of steering her to the bank. Hordes of people took to the water to escape the flames - people fought for floating objects - women and children were thrown aside by scoundrels trying to save their own skin. Ironically, the PRAIRIE didn't bother to stop and assist - she continued on to Natchez only to report that the SHERROD was on fire. The steamer ALTON, while racing to aid the stricken steamer, blundered through the water and succeeded in running down many of the survivors in the water. The fire continued to spread, next setting off (like a cannon) the barrel of whiskey that inebriated crew had been enjoying. Next, the boilers went off in a devastating roar. The final death-blow came when 40 barrels of gun powder exploded in a report that was heard for miles. The SHERROD accident was one of the finest examples of humanity at it worse - panic, greed and self-preservation. 72 people were reported to have died.



Departed Pittsburgh on maiden trip early 1875 with Capt.James McGarry, master, and Joseph S. Hill, clerk. Got to Fort Benton on May 27 and so commenced a long career in which she made 44 trips to Fort Benton, plus 15 others to Montana points. The BENTON went off to the wars on the Yellowstone in late summer of 1876, when virtually every boat on the upper Missouri was impressed into service of the soldiers trailing Sitting Bull and his Sioux. The boat set a record of 11 days one hour from Bismarck to Fort Benton May 31 , 1877, and bettered this June 27 with a time of 10 days and 18 hours. The record stood for only a few days, until the RED CLOUD did better. She served in the windup of the Nez Perce campaign of 1877 around Cow Island. Altogether, the BENTON made more trips, almost certainly carried more freight than any other boat serving Fort Benton.

In 1884 she took down 250 tons, the largest cargo ever shipped from Fort Benton. By 1886 she was the "old reliable" in the Bismarck-Benton trade. In July of 1887 she left Fort Benton with 1 ,004 bags of wool, 350 bales of pelts, looking for all the world like a southern cotton boat with wood stacked all around. The departure of July 24, 1887, was her last time out of Fort Benton. Sold in 1889 to James P. Boland and T.B. Sims. She was snagged five miies above Washington, Mo., on Sept. 15, 1889, Capt. Asa P. Boland, Master, and George Keith, pilot. Raised. Downbound opposite Arrow Rock, Mo., on July 31, 1895, a tiller line parted, she swerved onto a snag, and sank a cargo of 600 sacks of wheat. Raised. In August 1896 she came to St. Louis with 2,500 sacks of Missouri River wheat,Capt.Jim Boland.
Downbound July 18, 1897, she came to the drawbridge at Sioux City and had to wait, got out of shape, backed into submerged piling, knocked a hole in her hull. In sinking condition she floated down under the still unopened draw, tore off her upper works, and was wrecked.

From The Tribune Telegraph, Pomeroy, Meigs County, Ohio, Wed. July. 12 1897
The Benton sank at Sioux City, was 22 years old and belonged to Captain
Thomas B. Sims
, of St. Louis. She was valued at $4,000.

More about BENTON from the Gallery of Artist Gary Lucy.


Also see
The Bertrand Exhibit, 1, 2

The Intelligencer
(Wheeling, WV), Nov. 26, 1864:


RIVER MATTERS -- The steamer Express broke her rudder on her last trip, but was not materially detained. She left on Thursday, near about the usual time.

The Bertrand leaves today on her first trip, for St. Louis, she has six thousand kegs of nails, and other freight, making a good load. She is a nice trim little steamer, neat but not gaudy, and sits upon the water like a duck. She has a hundred and sixty-two feet deck, draws when light, about 18 inches. Her hull was built by Dunlevy & Co.; her machinery by Sweeney; her cabin by Gullet, of Pittsburgh, and furnished by Mendels. Her Captain, Ben Goodwin, is a well known river man, and Jerry Cochrane goes as Clerk. If the people down on the lower waters only knew Jerry as well as they do up here they'd all want to travel on his boat -- that's all.

Later -

The Wheeling-built Bertrand hit a snag in the Missouri River twenty miles north of Omaha, Nebraska in 1865, and sank with no loss of life but all the cargo. Divers recovered the most valuable portions of the cargo soon after. In 1968 the wreck was rediscovered and carefully excavated. The excavation was described in The Steamboat Bertrand: History, Excavation and Architecture, by Jerome Petsche, published by the GPO in 1974. This book is available at Ohio County Public Library.

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains the Steamboat Bertrand Collection at Desoto National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa, including a museum containing artifacts from the Bertrand.

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