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The E-Sylum:  Volume 11, Number 10, March 9, 2008, Article 24

ARTICLE RECOUNTS 1840 ARKANSAS STEAMBOAT CASH SPILL

[An alert reader forwarded this interesting account of
an incident on the Arkansas River near Little Rock, AR
in 1840.  The steamboat Cherokee was carrying $100,000
in cash when an explosion sank the boat and spilled the
cash ashore.  -Editor]

In December 1840, the Cherokee carried as a passenger
Capt. William Armstrong, the superintendent of Indian
Affairs for the western tribes. Armstrong had traveled
to New Orleans to secure a payment for the Cherokees in
accordance with their treaty with the federal government.
The payment of more than $100,000 was to be made at
Fort Gibson.

The paper money making up the bulk of the payment was
sealed in watertight kegs. An additional amount in gold
and silver coins was locked in two strongboxes and kept
in the clerk’s office.

After the steamboat had passed Little Rock and was 60 miles
upriver of that town, the Cherokee’s boiler exploded.
Tragically, some 15 crew and passengers were killed and
several others were wounded. The boat was torn apart by
the explosion, and within an hour sank in the Arkansas River.

Capt. Armstrong reported to his supervisor that the box of
gold was blown onto shore, split open and the coins were
spilled about. Armstrong estimated about $90 worth of coins
were lost. The box of silver coin, dimes and “half-dimes,”
was blown onto the bow of the boat and virtually disintegrated.
Armstrong scrambled to retrieve all the change he could and
estimated he saved all but about $50.

The kegs holding the paper money fell to a lower deck of
the boat, but because they had been secured with iron hoops
they did not break apart. None of the paper money was lost.
Armstrong, however, was forced to wait several days at the
site of the explosion, guarding the money. It was a great
relief to him when another steamboat arrived to carry the
retrieved funds on to Fort Gibson where they were distributed
to the Cherokees gathered there.

To read the complete article, see:
Full Story

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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