"This is a very exciting find," recounted Bruce Lockett, director of the Texas Archaeology Study Association (TASA) and president of the Vidor Historical Society, referring to a wreck site discovered by the group months ago. "We've been searching for this site for quite awhile, and I think we may have finally found what we have been looking for." Lockett told The Examiner in August of this most recent find, but now the TASA team has pictures of artifacts located around the wreck site, items which lead the group to think they have indeed uncovered the object they have spent years searching to find.
Lockett said he and his group have been searching for the sunken Angelina steamboat, believed discarded along the Neches riverbed only a few years after it was commissioned in 1844.
"It made 12 trips, and on the last trip coming back it was lost in transit," he said. Information logged by Lockett and TASA maintain an account of the vessel. "This (August) expedition was searching for the steamboat Angelina, which sank in the same area in 1849," Lockett wrote in a log of the find sent to the Texas Historical Commission. "The expedition's purpose was to photograph and designate possible sites for exploration review to find the steamboat. It is believed the vesel in completely intact with boiler and engine still onboard along with many historical artifacts from the period."
Lockett said a boiler/engine combo recovered from an 1800s wreck site is unheard of to this date, but anticipates that streak to change when TASA is able to explore the site, which is located south of Evadale. While the actual wreck site is under more than 100 years of debris and river sand built up over the past century, team members have collected multiple artifacts for review. And, according to seasoned excavator Lockett, the finds have been consistent with what they expected to locate at the Angelina wreck site. Among some of the objects uncovered at the location were carbon batteries, 10-inch nails, angle irons and rivets, and unidentified artifacts thought to be either whiskey barrels or cotton bales.
The only thing that stand between the group and what they believe is the long, lost Angelina is permission to excavate the site. Lockett said they have been waiting to receive word from the Texas Historical Commission to commence with the dig since August, but he anticipates making a road trip to the state office to seek permission if he doesn't hear back from the state agency before the first of November.
"We are waiting on permission to dig the trench, but from what we are seeing, I feel we have found the Angelina," Lockett said. "We have found many reasons to believe the most recent discovery will be the Angelina, but right now, we have to get all the facts checked with the proper authorities."
Lockett said the Cypress wood found on the site is one indication the find is of the 1800- era steamboat, others come in the form of the trinkets and artifacts discovered near the site, not the least of which is the 10-inch nails.
"You don't use nails like that to build houses or anything else," Lockett said. "We feel they were building something bigger. If this isn't the Angelina, it is definitely something as big as the Angelina."
In the interim, while awaiting THC approval to explore the site believed to the be the Angelina, TASA is making plans to further explore a nearby wreck site dubbed the Williams Wreck Site, also uncovered by TASA in August of this year. Lockett said the next phase of exploring the Williams site will include sending multiple dive teams to explore the wreck where it is currently resting. TASA has been in contact with Marine Archeologist Amy Borgens for the Texas Historical Commission in Austin and officials are also looking into what vessel the team has uncovered.
Lockett said the team has explored 25 wreck sites along the Neches since the organization formed, but according to him, there are still many vessels waiting to be revealed.
"Our studies estimate there is upwards of $40 million in artifacts and wood just off the local shores of the Trinity, Neches and Sabine rivers," said Lockett. "At any given time, people are moving right over it and don't even know it. There's a lot of treasures out there waiting to be found. We just have to be diligent in looking for them."
More pictures available in the Oct. 14 edition of The Examiner.