The Sinking of the Mittie Stephens
We discovered this replica of a steamboat known as the Mittie Stephens at Jefferson's Historical Museum. A ship's bell resting in the museum's basement, is all they have to remind them of a tragic event connected with this boat.
The Mittie Stephens was first used as part of the Confederacy war effort and she served as a "naval packet' for twelve months. She was sold to civilian owners in 1864, who used her on the Missouri River. In 1866, she began making roundtrips between New Orleans and Jefferson.
One night as she was steaming along Caddo Lake towards Jefferson in order to deliver her 107 passengers, a torch basket that used to light her way ignited a stacked pile of hay on the deck.
As the boat attempted to make its way to shore, the sternwheeler continued to crank. Some of the passengers who jumped overboard were sucked into the wheel; others didn't realize how close to shore they were nor how shallow the water was, so burned to death. Sixty three people lost their lives that night and the boat was destroyed. There were about 43 survivors.
More information on this, see "The Mitty Stephens Disaster" by Archie P. McDonald, PhD on TexasEscapes.com
The King and Queen
As we watched the parade wind past our balcony, a chatty lady next to me pointed out this float on which the King and Queen of Mardi Gras were riding.
She said the tradition of choosing a King and Queen is determined by who receives a random slice of cake containing a small plastic "baby", meant to depict the Christ Child. This also guarantees a year of good luck for those recipients.
Perhaps this event is carried out at the masked ball, which precedes each Mardi Gras.
The Annual Diamond Bessie Trial
UPDATE: The Diamond Bessie Trial was certainly a novel account of history. My husband and I had tickets for a Saturday evening performance, which included a cast of colorful characters...many who have been in this production for over 20-30 years!
The death of a seemingly well-heeled woman in January 1877 caused quite a stir in Jefferson. Especially since this woman had been seen in the company of a man who people had assumed was her husband.
They had arrived a few days earlier with smart looking luggage and a jewel strewn Bessie. Some folks said they had heard this couple arguing all over town, where they had booked hotels during their stay.
One afternoon the couple was seen carrying a picnic basket on their way to Marshall, Texas, but the man returned by himself that evening...with Bessie's rings on his fingers. He took a train to the East with all of the luggage.
Several days later, a woman discovered the body of Bessie, laying as though asleep surrounded by remants of a picnic, with a bullet hole in her head. Eventually, the man's name was discovered at one of the hotel's he had frequented--this time he did not use an assumed name. He was captured and taken to trial.
Unfortunately, after three years of appeal and the guidance of ten lawyers, Abraham Rothchild (a distant black sheep of the European Rothchild family) saw his verdict overturned. He disappeared soon after this.
The town presents an annual Diamond Bessie trial during Pilgrimage House Tour in May. Will Bessie finally get justice? Five performances are scheduled for the trial: Thursday, May 1-Sunday, May 4. Tickets are $20 and will be on sale beginning in January. Call(903)665-6075 for tickets or see www.theexcelsiorhouse.com.
Caddo Lake State Park
Caddo Lake State Park is west of Jefferson in Harrison County, consists of 483.85 acres along Cypress Bayou, which runs into Caddo Lake. The park was acquired in 1933 and was opened in 1934. You can take lake and Bayou tours from Uncertain. This, I thoroughly recommend, it was the best cruise I have taken. It was private and the scenery was awesome. (see my Caddo Lake Page).
The Schluter Home
Although this home is not open to the public, I'm including it in my tips because it's an example of the late Greek Revival style of architecture. It's located in a quiet section of Jefferson near a park and historic Episcopal church.
Cast iron balasters are an element of this design, which is reflected in this home more than any other in the town of Jefferson.
I was surprised to read that there are more than 100 state and nationally recognized historic structures in and around Jefferson. The Schluter home is one of those noted.
This striking two story home was built in 1856 by F. A. Schluter, a prominent businessman in the area and one of the first settlers to this region. This part of town was known for its affluence.