|George Buster Singleton|
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Watching the deep river run: Alabama River keeps secrets of old steamers” was originally published in the Sept. 20, 1990 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)
It would be hard to imagine the many secrets that lie beneath the waters of the Alabama River. Since the time of DeSoto’s crossing near Claiborne, this great river has kept to itself many things.
The coming of the river steamers added greatly to the Alabama’s many secrets. According to the records on hand, there is hardly a mile of river bottom that does not hold the wreckage of a sunken steamer. And hundreds of stories wait in the shadows.
Shortly after moving to Monroe County, I did quite a lot of scuba diving in the river near and around Claiborne. During these dives, I saw many things: parts of old steamers resting on the muddy bottom, steam boilers, and winches that had been used to hoist bales of cotton to the decks of the large boats headed for markets in Mobile and New Orleans. Much of the freight that was aboard the river travelers still can be found in the soft mud on the bottom, where it came to rest after the many tragedies that befell the river steamers.
My good friend and experienced scuba diver, Joe Champion, just a few days ago was diving in the great river near where the old cotton slides were at Claiborne. He tells me that there on the muddy bottom lies the old windlass that was used to hoist up the steep bank the freight that the merchants of Claiborne ordered from points south. He says the long beam that was attached to the wooden windlass drum is still part of the old, mule-drawn equipment.
It seems that the windlass, complete with the beam and all the attachments, was just pushed in the river to get rid of it. Joe has checked on several boats that met their fate between Claiborne and Selma, and he has a collection of items such as minnie balls, cannon shot and bottles recovered from beneath the high banks at Selma. These items were thrown in the river to keep them from falling into the hands of Union forces when the town was overrun during the latter days of the Civil War.
In his spare time, Joe is now doing some research on a sunken steamer near Selma. He hopes to add greatly to his collection before this salvage operation is over. He has some items now on display in the county museum, and we hope he will display more of his findings at a later date.
Who knows, or could even guess, what lies in the deep waters below the site of the old fort at Claiborne? As one stands there and looks into the deep, dark waters below, many things pass through the mind.
One can imagine a careless Union soldier throwing something in the river just to get rid of it. Or, during the Indian wars, a lookout, posted on the high platform that overlooked the river, searching the waters for any movement of war canoes on the glistening surface below.
If one stands quietly and listens to the winds across the high bluffs, one might hear the faint notes of a bugle, calling the troops to muster on the parade ground just east of the old fort site. Or you might look to the south and see a troop of dusty soldiers on horseback, returning to the fort after a long day on patrol in the surrounding countryside.
If you yearn for a period of 12 million years or so ago, climb down to the fossil beds at the water’s edge and dig for fossils that give evidence of the first living creatures on this planet. Pick up a tooth of a great white shark that swam these waters in search of food some several million years back. Imagine some prehistoric animal walking slowly along the bank, grazing on the heavy growth of plant life that was abundant there.
The water of the great river still holds the secrets to many unsolved mysteries. As the water slowly makes its way to the sea, the answers to these mysteries lie silent on the muddy bottom until the time when man seeks to break the deadly silence of the depths of dark water. Perhaps this might never happen, but then again, it just might.
For now, the answers wait. The deep water continue to hold its secrets, and man will stand and wonder as he looks into the depths of the great river and gives thought as to what lies beneath the dark surface.
(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)