This undated photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary shows the 266-foot steel-hulled steamer Choctaw. The Associated Press
This undated photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary shows the 266-foot steel-hulled steamer Choctaw.

It traversed the Great Lakes for years until sinking in 1915. Now, the Choctaw serves as another of Michigan’s numerous historic sites.

It was a cool morning in July 1915. A thick fog covered the open waters of Lake Huron, where the freighter Wahcondah was traveling east with a cargo of wheat from Fort William, Ontario. 

It wasn’t until 5:30 a.m. that crew aboard the Scotland-built freighter noticed another ship in its path. The dense fog had blocked sight of another lake freighter, the S.S. Choctaw, until it was too late. 

“We did not see the Wahcondah until she was within ten feet of us,” Capt. Charles Fox told attorneys for Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company, which owned the Choctaw. “She caught us on the port side and struck beams or else she would have cut us in two. We put off in the lifeboats as quickly as possible after we knew the ship could not float.”

After the collision, the crew aboard the Choctaw raced for lifeboats. Some didn’t have time to make it aboard one of the smaller boats and had to jump into the water. The Choctaw, a 267-foot boat that was hauling coal from Cleveland to Marquette, began listing to one side after the collision while also slowly going down in the front. Eventually, the back end of the boat rose out of the water and rolled over. 

“It sounded as if a million dishes and hundreds of sticks were being broken as the ship rolled over,” Fox would later say.

The Choctaw sank in just 17 minutes, but its crew of 22 all survived. They were rescued by the ship that struck the Choctaw, the Wahcondah. 

Today, the Choctaw shipwreck site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It sits in about 300 feet of water, about five miles east of Presque Isle Light.

Choctaw is one of 6,000 boats to have come to rest on the Great Lakes, taking with them over 30,000 lives, according to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. 

You can find out more about how to support the preservation of Great Lakes history and Great Lakes shipwreck history by visiting the museum website here: https://www.shipwreckmuseum.com/