Sunken Treasures Revealed From Steamboat Lost In Missouri River
The Steamboat Arabia sank in the Missouri River north of Kansas City in 1856, but treasure hunters found the lost steamboat and its undamaged cargo in 1988.
An estimated 300 steamboats sank on the Missouri River between St. Louis and Pierre, South Dakota in the mid-1800s, and most remain lost treasures. The Steamboat Arabia, also known as Great White Arabia, sank after its hull was pierced by a submerged tree near Parkville. It sank quickly, but gently in the mud along the riverbank.
Treasure Hunters of the Missouri River
Greg and David Hawley grew up on the Missouri River, fishing and hiking from its muddy banks and always delighting in the stories of sunken treasures. As adults, armed with maps and metal detectors, their hikes along the riverbanks turned serious. In 1988, they located the Steamboat Arabia, buried under 45 feet of mud. Changes in the Missouri River’s channel over the years resulted in the boat being found in a cornfield about a half-mile from the current river.
Sunken Treasures of Steamboat Arabia
Rubber boots were among the first lost treasures discovered in November 1988, but a few days later, crates filled with 200 pieces of fine china were discovered, all but a few pieces completely intact.
Other treasures include tons of hardware for building frontier homes, such as doorknobs and hinges, nails, glass windows, carpenters tools, and more. Items for fill frontier stores included 50 bolts of fabric, 10,000 brass straight pins, French buttons, and beads. The food items, still edible according to the Hawleys who tasted a jar of pickles, included cherry pie filling, oysters, and sardines.
There were 300 hats, 958 pairs of shoes, rolling pins, guns, scissors, axes and razors, and on and on and on – all perfectly preserved as Arabia sunk gently into the cold, dark Missouri River.
Arabia Steamboat Museum
As the items were lifted from the muddy cornfield, they were transported to the limestone caves of Kansas City where the dark, coolness kept them preserved until the treasure hunters could figure out what to do with their find.
Steamboat Arabia Museum employees clean items on a daily basis, often where visitors to the museum can watch and ask questions. Some things, like dishes and buttons, are pretty easy. Others are not so easy. For example, each pair of shoes takes about 16 weeks of work. Children are allowed to clang away on a rusted clump of nails in an effort to become involved.
The Hawleys are now leading experts on organic preservation and the Arabia Steamboat Museum is considered the most comprehensive collection of pre-Civil War artifacts on display in the United States.
The Arabia Steamboat Museum is located at 400 Grand Blvd, in the River Market District of downtown Kansas City.
Another great museum in Kansas City is the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial.