With 200 tons of supplies loaded onto it, the Steamboat Arabia departed from Kansas to head up the Missouri River. It was a routine trip that it made, but this particular one would be her last.
The ship was carrying cargo that was important to 16 towns up the Missouri River. There were over a million objects loaded onto it.
Steamboat Arabia could cruise at more than five miles per hour, and it could maneuver around any hazard in the water. But on this fateful day, it couldn’t do any of that…
As Steamboat Arabia trekked up the river, it hit an unexpected object – the trunk of a fallen tree. The trunk hit the thick hull of the steamboat, and soon, water poured into the boat. Steamboat Arabia began to sink to the bottom of the river, as everyone on board evacuated. Thankfully, everyone made it ashore safely, except for a poor mule.
The steamboat settled into the muddy river bottom, and it completely disappeared from view a few days later.
In 1987, over 130 years after it had sunk, a Kansas local named Bob Hawley and his sons decided to search for the infamous steamboat.
The Steamboat Arabia sinking was a known tale in the area, and the Hawleys wanted to find its remains. They used old maps and special tools to guess where the location of the boat would be.
Bob Hawley, his son Greg, and family friends, Jerry Mackey and David Luttrell, worked together on this real-life scavenger hunt. After some work, they had confirmed that the steamboat was buried under 45 feet of farmland.
The landowner gave them permission to excavate the site.
The Hawleys brought bulldozers, drills, and cranes to dig. They even hired a drilling company to install 20 65-foot-deep wells to remove 20,000 gallons of water per minute.
With each passing day, the hole grew larger and larger. Within two weeks, they discovered the first signs of Steamboat Arabia.
Since the steamboat had been stuck in an oxygen-free environment for so long, many of the artifacts found onboard were preserved. They found weathered timbers of the left paddlewheel that originally was 28 feet tall!
They also found crates of luxury goods as well as daily necessities. This included castor oil, cognac, needles, windowpanes, eyeglasses, earrings, underwear, and weapons.
Today, the artifacts and relics uncovered are on display at a museum in Kansas City.