Steamboat Arabia, missing for 132 years, discovered 45 feet under a field


In 1988, a group of treasure hunters found a steamboat that was buried in a Kansas cornfield. It was loaded with supplies for 16 towns.

This ship was the Arabia, whose hull had been punctured by a submerged tree on September 5th, 1856, near Parkville, Missouri, which is six miles north of Kansas City.

The ship was just three years old when it set sail on the Missouri from St. Louis, headed westward to deliver the supplies for the 16 frontier towns.

Paddlewheel of the Arabia Steamboat. Located at The Steamboat Arabia Museum, Kansas City Photo Credit
Paddlewheel of the Arabia Steamboat. Located at The Steamboat Arabia Museum, Kansas City Photo Credit

There were 4,000 pairs of shoes and boots, 20,000 feet of lumber, two prefab homes headed to Logan, Nebraska, a sawmill and fixtures, and a case of Otard Dupuy & Co. cognac. Today, all the artifacts recovered on the Arabia are in the Arabia Steamboat Museum.

In 1853, the Arabia was built around the Monongahela River in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. The paddlewheels were 28 feet wide, and the steam boilers went through around 30 cords of wood per day. The boat went about five miles per hour going upstream.

Originally, the boat traveled up and down both the Ohio and Mississippi rivers until being purchased by Captain John Shaw, who then operated the boat on the Missouri River.

The first job he used it for was to transport 109 soldiers from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Pierre, which was located up the river in South Dakota.

Wooden supplies from the Arabia Steamboat. Photo Credit
Wooden supplies from the Arabia Steamboat. Photo Credit

He then traveled the Yellowstone River, adding another 700 miles to his trip. The entire voyage took almost three months to finish. The boat was then sold in the spring of 1856 to Captain William Terrill and William Boyd, and made a total of 14 trips up and down the Missouri while they owned it.

The boat collided with something in March, nearly sinking with a damaged rudder. The necessary repairs were made in Portland. A few weeks later, the boat blew a cylinder head, and the boat had to be repaired again.

The Arabia was stopped and searched by pro-slavery Border Ruffians near Lexington, Missouri in March 1856. Newspaper reports at the time, there was a Pennsylvania abolitionist onboard the Arabia, and he dropped a letter which was found and turned over to Captain Shaw.

In the written letter, there was mention of guns and cannons in route to slavery-free Kansas Territory from the abolitionist Massachusetts Aid Society. The ship was searched, and the weapons were found in crates labeled “Carpenters Tools” and were all confiscated.

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