The ‘Arabia’: a steamboat buried in a cornfield
In 1856, while on a voyage up the Missouri River, the steamboat Arabia hit a concealed log and slowly began to sink.1 It had a full contingent of passengers and crew. Also on board was a cargo of new store goods including clothing, elegant china, preserved foods, tools and medicines, representing many of the necessities and small luxuries of life for the settlers of the western frontier.
Eventually the steamboat disappeared completely beneath the water, but not before all the passengers and crew were rescued. A poor mule went down with the ship, along with the cargo. At first, attempts were made to recover some of the goods but the heavily mud-laden waters and fast-flowing current proved too difficult for the salvagers. The steamboat and its contents remained undisturbed on the bed of the river.
Over the years the river shifted its banks, with the result that the steamboat became deeply buried in river sediment. Where it sank became a cornfield, more than 800 metres (over half a mile) from the present course of the river. Arabia’s exact location was lost, and her story passed into legend.
But in 1988, using modern geophysical equipment, explorers rediscovered the wreck. Although not a small steamboat, at 52 metres (171 feet) long and able to carry 222 tons of freight, the Arabia was buried 14 metres (45 feet) underground. Large excavators and a crane were needed, and the salvagers ended up digging a hole as big as a football field.2
The walnut log (below) that caused the sinking was still piercing the hull, and the bones of the long-dead mule were on the deck. Hundreds of the diverse cargo goods were recovered, many beautifully preserved.3 Today you can visit a museum displaying some of these items which provide a fascinating insight into the fashions, habits and styles of those frontier times.
Secular geologists often say that it takes eons of time for sedimentary layers to form. But the steamboat Arabia was completely buried in sediment, and then some, in about 50 years.4 This gives a tiny insight into how the vast waters of Noah’s Flood, global in magnitude and laden with sand and mud, would be capable of depositing much greater quantities of sediment than the Missouri River, over a much larger area, and in a much shorter space of time.
References and notes
- Gilbert, M.E., The Missouri River Steamboat Arabia, www.steamboats.com/museum/arabia.html Return to text.
- Arabia’s story and Arabia video viewable at: www.1856.com Return to text.
- Some of the preserved food is still edible, and even tastes good. French perfumes recovered retain their beautiful fragrance. Return to text.
- This is an estimate. Return to text.