Treasure of the Arabia
- On 31/03/2010
- In Museum News
From the Fence Post
It is nothing short of incredible, the power of mud to preserve. In 1856 the Arabia steamed away from St. Louis bound for ports along the Missouri River where the 200 tons of cargo she carried would be distributed for use in frontier communities.
On Sept. 6, 1856, the Kansas City Enterprise reported, “The steamer Arabia bound for Council Bluffs struck a snag about a mile below Parkville and sunk to the boiler deck — Boat and cargo a total loss.”
The sinking occurred the previous day.
The muddy waters of the Missouri had obscured the snag that bored into the hull of the Arabia, causing the vessel to quickly flood and sink.
Although the crew and passengers — around 130 people in all — survived, the boat laden with merchandise quickly floundered and submerged.
There may have been minimal recovery of goods, but the vast majority of the cargo soon lay in the mud bottom of the Missouri.
The constant wash of water and mud completely covered the Arabia. Over the decades, the river shifted and moved, changing course as all active waterways tend to do.
Treasure hunters began searching for the Arabia. They looked where the river now flows, to the north, to the south, eventually to the west.
And in a farmer's field a half-mile from the present river's edge, in 1988, they found the Arabia, lying buried in mud and soil 45 feet below the surface. The discovery was not just an affirmation of where the steamboat lay, but became an intense archaeological and historical investigation.
The discovery of the Arabia came at the hands of five men: Jerry Mackey, Bob Hawley and his sons, Dave and Greg, and David Luttrell.
Their wives were not too interested in their quest for treasure ... at least not until they pulled the first outstanding piece of china from the hulk.
As the treasure hunters recovered the first plunder from the black, muddy soil they were astounded.
Fine English china had survived the snag and although mud-crusted was perfectly preserved. Beautiful pitchers and patters, cups, plates, saucers, bowls and more were lifted into the daylight for the first time in 132 years.