The Steamboat Arabia hit a tree snag and sank on the Missouri River on September 5, 1856. The 130 passengers survived, but an estimated 220 tons of cargo went down with the boat. Shortly thereafter, the Missouri River changed course, and the boat was buried underground. The cargo, destined for sixteen towns on the frontier, was buried under a cornfield in Wyandotte County, Kansas for 152 years until it was discovered in 1988.
On the way home from Iowa, we drove past a billboard advertising the Steamboat Arabia Museum. Since we'd already learned about the Transcontinental Railroad, we figured it would just be a week of learning about historical transportation.
The museum offers a tour by some pretty enthusiastic guides...these are the guys that actually excavated the boat back in the late 1980's. They're knowledgeable, friendly, and have all the answers. My boys had LOTS of questions, and the guide's enthusiasm was contagious - everyone was excited to learn about this boat we had never heard of until today!They start with a short history lesson about the Missouri River and the area itself, and then show you how they decided where to dig. My oldest is intrigued by archaeology of the underwater variety, and had many questions here. Then we saw remains of the ship itself before heading into a short film. The footage was neat, but I think the tour guide was more informative than the film. He was energetic!
They talk about the evolution of river boats and the history of trading in the area - how small towns sprang up along the river. Then we got to see how the river had changed over the course of 150 years. There is also a great aerial view of the area where you can see patterns in the farmland that show the river's changes.
When the Arabia sank, she was carrying supplies to sixteen different towns. The salvage company was able to save most of that cargo, thanks to the way that it had been packed. The results are basically the entire 1856 Sears & Roebuck catalog. It's amazing! Sprinkled throughout the museum are survivor stories, archaeological lessons, and an exhibit on artifact preservation. If you're in the Kansas City area, grab some BBQ and spend the afternoon touring the Arabia!
Steamboat Arabia Resources :
- History of the Arabia Steamboat
- A Big Adventure for a Small Seed
- Unit Study : Grades K-2 (free)
- Little Toot on the Mississippi & lapbook
- If You Travelled West in a Covered Wagon
- Unit Study : Grades 3-5 (free)
- Pioneer Days
- Unit Study : Grades 6-8 (free)
- Treasure in a Cornfield
- Unit Study : Grades 9-12 (free)