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State Submerged Resources > Missouri


A land-locked Midwestern state, Missouri has more than 50,000 miles of rivers and streams. The two largest rivers in the state are the Mississippi River and the Missouri River. Major lakes include Clearwater Lake, Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock Lake, and Lake Wappapello. The state is named after the Missouri River and the Siouan Indian tribe that lived in the area before European explorers arrived. Their name, Missouri, means "those that have dugout canoes." About 820 square miles (1% of the state) are covered by water.

What is Missouri's maritime history?

The state's rivers have served as transportation corridors at least since the days when the Missouri Indians lived in the area. The rivers served as the "Gateway to the West" for settlers and explorers including Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Steamboat and other riverboat traffic on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers played a central role in America's westward expansion.

What sites are underwater?

Of the thousands of boats traveling Missouri's rivers, hundreds wrecked and sank due to downed trees, river debris, ice, fire and explosions. Two examples of 19th century steamboats that wrecked and sank in the Missouri River are the Montana and Arabia.

Constructed near the end of the heyday of the steamboat, the Montana competed with the railroad in carrying freight. To carry more freight and undercut the railroad, the Montana and its two sister ships, the Dakota and the Wyoming, were built in 1879 on a gargantuan scale. Longer, wider, and taller than most boats of its kind, the Montana was big and may have been the largest steamboat to travel the Missouri River. Its size was its downfall, though, when in 1884 it ran into a railroad bridge, broke apart, and sank near Bridgeton. The State Historic Preservation Office is documenting what remains of the Montana and considering options for preserving the site.

Another unlucky steamboat, the Arabia, carried passengers and cargo on the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio rivers. In 1856, the four year-old Arabia left St. Louis for Sioux City with stops planned at Kansas City, Weston, St. Joseph, Council Bluffs and other ports. The steamboat snagged on a tree trunk that pierced its hull and sank. Over time, soil covered the Arabia and the river channel moved making the site land-locked. When discovered in 1987, the remains sat more than one-half mile from the river's edge and buried 45 feet underground beneath a cornfield in Kansas. The site was excavated and its remains and cargo are exhibited at the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

Who takes care of Missouri's underwater archeological sites?

Missouri has charged the State Historic Preservation Office in the Department of Natural Resources with identifying, evaluating and protecting the state's diverse archeological resources.

What permits do I need to study shipwrecks?

A permit is needed from the Department of Natural Resources to salvage, excavate or disturb any abandoned shipwreck in Missouri waters that meets the National Register of Historic Places criteria. The applicant must be or hire a professional archeologist and submit a detailed investigation plan that meets professional standards.

What laws concern underwater archeology in Missouri?

The State Historic Preservation Act is codified at Missouri Revised Statutes 253.408, et seq. Shipwrecks are addressed in 253.420, et seq.