It’s the year 1856 and the Steamboat Arabia just left Kansas carrying 200 tons of cargo, enough to supply 16 towns. But what began as a routine trip, would prove unlucky because there was something lurking below the water’s surface that day that no one saw coming: a walnut tree. The fallen tree trunk quickly punctured the steamboat, sinking it in a matter of minutes below the silt and mud of the Mighty Missouri. Everyone on board swam to safety that day leaving zero causalities in the river.

An Artist’s Recreation of the Arabia-Photo Courtsey Gary Lucy

Over the next 132 years, the Missouri River shifted about half a mile washing earth repeatedly over the Arabia giving it the chance to silently settle into its grave, 45 feet deep. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the steamer was discovered beneath a Kansas cornfield, and when our treasure hunt begins.

Relying on old maps and metal detectors to lead their dig for the Arabia, five men and their families made it their mission to uncovered the lost steamboat. After relentless digging and excavating, the steamer finally made its entrance.

Steamboat Arabia
Steamboat Arabia Excavation – Photo Courtesy of MessyNessy

With the lack of light and oxygen, Arabia’s bounty thousands of artifacts were recovered intact, including jars of preserved food that are still edible, tested by one of the excavators themselves, who ate a pickle from the Arabia finding it to be still perfectly fresh. Perfectly preserved items found on board include French perfume, buttons, medicine, a barrel of alcohol, and more than 4,000 pairs of shoes that were still in boxes ready to sell.

With so many items uncovered, including the steamboat itself, the Arabia Steamboat Museum made its debut in 1991. These days, it’s safe to say the museum and it’s artifacts are a must see attraction in Kansas City. The Steamboat Arabia Museum is home to the largest single collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world. What visitors would be surprised to learn is that the Missouri River sank some 400 other steamboats along with the Arabia!

Steamboat Arabia
Perfectly Preserved Pie Fruit – Photo Courtesy of MessyNessy

This story inspired us to want to go have a treasure hunt of our own. What is the best treasure you’ve dug up? Tell us about it the comments below!




45 thoughts on “Steamboat Arabia: A Preserved Treasure”

  1. Kris Dunlap

    Metal detecting in our yard, which our 1897 home sits, I found a Civil War bulet and a Civil War button. Was so excited!! We have found a lot of old coins, some jewelry, a locket, etc, but the bullet was my most exciting.

    1. Sarah Buckholtz Post Author

      Holy honey hole! Nice find, Kris! Keep it up and let us know what else you find. The bullet would be great to see!

  2. Bruce &Marsha Ellis

    We have watched PICKERS for some time now & sure have seen much & learned a lot. You two are doing a good job in finding items for us to see . Daniell is the real looker==for sites to Pick. We like her “dress code”. Your trips to northern New York were nice BUT we are hoping you’ll really get to NORTHERN NEW YORK. That is –any where above Syracuse, Watertown, Albany& Lake George. We live in a small town –Parishville,which is just about 40 miles south of the Canadian boarder: Massena & Odgensburgh have bridges to Canada..So you see how close we are to our Friends Above us. I am sure there must be some real Picking places around us. On that note, if you do get a place close by—my husband & father before him, collected hub caps. His mother liked milk bottles , some soda bottles & some oil bottles w/pouring spout. Father was a logger, milk truck transporter (delivering cream to a creamery) to plants. AND he owned his own truck; contracting out to Montgomery Wards. Guess I’ve said plenty so Best of Picking in 2016. Marsha Ellis.

    1. Sarah Buckholtz Post Author

      Wow! You certainly did BUT we loved reading everything you said. Hope to get to the top of NY very soon. Thanks for watching and the stories!

  3. Sylvia Rose

    Your show is the highlight of my week. I have it on my dvr so I won’t miss it ever! I love the up-beat comradship between Mike, Frank and Daniell. Keep up the good work. Sylvia

  4. John Wernick

    About 6 years ago, I tried tracking down the family of a WWII P47 pilot for a friend in France who’s grandfather saw this pilot bail out from his fighter which was about to crash. The pilot was hidden by the townspeople of this village to prevent him from being discovered by the Germans. My friend had visited the site which his grandfather showed the location of the crash and on numerous occasions excavated many relics and wanted to send a few to the pilots family. The family supplied only the pilots name, but was enough for me to do a bit of research. Much to my surprise, the pilot, Duke Dickerson was alive and well down in Florida! I called Mr. Dickerson and related the story and connected him with my friend. In August 2014, my wife and I traveled to France, and our friend took us to the crash site for some hunting. After getting home with a few pieces of Dickerson’s plane, I tried contacting Duke, but unfortunately had died the year previous.

  5. Deb Worley

    The Steamboat Arabia was found near Parkville Mo. Parkville is where my family and I have an antique and gift store for over 30 years. We love your show because we are pickers, too.

  6. Lynn LeMire

    What a lovely story about the Arabia. You asked abut the best treasure we ever dug up. Well, I didn’t dig it up but it’s the best treasure I ever received. After my parents divorced, my Mom and I moved. At some point she lost her wedding band – I was probably about 10 or 11. She passed away when I was 26 and I sold the house. Some years later I was driving up the old street my with my two girls when I saw an old high school friend who lived six doors up from my old house. She told me she had something that might be mine and went inside to retrieve the treasure. It seems her young son had been playing in the front yard of my old house with a friend and dug up a dirty object. He brought it home and showed my friend who cleaned it up. Inside were my Mom’s and Dad’s initials and she knew it was mine. She held on to it as she knew that one day we would make contact again. And so many years after my Mom died, I received the treasure of her old wedding ring. What a gift!

    1. Sarah Buckholtz Post Author

      What an amazing story! That takes the cake for “best treasure” for sure. Thanks for sharing with us!

  7. Lise David

    I was 12 years old in 1962. Walking in the Forest on a mountain, my brother and I stubble on a half filled cave. We decided to digg it the most we could. With a rope my brother tied me and down I went. Coming back with jewelry and old dress from the 1920. Our grand mother told us that she used to own one like it. Today I am 65 and I still have the necklace and more.
    That was in a small town 50 miles east from Ottawa Ontario Canada.

  8. Deb Dahlberg Rowland

    Loved this story about the recovery of the Steamboat Arabia! My favorite is the picture of the preserved food. I have always loved canning, started with my Gramma’s grape jelly. This year made Muscadine and Tomoato Jelly from our vines and plants, and gave them as Christmas presents. Who knows maybe they will turn up in some historic find a couple hundred years from now!

    1. Sarah Buckholtz Post Author

      Happy to hear you enjoyed the post! We thought the preserved food was interesting too. Don’t take that chance with perfectly canned jelly, Deb! Enjoy it. Share it. 🙂

  9. Sherry

    Hi Mike,
    I just read in our local newspaper that you were in my area a little bit ago and I didn’t even know it!
    I am a little bummed about that. Love you and Frank, Danielle, your brother! I never miss a show – even
    if I have to get it off of Xfinity! I live in Salisbury MD and the show that airs tonight 2-1-16 is when you
    came to Marion Station MD which is like 10 miles from where I grew up. My secret wish is to be a picker
    when I retire! I love the history you and Frank dig up. You guys are the best!
    Keep on picking! Sherry

  10. tony smith

    I haven’t dug much but I find goodies all the time. Some of my finds $150+Cutco knifes(dumster divin), $400+Platinum wedding band (trash),$250 gold neckless (dryer laundry mat), $400 1887 Waltham pocket watch (dumpester), $1500 bottle present from wife bought buy wife for $25 (great job sweety),diomound earring(side in front building) filled a 5gal pal full of pre 1920 bottle (under house) still more to dig up,there’s lot of other goodies over the years and heck im only 41 lotsmore to find

  11. Bill Lunn

    First of all love your show it and street outlaws is two I don’t miss, I was digging and found a white glass dog about 2 1/2 inches long and 1 1/2 inches tall, the surface is not smooth like glass. I also found a cast iron bank in a trash dump behind a farm house, it was a black lady and still had about 1/3 of the paint still on it, the dump was where they had tore a old farm house down and built a new house. Have other items from the past years.

  12. Rakella Wells

    We love your show. I love & collect antiques. Am a Coca-Cola collector & my husband collects erector sets. He loves AC Gilbert. I have been to the Steamboat Arabia museum in KC. It is amazing. The merchandise they have recovered is great, but got me was all the shoes. I love how they demonstrate how they clean everything to preserve it. It’s quite interesting. We love to watch your show, to see all the awesome people & their hidden “honey holes” full of treasures. It so amazes me the old treasures people have kept for so many many years, & most don’t even know it’s there. “Keep on Picking”. You 3 are Treasures to us!

  13. Rakella Wells

    We love your show. I love & collect antiques. Am a Coca-Cola collector & my husband collects erector sets. He loves AC Gilbert. I have been to the Steamboat Arabia museum in KC. It is amazing. The merchandise they have recovered is great, but what got me was all the shoes. I love how they demonstrate how they clean everything to preserve it. It’s quite interesting. We love to watch your show, to see all the awesome people & their hidden “honey holes” full of treasures. It so amazes me the old treasures people have kept for so many many years, & most don’t even know it’s there. “Keep on Picking”. You 3 are Treasures to us!

  14. Dave Buck

    Like the show .. I was lucky to do the repair on your White Star Liquor Sign when I had my neon shop in Murfreesboro. I have since moved to Pensacola and reopened my shop….While in Murfreesboro I was asked to restore a sign that came from the Sun records recording studio in Memphis……after doing some research I found out that the sign I was working on came from the left outside window… although the sign had been updated 2 times over the years ( the backing was changed) the neon was the same….Since the sign was so damaged it had to be remade completely….I believe the sign is hanging in the Guitar museum in the basement at the Ryman Auditorium. The best part is that I still have several working original pieces of the sign, where Elvis recorded his first music.

  15. Cindy Ehlers

    The Arabia was built in my hometown of Brownsville PA. Brownsville, PA was a vital location as settlers made their way west. The first road to cross the mountains ended in Brownsville. Travelers would trade their wagons for boats to take them up the Monongahela River to Pittsburgh then onto the Ohio River to points west.

    Brownsville had several boat yards that many built stern-wheeler boats sailed on the many tributaries of the Mississippi River.

    The full article about the Arabia mentions where it was built.

    There are many historic photos and artifacts around the town of Brownsville recognizing history and heritage of this early town.

  16. Jim Bantz

    Long story, too long to tell here but, I stumbled on to a 1909 Thor Single. A co-worker kept telling me his dad had a bicycle with a motor on it and wanted to sell it. I pictured a Whizzer and while I was interested I wasn’t interested enough and let the lead lay for a couple of months. He finally told me his dad was serious about selling it, he was in bad health and would make me a great deal on it. I went down to look at it and discovered it was a 1909 Thor Single. I was surprised how complete it was down to the exhaust and original carb, nothing was missing. I researched the bike and current values. I made hm a fair market offer and waited for his reply. He was ecstatic. With the bike I also received a bunch of spare parts, slipper clutch rings, carbide lamp and a trove M/C license plates dating all the way back to the late 20’s up to the late 50’s. Best bike find for me, ever.

  17. Bev

    I was about 10 years old and ”picking” gravel from my knees, as I had just recked my bike. I happen to be looking in just the right direction and in the weeds I spotted a gold ring. It was hand tooled with leafs decorating it. I took it home and Mom said that I should put a note up at the one small grocery store in town.
    A woman that was newly married had been playing volleyball in the front yard and her ring went flying into the air. She had looked for months for it. She gave me a $10 reward for returning it to her. I don’t remember what I spent the money on, but I have always carried with me the good feelings of knowing she was happy to see it again.

  18. Diane F. Fisli

    Hiya, love the show – when I lived in Chicago in the late ’70s- early ’80s, I picked the alleys of my Edgewater neighborhood every garbage day. The alley in back of upscale Sheridan Road was also my far less upscale street alley, and on the Sheridan side the things those condo-dwellers threw out were sometimes incredibly valuable and perfectly useable. I think my favorite finds from then were dark blue and white porcelain signs from a renovated elevated train platform. I still have two of the four recovered; I traded the other two for a nice old claw-foot oak dining room table which I refinished myself and eventually turned into a tidy profit (after I’d enjoyed it’s use for a few years). Loved that table – it was *solid* oak and had really attractive grain. Gorgeous.

  19. Paul Wadman

    I’m from England,its a brilliant show. I use to work in hinesville GA. Love the people and all that there is about the south.

  20. Bob Fields

    I watch your show every week. I have been watching since you came on the air.
    My question is, how can we buy some of the items that Mike & Frank buy on their trips?
    Thanks for your time and keep picking.

  21. Mark warns

    Just plain fantastic about the steamboats contents. Its like you just found the contents to King Tut’s tomb.

  22. Alan Messham

    Love your show and watch it daily in the UK. I watch episodes every time they’re shown. Love the stories and the characters. Not a great collector myself but I do keep the model kits I build. I also cast and paint chess pieces and make boards. I have twelve different sets cast in moulds I have bought.

  23. Paul LaBossiere

    Love your show, my wife and i watch it all the time. We live in Maine, we frequent all the junk shops. We always go to USA Antiques in Arundel One time there we noticed a picture of you and frank hanging behind the counter. There is a out door flea market there. My wife and I started selling stuff there last year. We sell mostly records and other stuff. We have a good time and meet alot of interesting people. Take care, we loved your story’s. Pam & Paul

  24. Terry Roberts

    Best pick I ever had was shortly after I retired. I had been picking for about 6 years and since retiring i was now out on Friday mornings. One Friday morning I stumbled on a box of 15 1878 target balls. Target balls were the forerunner of clay pigeons in skeet shooting. Made of green colored glass they they were embossed with PAT. AUG. 1878. I understand they would stuff them with feathers and when broken in the air by shot the feathers would simulate a hit bird. Having paid only $1.00 apiece collectors quickly bought them up and I ended getting over $7,000.00 when all 15 had been sold. Best pick ever. Love American Pickers.

  25. Donna Aldridge

    A friend of mine in Melbourne, Australia sent me the article about the Steamboat Arabia. I lived for two years, 40 years ago, in what was then River Quay, now called River Market, where the boat now resides. David and his father visted me for two days some years ago, tho we didn’t make it to visit the Steamboat Arabia. But while we were at Union Station, we all spent an “exciting” 45 minutes or so in the basement there because of a threatening tornado, which was an adventure in itself since they do not have tornados in Australia. The next day, driving them to the airport, we drove down a road where the tornado had crossed the day before, seeing the debris, etc. left over from it’s path. Thanks for this little visitto the Arabie!

  26. Carol Engel

    Since our house is vintage 1820 it seemed only logical to try to find coins from that era – a 3 cent piece in the cellar of the house and a 1700’s penny in the yard.


    Great idea to post your stories on line; we all need to stay connected and share memories. We have been looking through pictures of when our bluegrass band went to Charlie Moose’s “western town” in Concord, N.C. and played in the saloon. I can’t remember what year you went to his place to pick but we watched the TV show. I met Mike at a public meeting in the Convention Center in Hampton, Va. (gave him a book showing old postcards pertaining to the history of Hampton). I would love to purchase a tape of the program that included Charlie Moose’s place, if still available. Please let me know if available. By the way, Charlie Moose is 95 and still playing Sheriff in his western town. We have been enjoying your shows for years – keep them going. One day my husband may call you as I have 3 buildings full of stuff that go back to when I was 10; used to hide stuff in the attic at my Mom’s and years later after getting married I went back and took it all to my house – still have all the stuff. HAPPY PICKING

  28. Scott Newton

    I watch American Pickers here in England and love you all , your enthusiasm is infectious . My friend runs a local metal detecting club , they find Bronze Age axe heads and multitudes of roman coins and implements from the time of Jesus but they have never found a steamboat . Love these stories ( the hobo one was brilliant also ) thanks and keep on pickin .

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