A farmer trying out his new boat on the Missouri River was startled to find an old shipwreck just a few miles upstream from Sioux City. Historians say the low tide helped uncover the remains of what may be a steamboat that sank in 1870. The Missouri Valley’s a specialty of Tom Buchanan, a history professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, who’s studied the 19th century boats.Buchanan says steamboats like that are one of the best windows we have into the culture of that period. He adds such boats “litter the cornfields of the Midwest.” Some historians estimate a dozen such boats may be sunk in the river between Yankton, South Dakota, and Sioux City where they sailed into shallower waters and hit submerged “snags,” and some have been found by startled farmers in fields where the river’s course changed after they sank in the mud. Buchanan says the boats and their cargo are like history books. People moving west took the river, and carried everything for their journey — so the boats that sank have significant clues about their everyday life. The historian says the boats carried everyday items you won’t find in museums. Wagon wheels, tools, guns, glass, metal containers — the “ordinary implements of daily life.” While there may be historical treasures, there’s no genuine treasure, the professor says. Buchanan says “there’s no gold on these boats,” or there’d be a lot more interest in digging them up – though if you find one on your land, you can have it.
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