Treasure is buried beneath a Missouri field, but digging it up won't be easy

Jim Cunningham
September 04, 2018 - 5:52 am
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Two years after the discovery of a wrecked steamboat in a Missouri corn field, questions remain about how its treasures can be recovered.

The Steamboat Malta's remains were found beneath the soil near Malta Bend, Missouri, about an hour and 20 minutes east of Kansas City. 

The Malta was headed west on the Missouri River with Indian trade goods when it struck a tree and sank in August, 1841.

In 2016, David Hawley, one of the people who helped dig up the Steamboat Arabia in Kansas City, located the sunken boat with a metal detector. The KC Star featured the find in 2016:

"The river changes course, and has moved to the north," Hawley says now. "It's left the boat about 1,500 feet from the river, buried 53 feet under ground."

Core samples into the boat revealed items like gold buttons, fabric and ceramics. Hawley is thrilled to find the Malta, but he is familiar with the reality of funding a major archeological dig.

"We need $3-million to dig it, so where do you find that?" Hawley asked.

Hawley said he found some sponsors, but has gotten little interest from local officials to help with the cost. The Arabia Museum attracts about 80,000 visitors a year. One concern for the Malta's treasures is exhibition space. 

"If you dig the Malta, you'll need another building bigger than what we have, because there's just not enough room here at the Steamboat Museum to display yet another cargo," Hawley said.

Even if space were available at the Steamboat Arabia Museum, its lease is up in eight years. For now, Hawley continues to look for other museum sites, hoping to come up with the cash dig up more antebellum American history from the Malta wreck.

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