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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (08/2003) Headlines (07/2003) Headlines (09/2003)   Vol. 37 August 2003 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the August 2003 edition of W&ET Magazine


The largest steamboat to ply the Missouri River is serving as a laboratory for budding underwater archaeologists, who are excavating the 1880s wreck of the large stern-wheeler.

The steamboat Montana was the largest ever to travel the waters of the Missouri River, the archaeologists say. It now rests on the riverbank in Bridgeton, in St. Louis County.

The boat's remains may serve as a blueprint for rethinking the history of paddle wheel boats.

"We will literally be rewriting the book on how these steamers were constructed from this one project," said Bradley Rodgers, an archaeologist from East Carolina State University. Rodgers co-directs the field school with Annalies Corbin, a maritime archaeologist who studies steamboat transportation in the West.

Corbin and Rodgers brought a group of seven students to document the shipwreck on behalf of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources State Historic Preservation Office.

The steamboat is an irreplaceable state resource, said archaeologist Steve. J. Dasovitch of SCI Engineering Inc., a St. Charles-based company hired to monitor the wreckage for the state. Once the students finish excavating and mapping the wreck, they will fill the site back in with Missouri River mud, preserving it for the state.

In the Montana's era, every cargo company hoping to sell its goods to settlers in the West sent wares via paddle-wheelers through St. Louis, he said.

"St. Louis serving as a gateway to the West isn't just a figure of speech," Dasovitch said. "The Missouri River was the major highway for westward expansion. It outshines all the major trails."

And the steamboat Montana was the last example of river vessels that carried people and freight west before the railroads became the primary mode of transportation, said Corbin. The boat was built in 1879 as part of a trio for Coulson and Co., a Yankton, S.D., freight company.

The boat measured 250' from stem to stern- 280' with its giant paddle wheel. The Montana's three decks, pilot house and smoke stacks would have given her a height of more than 50', Corbin said.

But her stature may have been the Montana's downfall. In June 1884, the steamboat tried to pass under a railroad bridge spanning the Missouri River between St. Charles and Bridgeton. The boat went out of control and steamed bow-first into the bridge, took on water and ran aground on the St. Louis County side of the river. The Montana split in half, her starboard side sagging into the swollen river.

Perhaps the Montana's greatest treasure is the secret of her construction. The Coulson company's documents were lost in the early part of the 20th century and most shipbuilders of the day didn't keep written accounts of their designs, Corbin said. The only record of the Montana's design is the boat itself.

On Wednesday, the crew, led by graduate student Chris Valvano, dug into the thick mud behind the boat, expecting to see the flat-bottom hull of a barge. Instead, an elegant arch curved downward through the sediment. The hollowed-out curve is a design element called a skeg. The archaeologists had never seen such an elaborate design on a wooden vessel, Rodgers said.

Skegs didn't become common for at least 20 years after the Montana was built, he said. The design accompanied the advent of metal hulls and propellers- the skeg provided sort of an alcove for the propellers, he said. Most design experts didn't think such a design was even possible with a wooden vessel, Rodgers said. The sharp angels could cause the wood to break, he said.

But the Montana's builders spared no expense in her construction- the boat cost $54,000 in 1879, equivalent to more than $900,000 today- fortifying the fragile timber with iron fasteners, Rodgers said.

From the Post Tribune, submitted by Pete Octting.


Missouri can trace its Hispanic heritage back over 230 years. The area which is now Missouri came under Spanish control in 1762. After losing the French and Indian War, France was forced to surrender all its North American territory west of the Mississippi to Spain. The first Spanish official, Antonio de Ulloa, arrived in 1766 at New Orleans, where he served as governor of the region.

Among the earliest Spanish activities was to send an expedition to construct a fort at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Fort Don Carlos was established in 1767 with a mission to help defend the two small villages of St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve. While Spanish regular soldiers manned the fort, there was also a local militia.

The area has a strong militia tradition. All men able to bear arms between the ages of 14 to 50 carried on militia service under the Spanish.

The militia was scheduled to drill every 14 days. This usually occurred on a Sunday.

They were instructed how to march in sections of four or eight according to the number of men present. They were also taught the manual of arms for loading and firing so they would be able to execute commands promptly and efficiently.

Those who exhibited a disposition not to appear at drill were fined about $8 the first occurrence along with eight days in prison. The second offense doubled the prison term and fine. The third occurrence, they were given a sufficient time to put their affairs in order and forced to leave the country.

The only Revolutionary War battle to take place in what is now Missouri occurred at St. Louis. On May 26, 1780, when a force of over 1,000 Ojibiwa, Winnebago, Sioux, and other Indians and British traders attacked St. Louis. Fire from Gov. Fernando de Leyba's five cannons and from the citizens of St. Louis drove back the assailants. As they retreated, the defeated troops attacked settlers and slaves outside the fortifications. Of the 700 people living in the area, around 79 were killed, wounded or captured.

Spanish rule in the Upper Louisiana Territory ended on March 9, 1804 when the territory was turned over to the French designee, who then raised the Stars and Stripes on March 10.

Captain Amos Stoddard, Commandant of Upper Louisiana, noted in one of his first reports about the territory that there were 2,344 men including 375 African Americans able to bear arms who were 18 to 45 years old. Stoddard kept all of the officers in their previous positions. Stoddard organized all the settlements into regular militia based on locality as opposed to population.

There were four companies of militia formed on the north side of the Missouri River, seven in the district of St. Louis, five in the district of St. Genevieve, and seven in the districts of New Madrid and Cape Girardeau.

For more information you are welcome to visit the Museum for Missouri Military History.

From the Bear Facts, Missouri National Guard, Jefferson City, MO, submitted by Pete Oetting.


Whatever you have planned for next weekend, here's a better choice: the White Oak Civil War Museum in Stafford County, Virginia.

I was just there for a third visit, and it has to be one of the best private museums in the country. For $3, you'll see the treasures that D.P. Newton and his father, Pat, and other relatives have excavated from the Union camp sites that blanketed the county during the war.

The Newtons didn't dig in the battlefields because they are government land and the family considered it sacred anyway, D.P. Newton said. They were interested in the camps where the soldiers lived, and they could dig most anywhere because "we are all kin to one another," he said.

D.P. is the ninth generation of his family to live in the Stafford County area and, at last count, he had 2,000 relatives living nearby. After nearly 40 years of collecting artifacts, he has put away his metal detector.

On a Saturday or Sunday, you have a good chance of meeting D.P., an expert on all things Civil War in Stafford. He avoids talking about himself, but if you raise an issue about the Union regiments that camped in the county, you'll get a lot of information. D.P., who has collected excerpts from letters written from the camps, readily pulls out his source material.

"I like to let the soldiers say it," he said.

Although he has two relatives named Newton who fought for the South, he doesn't take sides, pointing out that many of his visitors had Union relatives, and he is pleased to help them find the exact places where those soldiers lived during the war. Through his research, he has documented where each regiment camped- sometimes for a few days-as it awaited a battle or settled in for the winter.

I was surprised to learn that the soldiers often lived below ground. He has built three replicas of a typical Union soldier's home in the field. They feature a low wooden wall topped by a traditional canvas tent built over an excavated basement. Visible through the open flaps are rifles leaning against the dirt wall, simple beds and some clothing.

D.P.- his real name is Danny Patrick, but he has been D.P. since the fourth grade- houses his collection in the old White Oak Elementary School, where he attended classes. He purchased it from the county for use as a museum.

In display cases he built himself, he has thousands of Mini Balls (rifle ammunition), hundreds of buttons, buckles and bottles, and a good sampling of rifles, handguns and cannonballs.

He also has several boards taken from the wall of a cabin that was hit repeatedly. In some cases, bits of the spent ammunition are still lodged in the wood.

For D.P., the museum he opened in 1999 is a way to share his collection and his research.

"I want people to see how their ancestors coped during the war," he said. "There is a story to be told here, and I want children to hear the story."

The entrance fee is reduced for children. It's free for those under 6, $1 for children ages 7 to 12, and $1.50 for those 13 to 17.

D.P. relies on his work as a carpenter to make a living because the museum is not a moneymaker. "I think I am the original nonprofit," he said.

The guest book indicates the number of visitors ranges from two to 20 a day. His mother, Elizabeth Newton, runs the desk, and sometimes his cousin helps out.

If you go... The museum, at 985 White Oak Road (at Virginia 218 and 603) in White Oak, is about six miles east of Fredericksburg. The hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. For more information call 540-371-4234.

From The Roanoke Times, Roanoke, Virginia, submitted by Chad Anderson.

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