MALTA BEND, Mo — Students from Malta Bend enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity Friday as they joined David Hawley, owner of the Steamboat Arabia Museum, at the newly-discovered wreck site of the Steamboat Malta. After an almost three-year search, Hawley and his team finally pinpointed the location of the lost steamer about one month ago, and are almost finished plotting the outline of the vessel as it lies buried more than 30 feet below Jim Bakkus’s corn field.
The 140 foot-long Malta sank in August of 1841 as it was headed west with over 100 tons of cargo intended for trade with Native American tribes. Hawley believes that the ship, and possibly it’s cargo, are almost entirely intact and will add a wealth of knowledge to our understanding of the history of the West.
Initial samples from the site have revealed pine and oak timbers, believed to be from the Malta’s upper deck and hull, respectively, in addition to small pieces of fabric. Hawley attributes the high degree of preservation to the lack of oxygen exposure to the vessel since it is interred below the water table. In order to completely excavate the site, wells will have to be dug around its perimeter to draw water away from the work area.
If things go according to plan, Hawley will excavate the site over this coming winter in order to better preserve the delicate artifacts coming out of the ground. Most of what is unearthed will go to larger museums, but Hawley is entertaining the idea of a small exhibit that will stay in the town that takes its name from the ill-fated steamboat.
The next phase for Hawley and his team will be extensive sampling of the identified wreck area over the next few months before any real earth-moving begins. The site is now closed to the public.