ST. LOUIS — Calling all treasure hunters from St. Louis, grab your metal detectors. There’s probably sunken treasure in the Mississippi River. 

According to the Historical Society, they have documentation that a steamer named Ruth sunk between Cairo, Illinois and Columbus, Kentucky in 1863. The boat was carrying six cases of paper money equalling $250,000. Steamboats were a new invention in 1817. Due to hazards upon the river, a lot of boats sunk.

According to a dissertation by Kristen Marie Vogel for Texas A&M University, the steamboat, The City of Providence, sunk with hundreds of jugs of alcohol on board.

In 1902, it was reported that the Bedford steamboat sank on the Missouri River in 1840 along with a trunk containing $6,000 in coins and was never recovered.

The steamboat Boreas sank in 1846 near Hermann, Missouri, with a cargo of Mexican dollars
and silver bullion.

James B. Eads, ca. 1860. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

In St. Louis, the steamboat Zebulon M. Pike arrived and ushered in a new type of travel. But the Golden Age of Steamboats still had its dangers. Submerged debris sank steamers, while boilers could cause fires, and icy conditions also led to wrecks. 

One of these wrecks changed the life of James B. Eads. He came to the St. Louis area in the 1830s. Shortly after arriving, the steamboat carrying his possessions caught fire. When the boat sank to the bottom of the Mississippi, he lost everything. 

More than 20 boats sank by the icy Mississippi River in the winters of 1865 and 1866.  Later, Eads would operate a salvaging company that allowed him to take trips to the bottom of the Mississippi. He was able to pick up items lost at the bottom of the river.

John F. Darby. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

Sunken treasure lured in another explorer, John F. Darby. He served for one term as mayor of the St. Louis between 1835 and 1841. He was also elected to the Missouri Senate and later became a U.S. Congressman. 

Darby suffered from a financial downfall in the years following the Civil War. He became interested in the potential money that shipwrecks could provide. 

The Missouri History Museum has Darby’s notes of sunken ships. These notes are of high-value treasure on board when they sank. 

One example is the Brandy Wine, which sank on its way to St. Louis from New Orleans. According to Darby’s notes, the steamer was reported to have about 600 kegs of silver on board from the mint in New Orleans. 

John F. Darby’s list of steamers sunk in the lower Mississippi River with valuable cargoes, 1877. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

If treasure hunters feel like traveling a little further than St. Louis, all up and down the Missouri and Mississippi River steamboats were wrecked.

The Butte, a steam boat that sunk in 1883 with a reported cargo of gold dust worth $110,000 and Bertrand, which sank on the Missouri River near Omaha, Nebraska with a rumored cargo of $25,000 of quicksilver onboard was never recovered.