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ST. CHARLES, MO (KTVI) – The drought of 2012 has dropped area rivers to near record lows, and,  with the water falling, little pieces of history are peeking above the surface.  At least five wrecked steam ships have made permanent homes along the shorelines between St. Charles and Bridgeton along the Missouri River, and one of them was the largest vessel ever to sail through.

The Montana was a steam boat built in 1882.  She was longer than a football field according to Dr. Steve Dasovich, a Lindenwood University archaeologist who took part in an underwater survey of the ship back in 2002.  

She struck a tree that was below the surface in 1884 and was piloted aground.  There she’s sat since then, a period of 128 years.

“Every time the river’s low, and it may not be a drought here, it could be way upstream, but I get calls about the Montana and other wrecks along the river whenever the river’s down,” Dasovich said Friday.  

The boat was built with lavish ballrooms to please wealthy passengers, and enough cargo space to compete with railroads, which were well on the way to killing the steamboat industry.   But the Missouri, “a most cantankerous river” in the words of a book on the Montana, took the boat down.

It’s hardly alone in this graveyard for nineteenth century vessels.  Just a couple of hundred yards upriver, another vessel rests so close to shore you can walk around on it.  That unknown steamboat’s boiler currently sits above the water.  

Federal law makes all these sunken ships the property of the state of Missouri.  In the case of the Montana, you’d likely be wasting your time trying to salvage anything.

“There isn’t anything left on it,” Dasovich said.  “People always want to go check it out.  There’s a few odds and ends and things that show up once in a while, but with the nature of the river they could be from something else.  Things just roll on down the river.”