North Dakota drought exposes 130-year-old shipwreck

The Abner O’Neal sank while traveling down the Missouri River in 1892. Nearly 130 years later, the shipwreck still sits on the bottom of the North Dakota portion of the river and recently became visible to visitors, according to CBS Bismarck affiliate KXMB-TV.

North Dakota is currently experiencing a statewide drought, and, as a result, the Garrison Dam on the Missouri River has been releasing less water. Archaeologists said receding water levels revealed the ship’s remains, KXMB-TV reported.

Built back in 1884, the steamship carried grain between Washburn and Bismarck-Mandan. Eight years later, the Abner O’Neal was transporting 9,000 bushels of buckwheat when it struck a snag or a rock and began to sink between Washburn and Mandan. The cargo on board and the boat itself were a total loss, according to the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s website.

Wreck of the steamboat Abner O’Neal

Hidden below the Missouri River lies the wreck of the steamboat Abner O’Neal. Hidden, that is, until the water levels dropped last year and continue to drop. These aerial shots were taken in October 2020 after receiving notification from the boating public that the location was visibile, and consent to access the wreck site was granted by an adjacent landowner. Learn the story of the Abner O’Neal, which sunk in 1892 while transporting 9,000 bushels of wheat from Washburn to the Mandan roller mill, at bit.ly/abner-oneal. 𝘗𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘦 𝘳𝘦𝘮𝘦𝘮𝘣𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘈𝘣𝘯𝘦𝘳 𝘖’𝘕𝘦𝘢𝘭 𝘪𝘴 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘢𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘵𝘦-𝘴𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘪𝘨𝘯 𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘴 𝘮𝘢𝘯𝘢𝘨𝘦𝘥 𝘣𝘺 𝘕𝘰𝘳𝘵𝘩 𝘋𝘢𝘬𝘰𝘵𝘢. 𝘚𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘢𝘭 𝘧𝘦𝘥𝘦𝘳𝘢𝘭 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘳𝘦𝘨𝘶𝘭𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘴 𝘱𝘳𝘰𝘵𝘦𝘤𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘪𝘵𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘱𝘳𝘰𝘩𝘪𝘣𝘪𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘤𝘰𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘰𝘧 𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘪𝘧𝘢𝘤𝘵𝘴 𝘧𝘳𝘰𝘮 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘭𝘰𝘤𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯. 𝘉𝘰𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘴 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘪𝘦𝘴 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘦𝘯𝘤𝘰𝘶𝘳𝘢𝘨𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘢𝘷𝘰𝘪𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘳𝘦𝘤𝘬 𝘢𝘴 𝘢 𝘯𝘢𝘷𝘪𝘨𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘢𝘭 𝘰𝘣𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘤𝘭𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘳𝘦𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘢𝘬𝘦 𝘰𝘯𝘭𝘺 𝘱𝘪𝘤𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘦𝘴.

Posted by State Historical Society of North Dakota on Thursday, September 30, 2021

The ship, which has largely remained intact since it sank, was also seen during the 2011 Missouri River flood.

Local resident Nyk Edinger went to see the shipwreck himself. He said he appreciates the little piece of history.

“A lot of our history has been torn down because weather is extreme, so to have something as old as the Abner O’Neal and still being able to see the actual iron and wood that went into that ship with our own eyes is an incredible experience,” he told KXMB-TV. “Something as historic as that, something as old as that, something that came long before me and will be here long after I’m gone, was an important thing for me.”

Officials are asking the public not to disturb the wreckage.

“It is public property and a protected historic site so when visiting it, it is important to only take pictures and be respectful,” said Andrew Clark, the state’s chief archeologist.

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Abner O’Neal shipwreck in the Missouri River in North Dakota. State Historical Society of North Dakota