Old Erosion Mat, NOT The Bones of the Montana

Note: I originally published these photographs as the wreckage of an old steamboat, but my readers have helpfully pointed out my mistake! The wood structure actually prevents erosion, and was placed there on purpose. I left the original, incorrect text below for reference.

Chris Naffziger, August 29, 2014

Searching up and down the Missouri River, my father and I finally located the remains of the Steamboat Montana, and its surprisingly well preserved hull.

You can get a sense of the scale of the boat, which measured 283 feet long and was a last-ditch attempt for riverboats competing against the vastly more efficient railroads that had already crisscrossed America when the Montana was built in 1879.

A large portion of the of the limestone ballast lies in a huge pile inside of the wreck, with support beams of the upriver’s side of the ship’s hull in better shape than the downriver’s.

The wood beams, weathered by a hundred years of lying below water in the river, have returned to their original round shapes, as the corners were worn off.

The river is at an historic low, so the riverboat is viewable along the banks of the Missouri River in between St. Charles and St. Louis Counties.

Above, the rusted remnants of iron tie rods and ropes are still visible; the site has been thoroughly picked clean of any other souvenirs. Below, these rows of lined up timbers must have been the hull of the ship.

Ironically, other pieces of driftwood have lodged themselves on the wreck, blurring the line between man-made and nature.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Jeff says:

    Fascinating what the low river is revealing. If we have another drought we may find Jimmy Hoffa.

  2. Megan O' Laughlin says:

    I hiked out there this summer . I read there is another wreck a little further down but I was losing light and had to go. I’ m sure it would be easier to get back out there now that the ground is frozen .

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      It is very easy right now when the ground is frozen. I heard there was another wreck but didn’t see it.

  3. Joe Murray says:

    I’m sure someone has told you by now, but you were not on the Montana site. You were standing on an old anti erosion mat. They were willow branches weaved together and held in place by rocks and the vertical beams you saw. The Army Corp of Engineers still use such mats today, though they are made of concrete now. The Montana was about 500 ft up stream from where you were standing.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      Thanks Joe! Now the more I look at it, it doesn’t match with a boat. I will have to explore it again sometime when the water is down lower.

      1. Tom Maher - Kirkwood MO says:

        Good video from Channel 2 in 2012, also mentioning the other boat: http://fox2now.com/2012/08/10/the-steamboat-montana-resurfaces-in-the-missouri-river/
        More from the National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/11/1118_021118_steamboat.html

  4. Fred Morgan says:

    I have seen many old ship remains in my time.. but this is not close to being one. I tend to agree that an erosion mat make the most sense. The pylons are man-made and implanted but the roundness indicates pylon and not ribs.. need to keep looking.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      I’m going to have to get back out there when the water’s lower! Thanks everyone for setting me straight.

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