The Steamboat held 222 tons of freight, and the ship itself weighed over 222 tons. When full, it weighed about 444 tons. When they found the ship, most of the cargo was in the cargo hold, but the furniture itself was out around the ship and beyond repair.
There was lots of preserved food on the Arabia. Pioneers would boil the food to kill all the bacteria that would make the food spoil. Next, they would place the boiled food in jars and seal the jars. When they wanted the food, they would just open the jar, get the food out, and seal it again when they were done. That was how they kept food from spoiling. Many foods, such as the pie fillings, looked good enough to eat. The brandied cherries from France traveled over 6,000 miles to pioneers so they could make cherry pies. Foods, such as green pickles, still looked and tasted good. Also aboard the ship was salted pork. The salt destroyed everything around it. One of the excavators found bottles filled with catsup. They were recovered in good condition from the steamboat’s excavation site. Four hundred barrels of Kentucky bourbon were supposedly on board the Arabia when it sank. For reasons unknown, they were never found, although there have been several expeditions to find it. One night, while recovering artifacts from the excavation site, an up-ended bottle of champagne went “POP”! Everyone was surprised to find it was still very bubbly and flavorful.
The first thing the excavators (who called themselves River Salvage, Inc.) found was in the upper spokes of the freshly exposed paddle wheel. It was a rubber shoe made by Goodyear.
The paddlewheel at the Museum (not the original).
What Was Found
About 5,000 pairs of boots and shoes were recovered. The ones that were sewed together with cotton thread were in many pieces. The first barrel they found contained fine European dishware. Almost 200 pieces of beautiful, unbroken dishware was found in one day. Each container was unique. One contained hundreds of gold-rimmed eyeglasses. Tens of thousands of buttons were recovered from around the site of the dig. Two thousand buttons are now cleaned, with still more to be cleaned. The buttons came in many different colors and materials. The buttons were made of wood, steel, china, rubber, horn, brass and glass. Two different kinds of beads were found - calico (named for their many different colors) and seed beads (named because of their size), also known as trade beads (called this because of their use - pioneers used them to trade the Indians for food and other items). Lots of doorknobs were found, some in clumps, on the ship. The porcelain doorknobs were cheaper than the clay, yet the clay ones were easier to make than the porcelain ones! Also found on the ship were “over shirts”, or Civil War jackets. These were put on over the normal shirt, like a coat. The shirts had a very wide collar. They had this so they could still show off the shirt that was under the over shirt. The shirts survived because they were made of animal proteins. Proteins of any sort survived the long underground years.
Where Items were From
There were items from all over the world. France, Italy, Bohemia, Belgium, South America and England were just some of the places cargo came from. When the icebox was discovered, they found an uneaten meal. Excavators found lots of chewing tobacco, cigars, clay pipes and pipe tobacco. Forty cigars were found on the boat. European dishware, preserved foods, shiny buttons, tailor-made clothing and beautiful textiles were found on the boat. Cotton dissolved in the water. Since wicks on the candles were cotton, they dissolved. The candles were made of tallow instead of wax. Most of the fabric did not survive, but the mud around the cloth turned the color that the cloth was. There were lots of clothes on the Arabia.
Washbasins, coffee tins, castor oil, cognac, needles, nutmeg, windowpanes, wedding bands, eyeglasses and earrings were found on the boat. Panes of glass were thicker than historians originally thought. The boat held lots of supplies headed for the frontier general stores for pioneers to buy. Several bottles of French perfume found still smelled so nice they came up with a reproduction perfume called “1856”. They described it as Christmas every day. The steamboat had many tools on it. All of the tools were going to pioneers in the far west. The pioneers would then use the tools to build their houses and their barns. The pioneers also had “ready-to-build-houses”, pre-made here, so it was easier to build their homes. Two were excavated from the ship.
Why the was all in one place
The cargo stayed around the steamboat and didn’t go downstream because the boxes and barrels that contained the cargo were heavy, plus the added weight of the cargo. Since the cargo was inside the boat, the cargo was protected from the currents by the steamboat itself; therefore it stayed within the steamboat.