Drought reveals 130-year-old shipwreck in North Dakota


(KXMB) — A shipwreck in the Missouri River that hasn’t been seen for over a decade has recently become visible.

Archeologists say the Abner O’Neal shipwreck has revealed itself due to North Dakota’s statewide drought.

“Through changes in how the dams are managed, the water really affects how much you can see it. So any given year, it’ll be different out there,” Andrew Clark, chief archeologist for North Dakota, said.

Reduction in water releases out of Garrison Dam, which sits on the Missouri River, is common during dryer years, and as a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has lowered water levels by as much as 2 feet in the last two weeks. The Garrison Dam has been experiencing a runoff of water below normal for much of 2021.

The Abner O’Neal, named after a well-known captain, was built in 1884. The boat frequently transferred wheat between Washburn, Bismarck and Mandan. In late 1891, the steamboat became stuck in ice with cargo and remained stuck through the winter months, but was hauled out and returned to operation.

On July 17, 1892, the Abner O’Neal was between Washburn and Mandan when it struck a rock and began to sink. The boat and cargo were completely lost.

Archeologists say the shipwreck has not been seen since the 2011 Missouri River flood.

Nyk Edinger has made it his mission to go out and see the shipwreck himself. The Abner O’Neal provides a glimpse into what the river means to this part of the country and the important role these boats played: “Ferrying people north and south through North Dakota, as well as cargo, before there were roads,” Edinger said.

He said he appreciates this little piece of North Dakota 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,” Edinger said. “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.”

Clark said as the shipwreck is revealed, it’s important not to disturb it.

“It is public property and a protected historic site, so when visiting it, it is important to only take pictures and be respectful,” he said.

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