130-year-old shipwreck in North Dakota visible due to drought

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A shipwreck that has been in the Missouri River but hasn’t been seen for over a decade, has recently become visible.

The Abner O’Neal was built in 1884 and named after a well-known captain. The boat frequently transferred wheat between Washburn and Bismarck-Mandan.

In late 1891, the steamboat became stuck in ice with cargo and remained stuck through the winter months, but eventually was hauled out and back running. On July 17, 1892, the Abner O’Neal was traveling between Washburn and Mandan when it struck a rock and began to sink. The boat and cargo were a total loss.

The Abner O’Neal hasn’t been seen since the 2011 Missouri River flood.

Archeologists say the shipwreck has now revealed itself due to North Dakota’s statewide drought. 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 two feet in the last two weeks. The Garrison Dam has been experiencing a runoff of water below normal for much of 2021.

“Through changes in how the dams are managed. The water really effects how much you can see it so any given year it’ll be different out there,” Andrew Clark, Chief Archeologist for ND said.

Nyk Edinger is a local that made it his mission to go out and see the shipwreck himself. The Abner O’Neal gives us an idea of what the river means to this part of the country and the important role these boats had.

“Ferrying people north and south through North Dakota, as well as cargo before there were roads,” Edinger said.

Nyk says a lot of history in North Dakota has been lost so he appreciates this 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,” Edinger explained.

The shipwreck reveals itself very rarely and it is important to not disturb it so it’ll remain as is.

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

Please keep in mind that the property adjacent to the shipwreck is private land and the owners do ask explorers to be respectful.

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