Drought Unearths 130-Year-Old Shipwreck in… Checks Notes, North Dakota

by Clayton Edwards

 When you hear about a 100-plus-year-old shipwreck being unearthed, you probably don’t immediately think of North Dakota. In fact, most people would hear the word “shipwreck,” and automatically think of the ocean. They might even conjure up images of some long-forgotten warship. On the other hand, they might think of some mythical ship that sank under the weight of too much pirate gold. However, that’s not the case today.

A drought is drying up much of America’s west. The Colorado River is down so far that people are wondering how long it’ll be before the Glen Canyon Dam stops delivering power to surrounding states. At the same time, farmers in Oregon are fighting to have enough water to sustain their crops. Things are just as bad in The Peace Garden State. North Dakota’s drought led to this shipwreck being visible once again.

The Abner O’Neal traveled the Missouri River in the late nineteenth century, according to KX News, a local CBS affiliate. The ship often carried wheat from Washburn, ND to Bismark-Mandan, ND. However, on July 17, 1892, it went under. The ship was carrying a full load of wheat when it struck a rock. The Abner O’Neal and her cargo were a total loss.

Recently, the Army Corps of Engineers had to lower the water level of the Missouri River by about two feet. They’ve limited how much water escapes the dam on the river in the last two weeks to mitigate the damage of the state’s current drought. They revealed this shipwreck while trying to keep water for North Dakota’s residents.

More About the North Dakota Shipwreck

This isn’t the first time that North Dakota residents could see the shipwreck. In fact, they could see it as recently as 2011. During that year, the Missouri River flooded and the Abner O’Neal was visible. However, the water soon covered it again and it remained invisible until now.

Andrew Clark, North Dakota’s chief archeologist says that water levels affect the visibility of the shipwreck. “The water really affects how much you can see it. So, any given year, it’ll be different out there,” he told the news outlet.

Nyk Edinger, a North Dakota resident, is excited to see the shipwreck. He says that the Abner O’Neal is a window into how people and cargo traveled before the United States instituted a highway system. To Edinger, it’s important to see this piece of history whenever possible. “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… is an incredible experience.”

According to Andrew Clark, the shipwreck is a protected historical site in North Dakota. As a result, it is important to observe but not disturb it. “Take pictures and be respectful,” he said.