Steamboat Disasters of the Lower Missouri River

Vicki Berger Erwin, James W. Erwin
Missouri Valley Sundays
Sunday, October 31, 2021
3:00 pm

The lower Missouri River was a veritable steamboat graveyard in the 19th century as more than 300 vessels ended up at the bottom of the Big Muddy. The steamers were technological marvels of the day with long, wide, flat hulls and high-pressure engines, allowing for greater speeds on the water even when fully loaded with goods and passengers. But those features also made the ships susceptible to fires, explosions, and treacherous tree snags hidden beneath the Missouri’s surface.

In a discussion of their book Steamboat Disasters of the Lower Missouri River, authors Vicki and James Erwin detail the perils of steamboat travel and highlight notable river catastrophes, including the Arabia’s sinking outside Kansas City in 1856. Its cargo was recovered during a 1988 excavation and now is on display in the city’s River Market district.

Vicki Berger Erwin worked in the publishing industry for more than 30 years and has authored a variety of books ranging from youth mysteries to true crime. Husband James W. Erwin, who was a practicing attorney in St. Louis for 37 years, is the author or co-author of five other books on Missouri history. This is the second book they have written together. Watch their presentation live online at