Picture a quiet day as a river lazily winds through unkempt wilderness of a territory acquired by the United States only 15 years prior. The pioneers of a small, port-stop township bordering the river go about their day as they had since settling the territory still savage as much with animal as hostile Indian. The relatively hushed bustle of the town is eclipsed by a foreign rumble emanating from river bend concealing it source.
The curiosity of the townsfolk turns to the river bend when a hulking paddle-wheeled vessel hisses slowly around the riverbend toward the town’s port. The vessel is like nothing seen before; it represents the sum of the technological advancement of the era and the future of how it transports people and goods.
It was the steamboat, the Missouri River Packet and as historians speculate, only the second of its kind to venture up the winding Missouri River as it ventured to resupply federal troops in Council Bluffs, IA. Soon after one of the boat’s
Mid-Missouri stops, the Packet would sink, floods would consume the town known as Franklin in 1826-1828. The town’s newspaper, The Missouri Intelligencer, reported a docking of the Packet prior to its demise.
“The boat sank on May 5, 1820,” said Wayne Lammers,  emphasizing that pioneer Daniel Boone was alive in Defiance, MO when the Packet sailed, “The first steamboat that ever came up the river was The Independence and that was 1819. So, this is the oldest boat ever to be excavated on the Missouri River.”
Over 165 years after the sinking, in December of 1987, the men who would earn fame excavating the Steamboat Arabia, the Hawleys, would excavate the Packet in search of a legendary steamboat said to have sunk in the Missouri River loaded with precious silver. Hungry for the treasure rather than preservation, the remains of the Packet were largely destroyed as the excavation crew realized the artifacts aboard the sunken vessel featured more common trade goods including barrels of pork.
“The people who had the rights to dig the boat, on private property did a very bad job,” expounded Wayne Lammers of Boonville of the excavation of the Packet.
Gene Smith, a resident of Concordia, MO was among the discoverers of the wreck and remained on-site to assist in the excavation while bringing Lammers to assist excavating and to document on video and film. Lammers still possesses all the original photos and video from his time at the excavation site.
Despite philosophical conflict regarding the handling of the excavation between Smith and the Hawleys, Smith and Lammers salvaged dozens of artifacts from the wreckage before the site was buried beneath the Missouri soil again. Until Smith made contact with Lammers several weeks ago, Lammers was under the impression that Smith had passed away.
“He called and we got together; he brought his artifacts and wanted to place them in the museum with mine,” explained Lammers of how the two reconnected to the surprise of Lammers and Smith’s artifacts came into procession of the museum in Boonville.
According to Lammers, amongst the innumerable handmade nails, barrel boards and wooden remains, his favorite artifact from the wreckage is an arrowhead. It is one of the few artifacts that Lammers has not turned over to the How the Native American artifact came to be aboard the steamboat, a symbol of pioneer progress in a largely untamed western wilderness, is unknown.
Now, with the addition of Smith’s collection to the artifacts donated by Lammers, the salvaged remains of the Missouri River Packet Steamboat are together and available to view at the River, Rails and Trails Museum in Boonville.
“This is kind of a big deal. There are a lot of railroad memorabilia and collectibles out there and knew there would be a struggle to find anything on the pioneer side especially things from the steamboat era. It’s almost impossible to find any of those artifacts so to have things with such a story that hits so close to home is a really, really neat edition,” explained Katie Gibson, Director of Tourism for the City of Boonville on the significance of the Packet artifacts to the museum.
The artifacts on display donated to the museum by Lammers included hand-forged nails, the brace of a paddle wheel spoke, bricks from the Packet’s boiler, barrel pieces and animal bones of pork and beef once attached to the meat transported in barrels. The artifacts contributed by Smith notably feature the larger outer frame of the Packet’s paddle wheel, the barrel top branded “Waddle and Davisson of Chillicothe, Ohio,” used to date the Packet and its wreck in addition to a hand-cast copper pipe that most likely served as a portion of the boat’s steam engine stack.
“My mother inspired me; she said, “we need to save history, our history.’ And that’s what I’ve been doing as I’ve been documenting history as much as I can,” concluded Lammers
Once catalogued and with the appropriate museum floor space for display, Gibson hopes the full collection of both Smith’s and Lammers’ steamboat artifacts will add a unique and comprehensive exhibit display.
“Something like this is a learning experience for us,” said Gibson of how the museum feels procuring and maintaining artifacts like those from the Packet, “It is a first time effort and not something we have much experience at but I think depending on what pieces we get in, we’re all about moving things around, developing and helping display those to really show them off the best that we can.”
The River, Rails and Trails Museum continues to accept donations of locally significant historical artifacts and serves Boonville natives and visitors year-round.