History of the Missouri River
This region was acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when the U.S. purchased nearly 525 million acres of land from France. Since that time, the Missouri River has developed as a cultural and economic vein of the nation, providing inland access along the longest river in the U.S. Combined with the Mississippi River, the Mississippi–Missouri River System provided over 12,000 miles of navigable waterways that played an integral role in the economic development of the region. Even today, the river system provides a means for transporting nearly 300 million tons of goods every year.
In 1978, Congress authorized a portion of the Missouri River running from Yankton, S.D., to Ponca, Neb., as a National Scenic Riverway. In 1991, Congress authorized a second portion of the river, running from Yankton, S.D., to Pickstown, S.D., including the lower 20 miles of the Niobrara River and six miles of Verdigre Creek, to be included in that riverway. The riverway represents a variety of natural landscapes, including native floodplain forests, tallgrass and mixed grass prairies.
The Missouri River was first explored by Lewis and Clark at the beginning of the 19th Century, and was later experienced by the masses with the availability of the steamboat. This new form of transportation allowed many people to travel to the West in the early and mid-1800s, though the Missouri River itself was often difficult to navigate because of muddy waters.
In 1853, the Steamboat Arabia was built, and it soon began traveling the Missouri River. Its first trip up the river was to transport soldiers from Ft. Leavenworth up to Ft. Pierre; it then continued another 700 miles up to Yellowstone, which took almost three months. But in 1856, the Arabia hit a snag (typically a fallen tree trunk) in the water and quickly sank. Artifacts from the passengers' luggage has since been discovered and restored for display in the Steamboat Arabia Museum located in the City Market in downtown Kansas City, Mo.