There is enough 150-year-old whiskey resting underground where the old river queen sank to get 130,000 people pie-eyed. It’s worth five million dollars, and it’s still there for the taking.
A neglected treasure is mellowing under the green willows along an old course of the Missouri River in broad, windswept Kansas. Mellowing is the proper word, for the treasure is improving with age. News stories in files of the Kansas City Times state that 16,000 gallons of fine, old Kentucky Bourbon whiskey in stout, 40-gallon oak barrels are buried there. According to experts the complete haul would sell for at least $5,000,000 — and it’s just waiting to be dug up.
These barrels of liquid treasure have been neglected because almost everyone has forgotten about the once-proud river ship, Francis X. Aubrey, and about the exact spot where she sank. On August 10, 1856, she hit a snag near Parkville that gutted her from stem to stern like an overripe melon. The once-proud Aubrey drifted like a drunken mule-skinner and finally rammed into the bank. All 130 passengers got off safely, and a frantic salvage job removed some of the machinery before the ship began to settle. Over 500 barrels of whiskey, worth only 25 cents a gallon then, were left in the holds in their stout oaken casks.
The Francis X. Aubrey slowly sank deep into the mud across the river from the farm of George Summers. Nothing but her bell-mouthed stacks and superstructure showed above water. Spring floods and moving soil and debris buried the Aubrey deeper. Later, with the rush of high waters, the stacks and superstructure were washed away. Finally, the Missouri tired of the old channel and cut a new one nearly a mile away. Willows crept in to erase all signs of the old riverbed.
In December of 1897, an attempt was made to recover the treasure but was eventually foiled by rising flood waters that eventually reburied the wreck. Today, as then, those who know about the ship have an occasional flare-up of treasure fever. It’s only normal. Will the treasure of the Aubreyever be recovered? This is a question that only time and the spirit of adventure can answer.
For those with a heart as stout as the Aubrey’s oak whiskey barrels, for those with river savvy, for those with a good bank account, for those who are sporting enough to take a chance, the Queen of the Missouri — theFrancis X. Aubrey—is waiting under the willows across from the Park College campus, near Parkville, Missouri.
Perhaps 16,000 gallons of fine old Kentucky bourbon, valued at over $5,000,000, would make a rendezvous with the Queen worth your while.