The legend dates back to 1853, when the steamboat, Great White Arabia was built. The 171 feet long side wheeler steamboat traveled the Ohio and Mississippi rivers before it was operated on the Missouri. It used to transport passengers and soldiers, along with up to 222 tons of cargo, such as tools and goods for general stores, as well as mail. Also, old newspapers reported that the Arabia was thought to have been used for smuggling guns and cannons in boxes labeled “Carpenters Tools”.
Long river voyages were actually quite dangerous for 19th century steamboats. One of the biggest risks was hitting a sharp tree snug, which were scattered all over the rivers. They have sunk hundreds of vessels in the golden age of steamboats.