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Steamboat Bertrand

Steamboat Bertrand Museum

The road was over two years long with many a winding turn, however, artifacts from the museum collection have returned to the storage area in DeSoto’s visitor center. Representative examples of many different types of artifacts are now on display. New, temporary exhibits on bitters and shovels are also available now with more planned for the future.  


The process of sorting, organizing and rehousing objects will take some time. The viewing gallery doors will remain open throughout the process; visitors are welcome to stop by and watch the display of the collection rebuilt.   


Click here for Where is the Steamboat Bertrand?, a brochure about the inventory, cataloging and restoration project for the Steamboat Bertrand Collection.


Click here for Almost Lost A Second Time: The Rescue of the Steamboat Bertrand Collection From the Missouri River Flood Event of 2011, a presentation about the evacuation of the collection.  LARGE FILE, 6 MB. 


DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, located near Missouri Valley, Iowa, is home to a premier archeological collection of over 250,000 artifacts excavated from the buried wreck of the Steamboat Bertrand. On April 1, 1865, the sternwheeler hit a submerged log, thirty miles north of Omaha, Nebraska. Bound for the newly discovered goldfields of Montana from St. Louis, Missouri, the Bertrand sank into the depths of the Missouri River; and after initial salvage efforts, her cargo was written off as complete loss.

Using historical documents and a flux gate magnetometer, modern treasurer hunters, Sam Corbino and Jesse Pursell located the wreck on DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in 1968. As the boat was on federal property, the salvors agreed under the requirements of the American Antiquities Preservation Act of 1906, to turn over all recovered artifacts to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for permanent exhibition and preservation in a public museum.

By 1969, the vessel's cargo was completely excavated from its thirty feet deep, mud tomb. Unfortunately for the salvors, the treasure they sought had eluded them. Insurance company divers had apparently removed most of the mercury and other valuables soon after the ship sank. However, what had been left was a diversity of tools, clothing, and food items. The Bertrand's cargo was remarkably well preserved and the refuge's collection is a unique time capsule for researchers and visitors interested in America's 19th century material culture.
Last Updated: Sep 07, 2013
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