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, twenty-five miles north of Omaha, Nebraska. Bound for the newly discovered goldfields of Montana from St. Louis, Missouri, the Bertrand began to sink into the Missouri River. After initial salvage efforts, she was quickly submerged beneath the water and silt. Her cargo was written off as complete loss.
Using historical documents and a flux gate magnetometer, modern treasure hunters, Sam Corbino and Jesse Pursell located the wreck on DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in February 1968. Because 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 late 1969, the vessel's cargo was completely excavated from its nearly thirty-foot 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.
For More Information
For visitor center hours and general information, which includes individuals or groups being able to enter the visitor center and see the museum collection and exhibits please call 712-388-4800.
For museum collection, research purposes, and other museum related information please contact the Museum Specialist, Bill Cantine at: email@example.com.