U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service logo A Unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System
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National Wildlife Refuge

refuge visitor center with wetland in foreground
1434 316th Lane
Missouri Valley, IA   51555 - 7033
E-mail: desoto@fws.gov
Phone Number: 712-388-4800
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
The refuge visitor center contains artifacts from the steamboat Bertrand and intrepretive displays about the natural history of the area.
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Meandering across a vast 10-mile-wide floodplain, the Missouri River created a network of channel bends and turns over millennia. Expeditions into this part of the Missouri River valley occurred when Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery traveled through the area seeking an inland water route to the Pacific. The explorers' journal entry, dated August, 1804, describes the party's historic meeting with Indians at the "council bluff."

The party set out after the meeting and camped five miles upstream. Although the river has changed its channel many times since, the Lewis and Clark campsite was probably located at the river loop now called DeSoto Bend. Clark's journal notes an abundance of wildlife in the area, including the expedition's first observation of a badger and "great numbers of wild geese."

Vast changes have taken place in the Missouri River Valley since settlement in the early 1800s. Land clearing, drainage projects, river channelization and flood control measures during the past 150 years have transformed the Missouri River floodplain from diverse wildlife habitat to farmland.

By the mid-1800s, the Missouri River had become an artery for trade which opened the West. Steamboats carried supplies to the early fur trading posts, frontier settlements, and mining towns. But, the turbulent, snag-strewn "Big Muddy" took its toll on the early stern- and side-wheelers. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, more than 400 steamboats sank or were stranded between St. Louis, Missouri, and Ft. Benton, Montana.

When the Bertrand sank in April 1865, the Missouri River quickly covered the boat and its cargo in mud, creating a time-capsule of Civil-War-era material. The stern-wheeler was discovered on the refuge in 1968 and unearthed the following year. The cargo contained all manner of goods needed for the new Montana Territory gold mines, logging camps, farms, and households. In addition to tools and equipment, food and clothing were recovered from the boat. These items, and more, are on exhibit in the Visitor Center. Visitors may also view the excavation site where the Bertrand's hull still lies buried.

DeSoto Refuge was established on March 12, 1958. The refuge gets its name from the nearby Nebraska town of DeSoto.

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