Steamboat Bertrand Cargo Collection
National Wildlife Refuge, located in Missouri Valley, Iowa,
is home to a premier archeological collection of 200,000 artifacts
excavated from the buried hull of the Steamboat Bertrand. In
1865 the boat hit a snag, or submerged log, twenty 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. Its cargo was a complete loss.
Local legend indicated the ship carried whiskey, coins and 500
flasks of mercury to be used in the mining process, a treasure
trove worth hundreds of thousands of dollars!
documents and a flux gate magnetometer, modern salvors discovered
the wreck on DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in 1968. Since
the boat's hull was on government property, the salvors agreed
under the requirements of the American Antiquities Preservation
Act of 1906, to hand all manmade artifacts over to the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service for permanent exhibition and preservation
in a public museum. By
1969, the vessel's extant hull was completely excavated from
its thirty feet deep, mud tomb under the auspices of National
Park Service archeologists. Unfortunately for the salvors, the
treasure they sought had eluded them. Insurance Company divers
had removed most of the mercury and other valuables in 1865.
In spite of this fact, a diversity of tools, clothing, food,
and equipment remained in the hull. The Bertrand materials were
in remarkably good condition, having been preserved in an anaerobic,
only slightly acidic, medium. The collection is a goldmine for
researchers archeology sites.
Visitor Center built by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in
1981, accommodates the artifacts from the Bertrand. A state-of-the-art,
collection storage area protects the cargo of
the boat. Visitors may view this area through a glass wall, 38 feet in length. A conservation
lab for artifact preservation, collection research area and library are available.