Steamboat Bertrand Cargo Collection

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Photo of interior of visitors center The center also contains a theater and exhibition galleries. Permanent exhibits discuss the impact Steamboat cargoes and passengers brought to the frontier through townbuilding, farming, logging and mining. Each of these pursuits, while assuring prosperity and growth, initially produced a long term adverse effect upon the environment and wildlife habitats. Exhibits address the history of wildlife refuges, created to alleviate these problems. Temporary exhibits include a variety of topics from art shows to interpretive programs.

Vistors area viewing centerA viewing area in the center allows individuals to look out over an ox-bow lake, once a Missouri River meander. In November, more than 500,000 snow geese and 150,000 ducks use the Refuge as a stopover during their annual migration south from summer nesting areas in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. DeSoto Wildlife Refuge was created specifically to provide such a respite during this natural phenomenon.

The Bertrand was originally owned by J.J. Roe and Company in St. Louis, Missouri. Roe and his partners had put together the Idaho and Montana Transportation Line to take supplies up the Missouri River to Ft. Benton in Montana Territory, only just created in 1864. The first steamboats arrived in the Ft. Benton area by 1859. In the 1860's, goldstrikes in modern day Idaho and Montana opened the floodgates of migration to that area from the States. Prospectors and settlers created the demand to send steamboats carrying large shipments of supplies to these once sparsely populated places. Although the two month river journey from St. Louis to the Territory was dangerous, a successful shipment might garner the value of the boat, in receipts. In any event, most of the materials on the Bertrand were insured. Merchants had early discovered that more easily acquired wealth could be had from the pockets of miners, rather than toiling to discover some elusive gold veins.

The goods on board the Bertrand were bound for the mining towns of Hell Gate (modern day Missoula), Deer Lodge, and Virginia City. The Diamond R Transportation Company, also owned by Roe and his group, consisted of ox trains that traveled a few more hundred miles to these locations from Ft. Benton.

Shelves with exhibit objectsA trip through the Visitor Center exhibits and visible storage area reveals the diversity of objects being sent to the Montana goldfields. Indeed, many of the goods from the hull of the Bertrand are not what one would expect to find in the raucous mining towns of the nineteenth century American frontier.

Frank L. Worden, founder of modern day Missoula, Montana, procured goods for Hell Gate. Had they arrived he would have been able to offer a variety of supplies from his log cabin store.

Shelves with a variety of olive oil bottlesApart from the necessities of clothing, tools, and food, Worden could have also offered olive oil and mustard from France, bottled tamarinds and a variety of canned fruits, several varieties of alcoholic beverages called bitters, and powdered lemonade in a can. Some consignees even ordered brandied cherries; generally, not the kind of inventory one comes to associate with merchants on the U.S. frontier. The collection reflects the long history of Americans conspicuous consumption habits.

For specific information about the archeology collection contact the Museum Curator at 712/ 642-2772. A complete archeology report of the excavation, written by the NPS archeologist who monitored the 1969 excavation is available. Ask for Jerome Petsche's "The Steamboat Bertrand, History, Excavation and Architecture" (GPO, 1974), available for $13.50 (includes shipping and handling within the United States) from the address below. A 58 page book, "The Bertrand Stores" by Leslie Peterson, describes the cargo artifacts, and is available for $9.50 (includes postage/handling). Make check payable to "Midwest Interpretive Association." Bottles of brandied cherries

For additional information about the Bertrand, you can send your questions via e-mail to or mail to DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1434 316th Lane, Missouri Valley, Iowa, 51555 USA.

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