Steamboat Bertrand Cargo Collection
Con't . . .
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
For additional information about the Bertrand, you can send your questions via e-mail to email@example.com 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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