Missouri's DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge: 200,000 Artifacts on Display

The cargo of the sunken paddle-wheel steamboat Bertrand, on display at the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge near Missouri Valley, Iowa, provides a fascinating snapshot of life in the steamboat era.

The Bertrand sank 20 miles north of Omaha, Nebraska on April 1, 1865, while heading up the Missouri River to newly discovered gold fields in Montana. Its cargo included 35,000 pounds of mercury, $4,000 in gold coins and 5,000 gallons of whiskey, all worth a small fortune.

When crews excavated the boat from 30 feet of mud in a low-lying field (the river had changed its course), the valuables were gone. But the 200,000 or so artifacts, now on display at the refuge's Visitor Center, proved to be priceless. I was surprised to learn the cargo included fancy items like olive oil and mustard from France.

The refuge is bounded by the Missouri River, U.S. Highway 30 and I-29 in southwest Iowa. The Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, except major holidays. Admission is $3 a vehicle.

For more details, call 1-712-642-4121 or check out http://www.fws.gov/refuge/desoto/.

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