Steamboat Bertrand

The steamboat Bertrand was built in 1864 in Wheeling, WV. It was used to carry passengers and goods from St. Louis up the Missouri River to Fort Benton, the head of navigation in Montana Territory. On April 1, 1865 it hit a snag (a submerged log) in the DeSoto Bend of the river about 25 miles upstream from Omaha. It sank in ten minutes in twelve feet of water. Nobody died, but the cargo was a complete loss. Some of it, like the valuable cylinders of mercury (used in leaching gold from ore), was salvaged, but the vast majority of it was abandoned.

In 1968 the wreck was rediscovered on the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge. Hundreds of thousands of artifacts were recovered, and many were displayed in the visitor center/museum at the refuge. I visited the refuge in 2010 and took this picture of a magnificent model of the Bertrand. The display of artifacts was utterly fascinating. The cargo of the Bertrand ranged from shovels and cannonballs to dishes and clothes and about everything that might be sold in a general store in 1865.

It was a timely visit. The next year, 2011, was the year of the great Missouri River flood. At that time all of the artifacts were frantically boxed up and moved away to safety shortly before the river inundated the visitor center. By 2013 all of the artifacts had been returned to the refuge, and the process of re-displaying the artifacts is ongoing.