A unit of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge makes a wonderful tour stop for groups traveling in Nebraska. Only about five miles off of I-29, DeSoto is one of over 500 refuges protected and managed nationally. However, DeSoto is much more than just a place to view spectacular flights of ducks, geese and bald eagles along a traditional flyway route. The refuge also offers beautiful indoor galleries overlooking DeSoto Lake during the spring and fall months.
The visitor center not only houses the galleries, but it is also the home of one of the most unusual historic collections in the country, the Steamboat Bertrand Collection. Due to the numerous perils of traveling the Missouri, the river’s hazards exacted a heavy toll on early ships, with over 400 steamboats sunk or stranded between St. Louis and Fort Benton, Montana. Among these was the Bertrand, which sank here in April, 1865 and was quickly covered completely by thick river mud.
This time capsule of Civil War-era goods destined for the Montana Territory rested undiscovered for over a century, finally being unearthed in 1969. Unfortunately, during the summer of 2011, the rising waters of a major Missouri River flood threatened both the fabulous Steamboat Bertrand Collection as well as the DeSoto Visitor Center itself. As a result, the entire collection of artifacts was quickly shipped to a warehouse in Omaha as a precautionary measure. A complete cataloging and re-cleaning of all items is now being completed in the Omaha facility.
Happily, the collection will gradually be returned to and reinstalled at DeSoto beginning in early 2013, and the entire move is expected to be completed by next fall. If you plan a visit, which I highly recommend, make sure to say ‘hello’ to Ken Block, the amiable, highly experienced and knowledgeable USFWS (and former NPS) ranger who helped make my visit in early November (I had last been here in 1984) a particular pleasure.
Historic artifacts from the Steamboat Bertrand Collection
Ranger Ken Block assists visitors