During the mid-nineteenth century, steamboats played a major role in the settlement and development of the nation. In March 1865 the fully laden sternwheeler Bertrand left St. Louis under the command of Captain James Yore. The cargo of general merchandise and mercury, used in the refinement of gold, was bound for the frontier mining towns near Fort Benton, Montana Territory, at the headwaters of the Missouri.
On April 1, 1865 the 161-foot vessel struck a snag less than a mile from the village of DeSoto, Nebraska Territory. The site of the wreck is now part of the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge. Although the boat sank in ten minutes, no lives were lost. The Bertrand was one of more than 400 steamboats wrecked on the Missouri during the riverboat era.
In 1967 salvors in cooperation with the federal government began a successful search for the Bertrand. The excavation was completed in October 1969 after 150 tons of cargo had been removed. The varied and precisely dated contents provide important research and interpretative resources after 103 years. On March 24, 1969 the historic importance of the Bertrand was recognized with its entry into the National Register of Historic Places.