Desoto National Wildlife Refuge

Fish and Wildlife Service, Iowa.


DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge was established in March of 1958 with the approval of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission with the dual intention of providing for the needs of migratory birds and providing public recreation to local communities. Today the physical footprint of the refuge spans 8,365 acres. DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is located in the migratory bird corridor of the Missouri River floodplain and provides essential habitat for resident, migratory and endangered species. High quality floodplain forest, grassland, wetland, sandbar and riverine habitats support diverse and productive populations of migratory waterfowl, shorebirds and neotropical birds, as well as rare, threatened and endangered species including the pallid sturgeon, piping plover and least tern. The refuge is a destination for people who want to explore the habitats and wildlife of this part of the Missouri River and get a glimpse of what pre-settlement Iowa and Nebraska may have looked like.

DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is also home to a premier archeological collection of almost 250,000 artifacts excavated from the buried wreck of the Steamboat Bertrand. On April 1, 1865, the sternwheeler hit a submerged log, 30 miles north of Omaha, Nebraska. Bound for the newly discovered goldfields of Montana from St. Louis, Missouri, the Bertrand sank into the depths of the Missouri River; and after initial salvage efforts, her cargo was written off as complete loss.


Using historical documents, modern treasurer hunters, Sam Corbino and Jesse Pursell located the wreck on DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in 1968. As the boat was on federal property, the salvors agreed under the requirements of the American Antiquities Preservation Act of 1906, to turn over all recovered artifacts to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for permanent exhibition and preservation in a public museum. By 1969, the vessel's cargo was completely excavated from its thirty feet deep mud tomb. Unfortunately for the salvors, the treasure they sought had eluded them. Insurance company divers had apparently removed most of the mercury and other valuables soon after the ship sank. However, what had been left was a diversity of tools, clothing and food items. The Bertrand's cargo was remarkably well preserved and the collection found in the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center is a unique time capsule for researchers and visitors interested in America's 19th century material culture.

Nearby Activities


DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is located 25 miles north of Omaha, Nebraska on Highway 30 between Missouri Valley, Iowa and Blair, Nebraska. From Omaha, take Interstate 29 north to U.S. Highway 30, Exit 75 at Missouri Valley, continue west on US Hwy 30 for five miles to the refuge entrance. Or take US Hwy 75 north to Hwy 30, going east five miles to the refuge entrance on DeSoto Avenue.

DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge

1434 316th Lane

Missouri Valley, IA 51555

GPS users: Please note that the south gate entrance to the refuge near Wilson Island is closed from October 15 - April 14. Please be sure that GPS directions take you through the Highway 30 entrance to the refuge.

Additional Information

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