What Shoppers Were Looking For in 1865

MISSOURI VALLEY, Iowa  --  For many, shopping before Christmas in 2017 is not all that different from shopping in 1865. Shoppers back then also looked for clothing, tools, and food, just like today.

The types of items shoppers wanted in 1865 are still on display at the Bertrand Museum located at the De Soto Bend Wildlife Refuge near Missouri Valley. The Steamship Bertrand sank in April of 1865 while carrying supplies for the gold rush area in Montana.

“There were hundreds of steamboats going up and down the Missouri River, the Bertrand was just one of hundreds,” said Bill Cantine, a museum specialist with the Bertrand Museum. “It left St. Louis with a load of cargo, mining supplies, food, luxury items. It made it as far as De Soto, Iowa, which is 22 river miles north of Omaha.”

The boat hit a submerged log and punched a hole in the bow.

"It sank in about 10 minutes. They were able to steer the boat to the bank so nobody died, everybody got off," said Cantine.

The ship and all its cargo were lost for a century before the site of the wreck was located and excavated.

“Being in the mud, it was an anaerobic environment, there’s no oxygen, so there was nothing to break it down. It was tightly packed in the mud, so when they dug it up it looked likeit was brand new,” said Cantine. “Any deterioration you see is from when they dug it up until now.”

The Bertrand Museum now stores between 250,000 and 500,000 items. Only a portion of the items are on display, while many are boxed up. The boxing happened in 2011 when De Soto Bend was under a flood warning from the Missouri River. Items were all boxed and moved a  warehouse in Omaha until the waters receded.

Now, items like pickles, butter, brandied cherries, hats, boots, and clothes, are among the items in the collection, as well as shovels, cannon balls, bullets, and instant lemonade.

“They were filled with the powder, little vial of lemon oil, essence of lemonade. That instant lemonade came with instructions,” said Cantine.

If you would like to know more about the Bertrand Museum, click here.