Five Island Lake Assoc.


On April 1, 1865 the Steamboat Bertrand hit a submerged log which sank this vessel headed toward Montana by way of the Missouri River. According to the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge near Missouri Valley, Iowa, “Half of the boats cargo was recovered in 1968. No monetary treasures were found but even better was a time capsule for researchers and visitors interested in America’s 19th century material culture.” The museum at the Wildlife Refuge is home to an archeological collection of 250,000 artifacts. Items include dishes, dried and salted beef, bottles of whisky, brandied cherries, medicines and everyday items related to life at that time.

Bodies of water hide many items that have been lost. Walking along a shoreline people find plastics, cans, bottles, fishing line, and other pieces of 21st century living. Finds may include older items such as arrowheads, animal bones and articles reflective of Iowa Natives that have inhabited this land for 13,000 years.

Stepping into that body of water a person might feel a rock, a thrown away soda can, a sharp object from a boat, or bones imbedded in the sand. It might be something that sparks research furthering a story of what occurred hundreds of years ago.

In 1998 a Five Island Lake dredging project was almost halted because of objects found in the first silt deposit site where the discharge pipe had deposited silt. This incident was included in Saving the Glacier’s Creation authored by James L. Coffey, M.D. By 1999 more objects had been found and an archeological investigation began.

Dr. Coffee wrote that a research geologist determined that “The bones and archeological materials are consistent with a Holocene age for these occurrences; that is an interval time including the past 12,000 years or so.” Because of this the dredging work was halted.

During the delay, a staff writer for the Spencer Daily Reporter did a series of articles about the artifacts. Katie Thompson wrote, “A history buff in Emmetsburg has accumulated a collection of rare stone age artifacts from dredge deposits that are now buried under ten feet of farmland. These are not just arrowheads from Native hunters who traded with white settlers at the turn of the century. These are ax heads and tools from pre-historic man--think cave man--who hunted now-extinct giant bison, mastodons and woolly mammoths.”

These finds presented a problem for Five Island Lake. To continue the dredging Iowa archeologists stepped in with a plan that allowed dredging to be relegated to the main body of the lake and no closer than 200 ft. from the shoreline. Continuous monitoring of the disposal outflow pipe was required. If any “cultural material or peat” was found the Iowa Department of Natural Resources was to be contacted.

Under the waters, history is stored. Whether items emerge and are able to be displayed for the public, remain in a private collection or are bones, vertebrae, etc. stored in buckets in a person’s garage, the lake’s water has preserved these pieces that add to a region’s story.

Previous question’s answer: Early maps indicate that the lake’s outflow was at Gappa’s Point.

Question: How wide is Five Island lake?

submitted by Diane Weiland


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