Siouxland Stories: Message in a bottle discovered decades after Siouxland man sends it floating

Siouxland Stories

SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa (KCAU) — Without seeing a single deer, one Siouxland man had the most memorable time after finding a single bottle.

Before the snow started to pile up.

“Few of my friends and I decided to come out here and go bow hunting,” said Ross Bruns.

Ankeny’s Ross Bruns was hoping for a memorable hunt, along the shores of Saylorville Lake near Des Moines.

“I told my wife it was my last hunt of the year,” said Bruns. “Came out here that day and didn’t actually see a single deer, but it will probably be one of the most memorable hunts I have the rest of my life.” 

Most memorable, you might be asking? How could that be?
The answer is found a couple hundred miles away in the Spirit Lake dining room of Janet Otto and the stacks of binders her late husband Jim, the father of four kids, cataloged beginning in 1976. 

“Even though he has been gone so many years, people still say his name and want to find out who he is and who his family is and I think he would really appreciate that part of it,” said son Doug Otto.

Turns out, Jim was quite the adventurer.

“Yes, maybe too much so.  He would get into situations that I wasn’t sure if my life insurance was paid up,” said his wife Janet.

Long before his death in 2012, Jim Otto, started sending messages in a bottle.

“As we went back and forth to Nebraska where I lived, we would cross the river in Sioux City and he thought, OK I’m going to start throwing bottles in,” said Janet.

Hundreds of bottles eventually turning his hobby into a lifetime of family memories.

“Hopefully there wasn’t a state trooper following us and we’d get picked up or we’d throw the bottle and someone would be fishing down below, but I said if we get picked up and fined, that was the end of the hobby,” said Janet.

His kids weren’t quite as worried.

“He’d say, hey we’re coming up on the next river. So, whoever was in the front seat would roll the window down and grab a bottle and make sure you recorded the number, that was our job, make sure you get the number and then throw it,” said son Doug.

The bottles, launched at home and overseas cataloged by date, time, weather conditions and location, all logged awaiting a reply.

“He was just hoping to get a few back,” says Janet.

So far, 65 people have contacted the Otto’s after locating one of Jim’s green bottles.

“This is all in German, which I can’t read but this lady found one of Jim’s bottles,” said Janet. “This one from the Pen in South Dakota. real interesting friends from Scotland and they came to visit three times,” added Janet.

“He found personal connection and tried to keep them alive. It took time to wait for responses and I guess that’s a virtue he had was patience,” Doug said.

And now, you should understand why Bruns experienced a one-of-a-kind hunt without ever seeing a deer.

“So, when I was out here, I was walking as cautious as I could be. I was watching my feet to not make any nose and Iended up getting a glance of a green bottle in some driftwood. Stopped and picked it up and could see an envelope a stamp and a few other items,” said Bruns. “I actually took a picture and texted it to my friends who had been hunting in this spot and they couldn’t believe as many times as they had been up and down that trail that they never saw that bottle.”

“He would be excited and happy that so many people are still finding his bottles,” says Janet.

“He was always excited and I am, too, when I hear from somebody or like the other day when Ross found the bottle,” said Janet.

With bottle number 32 safely tucked away with Ross, the wait continues for when Jim’s hobby again is given new life.

“It makes us all feel good, that Jim is still touching people’s lives,” says Janet.

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