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Damming the Osage


Damming the Osage: The Conflicted Story of Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Reservoir by Leland and Crystal Payton.
Published by Lens & Pen Press, 4067 Franklin, Springfield MO 65807, $25 postpaid.
See http://www.dammingtheosage.com

dto-cover-720Leland and Crystal Payton, prolific authors of books with lots of photographs about the history and culture of the Ozarks and about American culture generally, have tackled the history of human use and transformation of the Osage River. Their focus is on the political and financial machinations which resulted in the construction of Bagnell Dam and Truman Dam and their impoundments in the along the northwestern boundary of the Missouri Ozarks. Their original photographs and reproductions of graphics from newspapers, maps, magazines and advertising materials, provide a collage of images of the area before and after its transformation, as well as the images created by promoters of how it might look.

The book covers the history of the residents of Osage basin, from prehistory to the present. From its origin in eastern Kansas to Bonnots Mill, the Osage flows through prairies along the northern Ozarks border into the Missouri River, at a point seven miles east of Jefferson City. Many and diverse primary sources, such as the writings of explorers and newspaper accounts, as well as the work of archaeologists, historians and other social scientists, make the book a rich trove.

The theme of book is consistent with my own take on the history of the development of North America over the past five centuries, which is that development has been driven by the opportunities created by government investment for private investors seeking wealth through the subdivision of real estate and exploitation of natural resources. George Washington was a land surveyor, as was Thomas Jefferson’s father Peter. The Washingtons, the Jeffersons and other promoters–working hand in hand with the government–used every public and private resource they could muster to carve up the Appalachian frontier and beyond into reservations, territories and states for private and public gain. Eventually, the whole country became subdivided. In the case of the valley of the Osage River, the land was divided into lake lots and condo units and multi-purpose reservoirs.

Bagnell Dam and Lake of the Ozarks

The Paytons identify Ralph Street, an “obscure Kansas City lawyer,” and Walter Craven, a mortgage banker also from Kansas City, as the fathers of Lake of the Ozarks. Street and Craven wangled a construction permit from the Federal Power Commission for the Bagnell Dam in 1924 and began acquiring options to buy land. The FPC and the Missouri Public Service Commission awarded permanent licenses for the project in 1926 to Craven, who transferred the licenses to Union Electric in 1929, after Craven failed to obtain construction financing.

Unlike other popular accounts of dam-building in the Ozarks, the Paytons pay careful attention to what existed at various times before the construction destroyed towns (Linn Creek) and roads that connected towns, cutting off neighbors from one another. The occupation by Osage Indians is described, as well as the vain attempts to modify the river to enhance navigation in the steamboat era. Later, the valley was the pathway of railroads, many of them unsuccessful. Some sites, such a Monegaw Springs in St. Clair County and Ha Ha Tonka in Camden County, were beautiful places that captured the dreams of real estate salesmen and promoters of tourism.Caplinger Mills

Once Bagnell Dam was completed in 1931, a particular flavor of tourist development was created around Lake of the Ozarks, remnants of which may be seen along the old parts of Missouri Highway 7 and US Highway 54 that have been bypassed by newer roads. The Paytons give us color and black-and-white reproductions of tourist pottery, wood carvings, fieldstone cabins, and garish billboards, as well as the intense condo development that came in the past two decades.

Truman Dam and Truman Lake

Though the Corps of Engineers had opposed the construction of dams, including Bagnell Dam, by private companies, the Corps did not have a clear legislative mandate to build dams for flood control, hydropower, and irrigation, though it had always been engaged in construction and maintenance of levees and drainage of wetlands. In 1926, Congress asked the Corps to study 180 rivers and their tributaries to examine the feasibility of federal construction of reservoirs. The Corps’ report on the Osage basin, delivered in 1933, proposed dams on Pomme de Terre, the Osage River above Osceola, and the Grand River just north of its confluence with the Osage. In 1944, FDR approved the Pick-Sloan Plan for development of the Missouri River basin, and the dams on the upper Osage were among the 107 dams authorized.

Pointing out that “Civic organizations in Warsaw, Clinton and Osceola were convinced that a dam, any dam, anywhere on the Osage would guarantee prosperity,” the Paytons designate Haysler A. Poague, a judge in Clinton, as the “stepfather” of the Truman Dam. Poague became an advocate of one large dam at Kaysinger Bluff near Warsaw, rather than the two smaller dams proposed by the Corps in 1933.

A massive flood in 1951 convinced Congress and the public that spending money to put people to work and to control and store water was worth doing; the Paytons do not point out that the most severe drought in recorded history followed the 1951 flooding, which surely added to the public support for a water project. However, funding of the project was delayed other priorities—the Vietnam War and the War on Poverty, according to the Paytons—but the land acquisition and construction began in the mid-1960s. In 1972, just as work was beginning on the dam, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Missouri chapter of the Wildlife Society, and several other organizations and citizens, including Leland Payton, filed suit in federal court seeking to stop the construction of the project.

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) required federally funded projects to be preceded by meaningful environmental impact statements, giving environmentalists a tool to challenge the adequacy of the investigation of ecological impacts of projects. In the case of the Truman Dam, the opponents were concerned about the fate of the paddlefish, among other issues, and could also point out that the cost-benefit analysis provided by the Corps strained to show net economic benefits.

The final third of Damming the Osage depicts the political and legal wrangling over whether Truman Dam and its impoundment would be completed.
Missouri’s congressional delegation led by Senator Stuart Symington, members of the state legislature, and virtually all local officials, as well as chambers of commerce, supported the project, even though biologists and many farmers opposed it.

While the town of Clinton seems to have held its own, most of the Truman Lake area has continued to decline. Missourians have had to cope with the negatives. The Missouri Department of Conservation learned to raise paddlefish in hatcheries, so that they would not be extirpated in the Osage basin. Engineering oversights resulted in fish kills below Truman Dam and massive erosion below Stockton Dam on the Sac River, a major tributary of the Osage, which required additional land acquisition and bank stabilization.

During the same era, the Corps of Engineers’ will and ability to marshal support for dam projects seems to have ended. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 provided environmentalists with stronger arguments. After tremendous fights, Congress deauthorized dam projects on the Meramec River in Missouri and the Buffalo River in Arkansas, as elected officials listened to a broader swath of their constituents and began to question the wisdom of destroying the last few free-flowing rivers.

The Paytons have captured the spirit of the times the book covered. The text is thorough and the images are vivid. While Leland Payton was clearly opposed to the construction of Truman Dam, the positions of the proponents are fairly explained. Damming the Osage is an essential chronicle of how dams and reservoirs gain momentum and get built, even though they make sense perhaps for only a minority.Truman Dam

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Chasing manufacturing jobs? Good luck.


Every civic-minded American believes that prosperity is simply a matter of a factory coming to his town. Not one one that belches pollution, but “light industry” or “clean manufacturing.”

While a few such factories exist and a new one will come to the Ozarks once in a while, I’m doubtful that a policy directed at reeling in these factories should be a major part of an economic development strategy.

In his very brief essay, “Fetish for making things ignore real work,” John Kay breaks down the purchase price of an iPhone, which (ignoring the carrier subsidy, or what Verizon or ATT discounts it to you to get you to sign a contract) is about $700. He says the valuable parts–the camera and flash drive, not likely to be made by Ozarks labor–account for about $200. The assembly and the cheap parts amount to about $20. Most of the rest of the purchase price is returned to those brilliant people who designed the iPhone, its operating system, and its advertising and their shareholders.

Kay’s main argument is relevant to the local economic development director and chamber of commerce committee:

Where will the jobs come from in a service-based economy, manufacturing fetishists ask?

From doing here the things that cannot be done better elsewhere, either because of the particularity of the skills they require, or because these activities can only be performed close to home.

Manufacturing was once a principal source of low-skilled employment but this can no longer be true in advanced economies.

Most unskilled jobs in developed countries are necessarily in personal services. Workers in China can assemble your iPhone but they cannot serve you lunch, collect your refuse or bathe your grandmother.

If you’re wondering where in the USA the good technical jobs are, and which regions are experiencing growth, check out “The emerging technical, professional and scientific sector” by Rob Sentz. Missouri and Arkansas are losers, though the Kansas City area has significant growth.

If we want to have good jobs in the Ozarks, we have to invest our own money and energy. A big and difficult part of this challenge lies in raising expectations of our children, our schools, our civic and business organizations and our elected officials.

Otherwise, the best that many of our children can hope for is a job serving lunches, collecting refuse and bathing their elderly parents and grandparents.

Ozark houses: White River Valley stonework

Ozark houses: White River Valley stonework

Looking over Bull Creek, about 30 miles south of Springfield, this old house displays one of several types of stonework that appears in the houses built in the White River Valley around 100 years ago. The smooth, flat stones come from the rivers and creeks. Some people call it river rock.

 

In this view, you can see that the pattern of laying the small flat stones horizontally is occasionally broken by standing a larger stone on end. Above the cellar door (and windows and doorways not visible here), small stones are set vertically akin to what brickmasons would call a “soldier course,” sometimes arching a bit.

I visited this house with a couple of sisters whose uncle had owned it in the early 1960s. The uncle added the fireplace.

You can see several  fine examples of this type of stonework on Downing Street in Hollister, Missouri, and in a few of the older commercial buildings in downtown Branson.

 

Sometimes judges really are funny


Judge Warren White of Greene County, Missouri, displayed a droll sense of humor, as recounted by the late John K. Hulston (1915-2004), in An Ozarks Lawyer’s Story, 1946-1976.

After conducting a new trial of George Wilkerson, who had served part of a six-year sentence in the state penitentiary before a successful appeal, Judge White found Wilkerson guilty and ordered him back to prison, in this 1941 case.

Wilkerson complained, “Judge, I can’t take it. That’s too long. I’m too old a man to serve a sentence like that. It will kill me. I’ll die up there.”

“Well, do all of it you can,” Judge White replied.

Styron & Shilling’s new home in Ozark


After ten years at 301 West Pacific in Branson, Styron & Shilling has relocated its Branson office to a lovely old building at 302 East Church Street, in Ozark, Missouri, a half block east of the northeast corner of the Christian County courthouse square.

With this move, Styron & Shilling’s Branson and Ozark offices are consolidated to a new location that fits the nature of our firm’s evolving Read the rest of this entry

Check out these new Ozarks news channels


Two journalism professors in Springfield–Andrew Cline of Missouri State and Jonathan Groves of Drury–have guided their students (and others, in Groves’s case) to create online publications presenting local news and views. Both got off the ground and online this month.

Cline’s project is Ozarks News Journal, which describes itself as:

a laboratory for discovering how to make the best use of the World Wide Web and social media for producing journalism. Students in the JRN378 Multimedia Journalism class seek to understand more than just how to make the web and social media tools work for news gathering and publishing. They seek to understand how to use these tools to fulfill  the primary purpose of journalism: To give citizens the information they need to be free and self-governing.

Professor Groves has taken a different tack with SGF News, seeking content from members of the community. Groves hopes that SGF News will serve as a community forum on specific topics (currently 2010 elections), but with explicit guidelines, called Ground Rules:

  • No profanity.
  • Be civil. Don’t resort to personal attacks.
  • Support your arguments. Offer links to supporting material, and support your conclusions with facts.
  • Join the community. As citizens of the Ozarks, join the conversation and offer your thoughts so the best will bubble to the top.

Is it necessary to affirm the right to hunt and fish in state constitutions?


“I liked it better when I was hunting birds there,” said the mediator, when he figured out the location of the garages at a Branson condominium. Seven attorneys gathered to attempt to resolve a dispute over rights to use four garages at the condominium.

As the Ozarks and much of rural America becomes suburbanized, many people want to protect their cherished traditions of hunting and fishing. In ten states, citizens have amended their constitutions to affirm the right to hunt and fish. Oklahoma has done so and the proposal is being considered in Arkansas and Tennessee.

As I hear people in the Ozarks express themselves about land and water and fish and game, I hear the same arguments that have been made to affirm the rights of native peoples to continue their hunting and fishing traditions, some of which have been protected from state regulation by federal law.

The Ozarks have been populated by people of mostly European ancestry for nearly 300 years. After many generations, it’s no wonder that members of old Ozarks familes feel like they need to assert themselves to hang on to their culture. And those whose families haven’t been around as long would naturally want to feel secure in their adopted traditions.

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