Believing veracity should be valued in telling the history of a place, the authors despaired about much that has been published about the Osage River. They were relieved to discover the realism of local historian, Judge James Lay of Warsaw, Missouri. He scoffed at early efforts to deepen the river and described the frightful Slicker War with Twainian candor. In fact, Mark Twain nearly married Laura Wright, daughter of Judge Wright, a compatriot of Lay. Twain ascended the Osage in 1860 to court the winsome girl. Her mother apparently thought the young steamboat captain unsuitable.
“Had this romance come to fruition,” Crystal speculates, “ours would be a different book. Even if we can’t crib from unwritten novels set on the Osage, Twain’s works have affected our outlook. Leland’s mother read him the Tom and Huck books at an impressionable age. Sadly, he mistook Huck for a role model. This led to a wasted youth, limb-lining for channel cat, and hanging out with rustics. If not the best upbringing for a proper author, it was a perfect education for working on this murky, bloody project.”
Leland and Crystal Payton have collaborated on a dozen books on regional history and popular culture. They have long had an obsession with this area’s past, and the changes caused by large scale water resource development have compelled them to publish this exhaustive and well-illustrated book. Damming the Osage tells a tale of a region transformed, not always for the better.
They have two sons—Strader, a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department, and Ross, a writer and podcaster. Two better sons itinerant writers could not ask for.