Nov 052013

For our presentations this month for the Greenway Network at River Soundings and for the Big Muddy Speaker Series in St. Charles, we created this chronology of development on the Osage River.

A Chronology of Development on the Osage River and Tributaries

• 1813 – The Osages and Chouteaus reluctantly agreed to locate the trading post on the Missouri River instead of on the Osage, near their home, acknowledging that the Osage was too shallow for year round transportation.
• 1821 – Harmony Mission attempted a water mill on the Marais des Cygnes (then called the Osage River) but it washed out.
• 19th century – numerous pioneer mills on tributaries throughout the 1800s
• Circa 1840s – Caplinger Mills – successful grist mill on the Sac River. In 1917 this became the first hydroelectric project on the Osage system
• 1895 – Lock & Dam No. 1 construction started because of agitation for river improvement for steamboats. Designed by Hiram Chittenden, built by Army Corps of Engineers.
• 1906 Bates County Ditch, an ill-conceived channelization of the Marais des Cygnes
• Late 1920s – run-of-the-river hydroelectric dam at Osceola built by Ozark Utility Company
• 1931 Bagnell Dam closed. Financed by Union Electric of St. Louis, but started by Walter Cravens and Ralph Street of Kansas City.
• 1932 – Corps of Engineers delivers 308 Report on “Osage River, Mo. And Kans.”

Corps of Engineers Dams completed 1961-1982

• 1961 – POMME DE TERRE, on the Pomme de Terre River – multipurpose pool of 7,820 acres
• 1963 – POMONA, KANSAS, on Dragoon and One Hundred Ten Mile creeks – 4,060 acres
• 1969 – STOCKTON DAM, MISSOURI, on Sac River – 24,900 acres. Stockton is larger than the first two projects and is the only one, besides Truman, to have hydropower generation
• 1975 – MELVERN LAKE, KANSAS, on the Marais des Cygnes – 6,930 acres
• 1979 – TRUMAN DAM, WARSAW MISSOURI on the Osage River – 55,600 acre power pool
• 1982 – HILLSDALE, KANSAS, on Big Bull Creek – 4,580 acres

• ? – Removal of Lock & Dam No. 1. Originally unjustified and an environmental disaster today

More information is available in DAMMING THE OSAGE: The Conflicted Story of Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Reservoir. Retail $35, it is available from our website for $25 postage paid.
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Sep 262012

Just north and west of Schell City, Missouri, down the old “River Road” are the ruins of an iron truss bridge that for a hundred years spanned the Osage River, connecting Schell City and Rockville. It’s not far from where the Bates County Ditch (which has its own interesting and little known history) enters the Osage. Closed traffic for many years, it fell into the river in February of this year. Sadly each year there are fewer and fewer of these wonderful iron truss bridges. The usual cause of their demise is obsolescence and lack of maintenance. They are replaced by architecturally uninteresting steel and concrete girder bridges. This 317 foot iron bridge became structurally deficient when maintenance stopped.

We have posted here on our website and on YouTube a video tribute and mini history of this iron bridge.

We think the Schell City bridge died a natural death, but there were local rumors that it was dynamited. The history of bridging the Osage River and its tributaries is covered in our new book, DAMMING THE OSAGE by Leland and Crystal Payton, which will be available by December 1.

Nov 182011
Rivers both provide and obstruct transportation routes. A book about a river requires attention to and consideration of the ways the river has been spanned.

In Vernon County, northwest of Schell City, down a gravel, then a dirt road (aka Rockville Road/Old River Road) is the Schell City iron bridge over the Osage.  This once well-traveled road is treacherous now, even when dry. Spring rains make deep mud of the river’s bottomlands; tractor ruts made in spring harden to ragged ridges that threaten to snag our rented KIA. We hike the last half-mile with cameras and tripod.

Since our last trek, the approach from the south end has collapsed.  Stone support pillars, the main span and the north approach are still straight and (apparently) sturdy. The stone pillar on the north side is almost completely swallowed up by sedimentation on that bank.  Not far upstream the ill-conceived and appropriately name Bates County Ditch joins the Osage. Dug in the early 1900s, the Ditch probably destabilized the hydrology of the Osage, swinging the sediment load to the north bank, slowly building it up and burying the pillar.
You can find more information on this and other historic bridges at
We’ve been roaming and photographing the upper Osage for more than 30 years. Old buildings and old bridges – if you want to see them, make haste.