Oct 302012

Trophy Paddlefish

This looks to be taken below the Osceola Dam which was removed when Truman Dam and Reservoir was built. While the primary paddlefish spawning beds were over gravel bars between Osceola and Warsaw, paddlefish on spawning runs would accumulate below this run-of-the-river dam, making them vulnerable to snaggers.

We’ve not run across an authoritative history of the sport of snagging. The two areas most associated with snagging in the 1950s were the Osage River above Lake of the Ozarks and below the big Corps dams on the upper Missouri River. If anybody knows of any articles on snagging before the 1950s or had personal experience – we’d love to hear about them.

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Aug 262012


This summer’s drought has drastically lowered water levels on major waterways throughout the Midwest. The Corps of Engineers first major water control project on the Osage – built around the turn of the last century to facilitate steamboat travel – Lock and Dam #1 was if anything an impediment to river commerce. This morning the crumbling hulk lay exposed to sun and camera…. A reminder that water resource projects have a finite usefulness and then become relics and dangerous ruins.

Jul 202012

Lock and Dam No. 1

Real photo postcard, 1910-1920.

Businessmen along the Osage River agitated for generations for engineering improvements that would facilitate steamboat traffic on the river. Finally in the late 1800s, politicians bullied the Army Corps of Engineers into building a disastrous lock and dam about nine miles from the junction of the Osage with the Missouri River. Construction costs ran hugely over budget and it failed miserably to provide the projected economic benefits. Fifty years later, the Army Corps of Engineers continued the tradition of intervening in the hydrology of the Osage River with projects that ran over budget and failed to provide promised benefits. Lock & Dam #1 cost somewhere around $750,000 (we think). The six recent interventions by the Corps cost hundreds of millions.

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Feb 242011
Research, for this writer, is almost the best part of a book project. For in our case that often means – road trip!  Many trips to the Ozarks tracking Father Hogan’s horseback reconnaissance for a settlement for Famine immigrants were de rigueur for Mystery of the Irish Wilderness. Last fall, The Osage River book (now in the works) dictated a photo safari to Heritage Days at Truman Dam and Reservoir.

As with most American ‘pioneer/forefathers’ celebrations, Heritage Days in Warsaw, Missouri provides a venue for demonstrations of atavistic skills and arcane crafts with, of course, opportunities to purchase many handmade or locally crafted articles. Heritage Days is no exception. Lining the shady pathways one could find lye soap making, candles, sorghum, wood carving, dying and weaving, and candle making. From the stage of Trailside Theater the sound of old-time music emanated.

The wooded hilltop surrounding the government-moderne, concrete Visitors Center was populated with buckskin- or calico-clad frontiersmen and women; the cleared lawn overlooking the mammoth dam on the Osage hosted Civil War and mountain-man reenactors. They brought displays of long rifles and cannon, tanned hides and bows, powder horns and and Bowie knives.

Irony is an overused concept but it was not lost on me in the firing of a Civil War cannon over the fought-over Corps of Engineers project.  Colorful subject matter and near-perfect October weather called for many snapshots.

“Harry Truman” himself (Dr. Carter Kinkead of the Benton County Historical Society) strolled the grounds, chatting with visitors and giving out bits of history of the eponymous project. Originally named Kaysinger Bluff Dam and Reservoir after the high bluff over the Osage to which the dam is anchored, the name was changed in 1970 to honor Missouri’s own favorite son – and to reinforce its worthiness as a major infrastructure project.  There were questions (and a lawsuit) over its cost/benefit – both economically and environmentally. More – much more – on that in The Osage Riverbook.Congressionally authorized, and Corps of Engineers-built, Truman is an interesting contrast to the first major dam/lake project on the Osage River. Bagnell, a privately funded and operated dam/reservoir was slow to develop, but its shoreline is now crammed with marinas, condo developments and recurrent water-quality concerns.  Shenanigans in its 1920s funding landed one developer in Leavenworth Penitentiary (of course, his major problems had to do with Land Banks, foreclosed Kansas farmland and his effort to make Osage Valley farmland cover the shortfalls).

Truman (a.k.a. Kaysinger Bluff) on the other hand was slow to take off.  Authorized in 1954, construction didn’t begin until 1964. Funding was frequently slowed by the costs of the Vietnam War.  When Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1968, the door was opened to challenge the project for the inadequacy of its environmental impact statement. NEPA went into effect in 1969; early in 1972 the lawsuit was filed. Interestingly enough …. there seems to be no mention of that lawsuit in official public accounts of the project’s history.

But I digress.You’ll just have to read the book!
Let us know your thoughts …


Nov 292010

Recently, I was settled in a dark corner of the State Historical Society of Missouri (Columbia, Missouri) focused intently on the screen of a microfilm reader, trying to decipher badly focused text of a yellowed 1933 newspaper, when a voice penetrated my fog – “Crystal Payton?” The voice belonged to Sean McLachlan, pelagic and prolific, self-designated “Midlist Writer” who actually resides in Madrid Spain. My mental jump from 1933 to 2010 took a couple of minutes, but the brain finally locked in. Pretty remarkable crossing of paths … Sean is in Columbia for a couple of weeks to research a new Missouri book – this one on Gen. Joe Shelby’s 1863 raid into Missouri from Arkansas; his other work in progress is on Ethiopia. His interests are global (travel) and local (he’s got a new series on Missouri’s own Jesse James) – and we meet on the playing field of Missouri regional history!

My date with microfilm was to advance our research into the background and politics of the building of Harry S. Truman Dam and Reservoir on the Osage River. Between the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927 and the closing of Bagnell Dam on the Osage in 1931, the Corps of Engineers overcame their resistance to the concept of dam/reservoir projects for flood control. They were looking for dam sites in the early ‘30s and haven’t changed that mindset since. So the reels of “The Clinton Eye” a weekly paper in the county seat of Henry County we felt might hold early gems. Worth a look-see, anyway ….

FYI – the new book is The Osage River: paddlefish, prairies, farms & villages, dams & reservoirs, imperial Indians, explorers, slickers, sportsmen, tourists & various violent, litigious & noteworthy events in the history of the Osage River Valley.

Right now we’re looking at 300+ well laid out, color illustrated pages.

 (above) Leland looks over the Osage River valley from a bluff off Highway 17, east of Tuscumbia. The view is toward the abandoned Henley railroad bridge.

Catching up included sending Sean a copy of On the Mission in Missouri and Fifty Years Ago: A Memoir, which we published after Mystery of the Irish Wilderness. Father Hogan’s account of life on the rapidly settling Missouri frontier and through the Civil War in northern Missouri is a lively read by itself. His recollection of growing up in County Limerick, Ireland in the 1830s and ‘40s is a real snapshot of the times leading up to and the beginning of the Potato Famine. We couldn’t just leave them on the shelf … so this volume contains both memoirs and the biographical information I gleaned from diocesan archives.