Apr 222016

Last week the Kansas Department of Transportation announced a grant to the Fort Scott/Bourbon County Riverfront Authority to help pay for moving the 1902 Long Shoals metal truss bridge from the Little Osage River to the Marmaton River at the Riverfront Park in Fort Scott. The Ft. Scott Tribune carries the full story: http://www.fstribune.com/story/2296125.html

Several years ago, field research for Damming the Osage took us deep into Kansas as we traced the river’s course and the migration of the Osage tribe westward. My “Trip Notes” for one day recorded that we turned east on K-31 “to search for overgrown iron bridge over the Little Osage River, near Kansas-Missouri state line.” We found it. Right next to the uninteresting, but safer, new concrete bridge that replaced it.

My notes continue: “found bridge which is almost completely obscured by trees, vines, foliage. Took many photos but need to come back in winter.” Lesson learned – best iron bridge visuals are when the leaves are off the trees.

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For more and clearer images and technical and historical information on the Long Shoals iron bridge see http://bridgehunter.com/ks/bourbon/long-shoals/

One day, this now-abandoned bridge will grace a park in Fort Scott!  A far better fate than the one that befell the Schell Cty Bridge over the Osage in Missouri – not far from Fort Scott.


Mar 152016


View of Linn Creek, Mo., written in white ink. Published by G. A. Moulder, Linn Creek, Mo. This appears to show high water on the Osage River and shows Linn Creek flooded to varying degrees.

Linn Creek was built at the junction of the Niangua and the Osage and was subject to flooding. Its hardy citizens preferred occasional floods to being fifty feet under water. The town resisted the Bagnell Dam project and fought Union Electric tooth and claw. The little county seat of Camden County would go under forty feet of water twenty years after this photo was taken when Lake of the Ozarks pooled behind Bagnell Dam. Many of the houses would be moved, some were torn down, some burned – mostly foundations were left.

Mar 132016


Real photo postcard. No publisher.

“Dr. Moore L. C. Mo.” is written in red ink. L.C. is Linn Creek Unsent. Penciled on back, “Linn Creek, Mo.” There appear to be some political advertisements pasted in the window. Shows a horse-drawn carriage, sans horses, and a farm wagon hitched to two mules.

Someone really wanted others to know that this scene was in Linn Creek. It says so on the back and twice on the front.  Linn Creek, the seat of Camden County, in spite of being subject to periodic inundation was a thriving little burg before Bagnell Dam. Linn Creek and Tuscumbia were the last towns to have regular steamboat service on the Osage.

Does someone know who Dr. Moore was?



Mar 072016
Paddlefish have not been spawning naturally on gravel bars in the Osage River since Truman Dam closed almost forty years ago.

Paddlefish have not been spawning naturally on gravel bars like this in the Osage River since Truman Dam closed almost forty years ago.

The monthly feature, “What is it?” in the March issue of the magazine published by the Missouri Department of Conservation has a close up photo of paddlefish eggs. Then the reveal on page 8 correctly states this large ancient fish is the official “state aquatic animal” (so designated in 1997) and lives “mostly in open waters of big rivers.” BUT – then it goes on to incorrectly state: “As waters rise in spring, paddlefish move upstream to gravel bars to spawn. Eggs are deposited on silt-free gravel bars where, during regular water levels, they would be exposed to air or are covered by very shallow water. The eggs hatch and the larval fish are swept downstream to deeper pools where they grow to adulthood.”


This is where paddlefish eggs hatch today. There is virtually no natural reproduction in Missouri contrary to the statement in the Missouri Conservationist.

WHAT????! This has not been true for almost forty years. Today all the paddlefish swimming in Missouri streams come from the Department’s Blind Pony Fish Hatchery. Since the Corps of Engineers closed the gates on Truman Dam, destroying the spawning grounds of the paddlefish, there has been only occasional spawning in the Marais des Cygnes in Kansas and no knowledge if these fry survived. The “silt-free gravel bars” are now the muddy bottom of Truman Reservoir.

There are problems with long-term artificial reproduction, as any biologist can tell you. It can create genetic unfitness and it is expensive. The writers and editors of the Conservationist should have consulted with the department’s knowledgeable fisheries biologists (not an old encyclopedia) before printing this outdated misinformation.

DTO-coverWe cover the sordid tale of Truman Dam – and the lawsuit that tried to mitigate its pernicious effects – in great detail in our book Damming the Osage: The Conflicted Story of Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Reservoir. The book is available on amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Damming-Osage-Conflicted-Ozarks-Reservoir/dp/0967392586/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8 ) or at a discounted price on our website http://www.dammingtheosage.com/buy-the-book/

How much do you want to know about the paddlefish?  https://youtu.be/rmT090b9NT0

“Cemetery Ridge” on the Osage

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Mar 062016

One of the best parts of working on a book is the research – specifically the road trips to locations we’re writing about. Hard to believe that eight years ago Damming the Osage was still just the “Osage River book” and we were still photographing out of the way places that were key sites along its banks. The first week of March 2008, we roamed the north side of what is now Truman Reservoir from Clinton to Warsaw and spots in between.

We struck up a conversation with a man from Monegaw Springs who pronounced it ‘Mon-e-goh.’ He was not happy with the state of the river since Truman Dam closed. The lake near them had become a “willow-nasty-ass bottom.” He told us about “Cemetery Ridge” near Monegaw. We hiked through the woods along the ridge (“if you get to the slough you’ve gone too far”) and found a few tombstones leaning against trees, scattered in the woods. Possibly others were stolen as there appeared to be more receivers for the headstones than there were stones.

IMG_0414.-v2  IMG_0420 IMG_0416

Through the trees we caught a glimpse of the backed up waters of the Osage/Truman. The resident of Monegaw was accurate in his descriptor – mud flats were indistinct edges to the trapped water.  Dead tree trunks, broken branches stuck up from the mud. Lost life stories and the lost river …


Jul 092015

Flooding along the Osage River has made news this week. #LakeoftheOzarks filled to over capacity with flood gates roaring.

The swinging bridge in this video spans Greatglaize Creek near Brumley, in Miller County. Designed by Joe Dice in the first quarter of the 1900s, this is one of a number of ‘swingers’ the self-taught engineer built. It’s almost 100 years old and still used by local traffic (when the creek’s not high!). Driving across is a noisy and exhilarating experience as the narrow planks rattle and the bridge sways. Cars roll slowly.

Frightened cattle or overloaded trucks broke the deck of some and tornadoes wrecked others, but no Dice bridge ever structurally failed.

Damming the Osage, page 74

Read more about Dice in our book.

Thanks to Shawn Kober and his Big Planet Media for permission to post this very cool aerial footage of flooding on Greatglaize Creek, a tributary of Lake of the Ozarks.

Mar 202015

Many thanks to Larry Lewis of Osceola for arranging our presentation to the St. Clair County Historical Society last week. With Larry’s recommendation and the support of Angie Jones, Director of the St. Clair County Library, we were invited to discuss Damming the Osage with the members of the Historical Society.  The town of Osceola and much of St. Clair County were deeply affected by the changes brought on by the construction of Truman Dam and Reservoir. Leland was a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by the Environmental Defense Fund (1972) to stop or reduce the size and impact of the dam. It was a position that put him (then) at odds with many people in at least three, maybe four counties. Feelings were strong during the lawsuit. People took sides with strong opinions. We were curious to see what the reaction was to our description of events.

Osceola Book Signing

The gathering was cordial and the audience knowledgeable about the events and issues. Indeed, we learned a lot from them. Personal stories of life on the Osage River pre-dam, paddlefish season,  the Civil War and its aftermath, outlaws and their final resting places, and meteors (that’s another post!) were lively, informative and added an intimate perspective on the costs and consequences of such huge and intrusive projects.

We showed our book video and one titled Osceola’s Lament evoking the after-dam realization that reality doesn’t begin to meet the optimistic promises of the dam-builders and promoters. Sadly, many of the negative consequences predicted by that lawsuit seem to have come to pass. Today, many residents are unenthusiastic about the monstrous and shallow reservoir that destroyed so much of the history and natural resources of the area.

Many thanks to Jim Arnett of Leawood, Kansas for taking the photographs.  (click on any photo to enlarge and start slide show)

Nov 202014

In Damming the Osage we question the wisdom of the seven multipurpose Corps of Engineers dams and reservoirs built on the Osage River. The case we make against these public works projects is based on the flawed logic of the Pick-Sloan Plan that asserted that there was enough flood control storage behind government dams to avert flooding on the Missouri-Mississippi river system. This has proven not to be true. There was a strong lobby to build these water resource control projects; the Army Corps of Engineers cannot be held solely responsible.


When the Osage is low, Lock & Dam No. 1 is revealed to be a wreckage of wood, concrete, and steel. It should be removed before it fails. That it is privately owned complicates this costly necessity. Mr. Rice’s rash decision to buy this misconceived project has continuing consequences.

The Corps is a curious mixture of superb engineering skills and source of grotesque information. One of the dumbest projects in their history was the construction of Lock and Dam No. 1 built in the early 1900s about ten miles from the Osage River’s confluence with the Missouri. It was built to facilitate virtually non-existent steamboat travel and commerce on the river.

The Corps discontinued operation of the lock and dam in September 1951. It had been problematic from the beginning from an engineering standpoint and by the time the Corps got tired of maintaining it, it was badly deteriorated. While many of the projects the Corps builds are of questionable justification, this bureaucracy is not stupid.

The Corps offered to donate the ill-conceived and deteriorating lock and dam to Missouri state agencies but they saw nothing but problems and declined the opportunity. So the Corps put it up for bid and landed a sucker. A short article in the Tri-City Herald, Mar 24, 1960 tells the story of one of the dumbest purchases of real estate in history:



James N. Rice soon will become the owner of a genuine United States government lock and dam – but dam if he knows what he’s going to do with it.

The property is U. S. Lock and Dam N. 1 – there never was a No. 2 – on the Osage River. It’s 14 miles southeast of Jefferson City, near where the Osage empties into the Missouri.

Rice will become the owner because a bid of $10,500 he submitted proved to the highest among 20 received by the General Services Administration.

Rice, 42, a bachelor who works for the State Detective Bureau, was surprised when a newsman told him the GSA had accepted his offer.

What will he do with his acquisition?

“Dam if I know. I hadn’t given the matter any thought because I had no idea my bid would be high enough. I like to fish, and I understand the fishing is real good out there. I guess that’s what was in the back of my mind when I bid on it. I might make a resort out of it sometime.

The rundown property includes about 10 acres of park-like land beside the river, three old frame houses, and several lesser structures. The concrete-base dam is 17 feet high and 220 feet long. Its lock is 42 feet wide.

The facility was built in the early 1900s to provide water for shallow-draft barges to make it up the river as far as Warsaw, Mo., 173 miles from the mouth. River traffic in those days was heavy, but construction of Bagnell Dam 25 miles upstream in the 1930s put No. 1 out of business. The Corps of Engineers maintained No. 1 until nine years ago. Then it tried to lease the property to some civic, fraternal or conservation group – free, except for maintenance costs.

There were no takers. One reason was that there is no way to get to it except by a privately owned road or by the river.

This doesn’t worry Rice, who figures he can work an agreement to use the road.

As for paying for the lock and dam, he says he’ll do it in cash, “but it will mean scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

Photograph from May 1, 1960, Kansas City Star.  The caption reads: “The new owner of Osage Lock and Dam No. 1 looks over a part of his property. James N. Rice of Jefferson City “private eye” and avowed fisherman, examines part of the rusty mechanism that opens and closes the locks on the Osage River near the capital city.

Photograph from May 1, 1960, Kansas City Star.
The caption reads: “The new owner of Osage Lock and Dam No. 1 looks over a part of his property. James N. Rice of Jefferson City “private eye” and avowed fisherman, examines part of the rusty mechanism that opens and closes the locks on the Osage River near the capital city.

Not much came of his development plans. Since then, it has even further deteriorated and could collapse. It is in a perilous, sad state of disrepair. We’ve discussed the ramifications of this extensively in a separate section of this website (http://www.dammingtheosage.com/lock-and-dam-no-1-on-the-osage-river/ ) and linked to studies and reports by various government agencies that study and protect wildlife.

Lock & Dam No. 1 is a hazard to navigation and has caused drownings. The potential legal liability to the private owners of this ruin is enormous.

Give the Corps credit for anticipating these issues and divesting themselves of this dysfunctional disaster-waiting-to-happen.

Nov 182014

Construction photograph of Lock & Dam No. 1. The pièce de résistance of the futile effort to render the Osage River navigable was Lock & Dam No. 1. In the twentieth century, Army Engineers became renowned for escalating the price of a dam after Congressional authorization and work had started. Underestimating construction costs has long been a skill of the Corps.

After half a century of headaches the Army Corps of Engineers ceased operation of Lock & Dam No. 1 ten miles from the junction of the Osage and Missouri rivers. It saw little traffic and was a maintenance nightmare.

We recently ran across a 1956 newspaper article that mentioned a consternation we had not been aware of. When the Corps couldn’t keep the gates in the open position, they removed the set of gates on the lower lock, thus lowering the water level by five to five and a half feet upstream. Locals complained that they couldn’t get their boats over the riffles.

The article from the Jefferson City Post Tribune, April 26, 1956, hints that there are legitimate parties interested in taking over responsibility for this deteriorating blockage of the Osage River. While waiting for congressional approval to dump Lock & Dam No. 1, Lt. Col. Threadgill was actually trying to interest various Missouri state agencies in acquiring it. They were too smart to accept this colossal chunk of liability:


The Osage River Lock and Dam No. 1 property may be up for lease or sale in the future, but for the time being the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “is reluctant to consider or recommend further leasing of the property.”

The Army Corps of Engineers position on sale or leasing of the property, which has popped up among organizations here in the past, was voiced by L. T. Col. Walton O. Threadgill acting district engineer in Kansas City.

A Jefferson City resident who owns a cottage on the Osage River revealed Army Engineers personnel were working on the site recently. The Corps of Engineers discontinued operation of the lock and dam in September, 1951. Lt. Col. Threadgill confirmed the report.

Some difficulties

He said that “difficulties were experienced in maintaining the gates in the open position” and on March 28 “the two gates at the downstream end of the lock were removed by field personnel of this office to eliminate further difficulties.”

The lock’s gates had been secured in an open position in September, 1951, to permit a free flow through the lock at all times, the colonel said. The Corps of Engineers did this when it pulled its last employee from the property.

But keeping the locks open is proving a big thorn for property owners above the lock and dam, a local resident said yesterday. He added that when a number of them built cottages there was five to five and a half feet of water so they could easily move their boats.

But with the lock at the open position permanently, there is “only 12 to 14 inches of water in normal stages on several shoals and we have difficulty moving our boats.”

How about leasing or purchase of the property? Some organizations have considered such a step with the view of converting the property into a wildlife haven and/or recreational area.

Office reluctant

Lt. Col. Threadgill, noting that a bill is before Congress to provide for the disposal of federally-owned property “at obsolete, canalized waterways and for other purposes,” said the district office, “is reluctant to consider or recommend further leasing of the property involved until congressional action is consummated.”

The bill was introduced in Congress during last year’s session but no final action was taken.

“It is anticipated that legislation will ultimately be adopted authorizing the disposal of the subject property but the conditions and methods of the disposal cannot be determined prior to such enactment,” the Colonel said.

No formal application

He added that, “several inquiries have been received by the Kansas city office, but no formal application to lease or purchase the property is on file in this office at this time.” While the Army Corps of Engineers has no employees assigned or stationed at the project, Lt. Col. Threadgill said, “periodic inspections are made, however to safeguard the government property.”

The Colonel said that cessation of operations at the lock and dam in 1951 “conforms with a nation-wide policy of discontinuing operations of obsolete waterways in order to achieve economy in costs of maintenance.”

Long history

The lock and dam had a long and undoubtedly colorful history before it was closed down in 1951. Records show it was completed in 1914. It is 42 feet wide and 229 feet long.

The project Lt. Col. Threadgill said, was authorized by the River and Harbor Acts approved on Sept. 19, 1890 and March 3, 1899. The project provided for a lock and dam near the mouth of the Osage River and for open channel work consisting of wing dams, training walls, removal of obstructions and dredgings between the mouth and Warsaw, Mo., a distance of 171 miles, “to obtain a uniform depth of 3 feet.”

Lt. Col. Threadgill said, “The wickets and weirs which formed the moveable crest of the dam were removed many years ago.”

In the heyday of the lock and dam, steamboats and rafts were “all important as a means of moving cargoes, but with the construction of good roads, railroads and highways over which the products of the area are now moved to market, the use of the Osage River Lock and Dam No. 1 dwindled to passage of only on occasion pleasure craft or fishing boat,” the colonel spelled out.

And he wrote: “The Osage River waterway has ceased to be an artery of commerce for the Osage valley. Since the operation of the lock and dam was of no benefit to commercial navigation, and the negligible collateral benefits did not justify the continuing operation of the structure at federal expense, the operation of the project was discontinued during September, 1951.”

In our next post, we’ll relate how a “bachelor and private eye” was suckered in to paying cash for this major liability.

Oct 282014

One of the joys of research is a road trip. Working on Damming the Osage took us the length of the Osage River and across areas of Missouri and Kansas that were once the domain of the Osage Indians. Early in September 2009 we explored back roads and small towns in southern Kansas in what was once the Osage Diminished Reserve. The long strip of land along the Kansas-Oklahoma line comprised 4.8 million acres and was the last of Osage holdings after they had ceded millions of acres of Missouri to the westward moving Americans.


(click photos to enlarge)

There in Montgomery County was the Little House on the Prairie site at County Road 3000 and U.S. Highway 75.

Yes I was one of those legions who read “the little house” books, every single one, and fantasized about being a pioneer kid because it sounded fun and not too dangerous. My recollection of this volume centered on the technology – how Pa ‘swam’ the wagon across the river, built a log cabin or dug a well – and what it must be like to camp on the open, empty prairie, and the sound of a fiddle under the stars. One scene, however, was still etched in memory – the procession of Osages past the Ingalls’ cabin as they began their trek to Indian Territory, Oklahoma.

What I didn’t remember – or more accurately, never knew or understood – was that the Ingalls family was trespassing on the Osage Diminished Reserve. It’s been a long time since I’d read the book, so I picked up a copy to refresh my memory and see what other references there were to the Osages or to “Indians”. There were a lot more than I remembered. Those red tabs mark the references. LHP-2

I also hadn’t retained the fact that Charles Ingalls was aware that they were trespassing on Indian land. According to Ma: “ … the Indians would not be here long. Pa had word from a man in Washington that the Indian Territory would be open to settlement soon. It might already be open to settlement. They could not know, because Washington was so far away.”

The Ingalls family arrived in the summer of 1869 and built their log cabin home on the prairie near Walnut Creek. Pa was one of the more tolerant settlers who felt that the newcomers and the Indians could coexist. He and “the Tall Indian” smoked a pipe together on the hearth of the fireplace in the cabin. Laura recounts one winter in the cabin and more summertime activities. The cabin now on the Ingalls’ homestead site is a recreation based on the description found in the book. The Ingalls’ home was listed as the 89th residence of Rutland Township in the 1870 U.S. Census.

IMG_5129Some time after the dramatic day of departure of the Osages, Pa drove the team and plow to the cabin while talking animatedly to a couple of neighbors: “No Scott!” Pa said. “I’ll not stay here to be taken away by the soldiers like an outlaw! If some blasted politicians in Washington hadn’t sent out word it would be all right to settle here, I’d never have been three miles over the line into Indian Territory. … we’re going now.”

The Osages were paid $1.25 per acre for their land. After buying their own land in Oklahoma from their former enemies the Cherokees, the tribe still had $8.5 million in trust, drawing five percent interest. They held the land in common, until they had to apportion it. Still they maintained community ownership of mineral rights to their land. When huge oil deposits were discovered in Osage County, the tribe became rich.

The Ingalls loaded their covered wagon and headed back to Wisconsin where they still owned property.