May 132016

Entitled “Trout Glen” and written in red ink “Ha ha ton ka,”  this real photo postcard was published by Jas. Bruin, Linn Creek, MO. Unsent.


Before Bagnell Dam, this spring outlet fed into the Niangua River. Springs throughout the Ozarks were stocked with several varieties of trout beginning in the late 1800s. Trout and even salmon were also dumped into streams that were too warm for their survival. Rainbows from the McCloud River in California proved to be the hardiest. In very few of these environments will they reproduce.

Robert McClure Snyder put in a small dam and a mill on this spring branch, creating a cool pool for trout. The pond was swamped by the warm muddy waters of the Osage as it backed up and spread out when Bagnell Dam closed. The loss of the trout pond was one justification for the Snyder family’s lawsuit against Union Electric.

The millstone is embedded in the concrete today as a decorative element along the path.


Dec 102013


Real Photo Postcard, circa 1930

Ha Ha Tonka is a cornucopia of karst features – springs, caves, cliffs, sinkholes and a natural bridge., was described in a 1940s brochure: “the 600-acre tract includes all the natural wonders of the place, among which are a 90-acre lake, with a wooded island; a spring producing 158,000,000 gallons of water daily; a natural bridge; seven caves, one of which has been explored for a distance of about two miles and which contains the largest known stalagmite; a natural amphitheater; and many curious and fantastic formations, such as the Balanced Rock and Devil’s Kitchen.”

Now a very popular Missouri State Park, Ha Ha Tonka was originally the property of the Snyder family in Kansas City.  Robert Snyder Sr. built a stunning ‘castle’ there on a bluff overlooking the Osage. When Bagnell Dam created Lake of the Ozarks, the family sued Union Electric over the swamping of their trout lake by the backwaters of the new lake, claiming that it had degraded the value of their estate by more than a million dollars. Courtroom fireworks attracted national media coverage and appeals kept the case going for more than five years. In the end, the Snyders received a judgment of $200,000 which probably about paid for the legal fees. We covered this colorful trial and the high profile players and courtroom action extensively  in Damming the Osage. Check a couple of previous posts for more info

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May 012013

James Reed

Press Photograph

We began our chapter on Lake of the Ozarks with a discussion of a now-forgotten lawsuit against Union Electric over the destruction of the trout pool at Ha Ha Tonka. This was a huge case that filled the newspapers and went on for years, and is now virtually forgotten.

Legendary Missouri politician and attorney for the Snyder family in this lawsuit was James A. Reed, a distinguished former U.S. Senator. In what Time magazine characterized in 1927 as a forest of competing “presidential timber”, they described him as Missouri’s “tough-fibred, silver-topped sycamore, U. S. Senator James A. Reed”  Read more:,9171,736900,00.html#ixzz2QTHc0uU8

One of the few politicians who got on H. L. Mencken’s good side, when Reed retired from the Senate, Mencken saluted him: 

His skill is founded upon a profound and penetrating intelligence, and informed by what amounts to a great aesthetic passion. There are subtleties in the art he practices, as in any other, and he is the master of all of them. The stone ax is not his weapon, but the rapier; and he knows how to make it go through stone and steel.

The “Fighting Senator from Missouri” was also paramour (and later husband) to Nellie Don, a Kansas City legend in her own right as founder of one of the largest dress manufacturing companies of the first half of the 20h century.

It is perhaps an understatement to say that our research led us to a cast of very interesting people whose lives touched the Osage River.

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Feb 272013

HaHaTonka Lake

2 Real Photo postcards by Strathman Photo

Both postcards have been sent, postmarked Linn Creek, but the dates are obscure – probably 1930s.

The exact origin of the low dam that created Ha Ha Tonka Lake is not clear. It’s possible that Colonel R. G. Scott, railroad promoter and real estate hustler, built it.  He came from Iowa about 1890 and  with a friend bought or optioned what was then known as Gunter Spring with a large parcel of land. In 1904, Scott sold the land and spring – now fancifully renamed Ha Ha Tonka with a suitable Indian legend to fit the name – to businessman Robert McClure Snyder of Kansas City.

HaHaTonka Lake Dam

The destruction of this little lake by the construction of Bagnell Dam caused a five year series of lawsuits and appeals. We devoted a significant part of the book (pages 92-97) to the lawsuit and subsequent appeals.

The lawsuit pitted well-to-do people with big egos against a well-to-do corporation with an equally big ego.  The first round began in 1930 when UE filed an exception to the award of $902/acre to the Snyder family for the acreage included with the trout lake. The Snyders sued and the lines were drawn.  The plaintiffs claimed the new lake had degraded their estate more than a million dollars.  High dollar lawyers and a high profile tale brought journalists to cover the lawsuit over ‘scenic beauty versus progress’. Witnesses during the ten-week trial included Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of Mount Rushmore, and W. H. Wurepel, who painted the mural of Ha Ha Tonka in the Missouri State Capitol. In 1932, the jury awarded the Snyder family $350,000.

Naturally UE appealed. Round Two began in 1935. A new verdict awarding $200,000 to the Snyders caused them to appeal, but Judge Otis denied the motion for a third trial in 1936 allowing the $200,000 judgment to stand.

Today the lake laps up against the old mill dam, but the trout dam is under water.

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