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)

Mar 162015

Twelve years after authorization of what was then called Kaysinger Dam, and a little more than two years before the actual groundbreaking commencement of construction, Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Gen. W. K. Wilson, Jr. recommended to the Secretary of the Army the addition of power generators and a larger conservation pool to the already massive project. Senator Stuart Symington was also informed of the recommendation.The Star notes this will make the reservoir larger than Lake of the Ozarks.

Not surprising – the cost was creeping up. Read all about it!  KCStar_03.16.62

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 ( ) 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.

Nov 162014

Lens & Pen has launched a new website (in addition to and our publishing site will be a platform for a wide range of interests, encompassing our more than passing interest in pop culture. One of those varied interests is DAMS – worldwide, as well as those on the Osage River system.

Recently we acquired some new-to-us, old photos of Louis Egan along with more info  on the criminals who built Bagnell Dam and Lake of the Ozarks.

Two posts elaborating on information we had in Damming the Osage are now posted on HYPERCOMMON.COM.

See the set up in Union Electric’s Louis Egan: “I’m having the finest time in the world”

But after hubris comes – The Fall of Union Electric’s Louis Egan

Feel free to poke around on HYPERCOMMON.COM, which, in addition to DAMs, includes musing on hillbillies (recent posts on the iconic outhouse), souvenirs (“The most hideous souvenir EVER?”), small towns (the Buffalos of Buffalo), tourism (yes, we are looking at Branson), and confessions – which will handle a multitude of (mostly esthetic) sins!


Oct 302014

An article titled “Indian Peace Medals in America” in the June, 1975 Arizona Highways includes the presentation of the Osage Peace Medal to Pope Pius VI by Sylvester J. Tinker. Click to enlarge.

On April 2, 1975, Sylvester J. Tinker, Chief of the Osage Nation, presented to Pope Paul VI at the Vatican a solid silver Osage Peace Medal, saying:

“I present this Medal as a symbol of peace and friendship and ask that you pray for all mankind so we may live in harmony. God has given us the land, the sky, the water and all living things. Let us endure and enjoy.”

Chief Tinker’s medal was among the first to be presented by a tribal sovereign nation to another sovereign and the first to a prominent Christian leader. The face of the medal depicts Chief Tinker holding the Eagle Wing Fan, a Christian cross, and the year. On the reverse are the ten chiefs preceding Tinker since the 1870s.

The Osage have had a strong relationship with the Catholic Church since shortly after Marquette and Joliet first paddled the Mississippi River along what is now Missouri in 1673. The “black robes,” as the Osages called the Jesuits and the cassock-clad priests who followed them, conveyed a faith imbued with symbolism and ceremony that was less critical of Indian culture than the presentation of a flinty Protestantism by earnest New England preachers. We cover the story of Harmony Mission, in our book Damming the Osage. This well-intentioned effort to convert this powerful tribe to Protestantism was an abject failure.

The 7 ½ troy ounce, 4 inch overall solid silver medal was designed by Loretta Griffin and struck by The Metallic Art Company. This one is #299 of an edition of 400. It was also produced in an unnumbered edition of pewter.   Click to enlarge.

The 7 ½ troy ounce, 4 inch overall solid silver medal was designed by Loretta Griffin and struck by The Metallic Art Company. This one is #299 of an edition of 400. It was also produced in an unnumbered edition of pewter. Click to enlarge.

The Catholics were more successful in converting Osages to Christianity. There is still a strong Catholic presence among the Osage, but today there is a diversity of religious affiliation within the Osage nation. Chief Tinker was a strong Catholic, whose work to improve conditions for tribal members was recognized by naming him a Knight of the Order of Malta: “The members of the Order may be defined as Catholics enlivened by altruistic nobleness of spirit and behaviour.” (From the website of the Order of Malta: Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta)

Peace medals have a long history as gifts of respect and recognition to principal leaders of Native American tribes, first from the French and Spanish, later from the U. S. federal government. George Washington was the first American president to present these honorific tokens to tribal dignitaries, a tradition followed by every other American president until the 1880s. Lewis and Clark carried 89 peace medals in five sizes with them on their 1804-06 expedition to the northwest. Only one medal came back with them to St. Louis.

An interesting, contemporary note: Pope Paul VI is now on the road to sainthood. In October this year, Pope Francis beatified him.

 Posted by at 1:10 pm
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.


Oct 212014

(click photos to enlarge)

This “swinger” over the Osage at Brown’s Ford was built between 1912 and 1915 by E.A. Bledsoe and Ira Alspach, who also built the suspension bridge at Monegaw Springs.  (see earlier post here)

On June 21, 1940, the aging Brown’s Ford suspension bridge collapsed. The bridge went down as Mr. Bledsoe and others were working to repair it. E. A. Bledsoe, who had designed and built the structure almost 30 years before, died on his bridge.

On the back of press photo of the bridge wreckage is the brief account published in the “Times” (no other attribution) on June 22, 1940:

“Looking toward the east side of the Osage River, this picture shows the wreckage of the Brown Ford bridge, an old 1-way structure 6 miles east of Lowry City, Mo., after timbers under one of its suspension cables on the west band about 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon. Two workmen and a bystander were killed. Lloyd Allen Snyder, 8 years old was last seen in the center of the fallen structure and was believed to have drowned. Three workmen were injured critically. All were either on or near the cribbing when it slipped.”

744The St. Clair Democrat, June 27, 1940, carried on page 1 a much more detailed account of the event: TRAGIC ACCIDENT TAKES TOLL OF FIVE LIVES. The article identifies the others who died as two workers and two boys who had been watching them. More photos and comments are also posted on

ST. CLAIR COUNTY DEMOCRAT, Thursday, June 27, 1940

One of the most tragic accidents in the history of the county occurred Friday evening when the cribbing supporting one of the piers on the west end of the Brown’s Ford bridge collapsed causing the suspension cable to give way, taking the lives of five people, three men and two boys. Three others were injured.

The dead were E. A. Bledsoe, who had charge of the repairing of the bridge, Claude Terry, 45, a workman, Robert Shaw, 18, another workman, George T. Randall, 16, a bystander and Lloyd Allen Snyder, 12, who fell in the river when the bridge collapsed. The injured were Lowell Smith, in the Appleton City hospital whose condition is reported as still critical, Edy Snyder in the Clinton hospital where his condition appears to be somewhat improved and Wayne Snyder a bystander who suffered a broken arm.

745The cause of the collapse of the cribbing probably never will be known. It was one of those accidents that occur even when the best of care and precaution is taken. The heavy timber that had been used to build up around the old piers were strewn about like so many match sticks, and it was these timbers that caught the workmen with crushing force.

There is a report that someone heard something ‘pop’ and called Mr. Bledsoe’s attention to it. It is said that he climbed up on the cribbing to investigate. Just then the whole thing gave away. Mr. Bledsoe was crushed in the falling debris, and the fact his watch was stopped at 3:31 indicated that was the time when the accident occurred.

All of the dead and injured were recovered shortly after the accident and removed from the wreckage with the exception of young Lloyd Allen Snyder. His body was not recovered until Monday evening when Bert Milam of Warsaw discovered the body floating down the river along with lumber and wreckage from the bridge. The distance from the scene of the accident to the point where the body was found is estimated to be about sixty-five miles. Mr. Milam notified Benton county authorities and Prosecuting Attorney Frank Brady telephoned Sheriff R. Homer Gerster, who immediately sent O. S. Hull, Jr., to have the body identified and return it to Osceola.

The Brown’s Ford bridge was built about 25 years ago by Mr. Bledsoe and Ira Alspach. It is one of the quirks of fate that the bridge should claim the life of one of its builders while in the process of repairing the structure to strengthen it.

The old wooden piers that had been erected at the time the structure was built had become dangerous for traffic and it had been the plan to replace these piers with steel beams that would support the cables and the heavy weight of traffic upon the structure. For the past years the bridge had been condemned and not more than one car was allowed on the structure at a time, for fear that it might collapse.

The wooden cribbing was used around the old piers to enable the workmen to jack up the cables and get them slightly to one side, the after the wooden structures were removed the steel beam was inserted in place and the cable then lowered into position. It is believed that one of the jacks used in raising the cables had given away allowing the cable to fall back onto the cribbing before the workmen were ready to lower it into position. This threw the weight of the entire bridge structure suddenly upon the heavy timbers, around the piers and the cribbing crumbled under the impact.

What is to be done about the bridge is not yet known. The county court will hold its regular meeting next week, at which time, no doubt it will be determined what is to be done about the old structure and whether a new one will be erected to replace it or not.

A replacement suspension bridge was built. It was just as scary to drive over with the slats rattling under your tires, but it never fell in on its own. That bridge was replaced by a modern concrete and girder bridge when Truman Dam was built.

Oct 142014

“Escape the pressure of the city for a life at the Lake!” proclaims this late 1940s or early 1950s real estate brochure. 


(click to enlarge)

Interior copy promises a private domain to armchair shoppers reading and dreaming from their harried homes in the big city.


The magnificent 4500 acres of Shawnee Bend and the picturesque 5500 acre Horseshoe Bend are the finest acreage at the Lake of the Ozarks. The green hills are thick with oak, cedar and dogwood. Much of the land slopes gently to the shores of the lake … requiring little clearance and offering wonderful beaches. All sites have ample lake frontage with plenty of room for your own individual beach and dock space. This lake frontage belongs to the owner of the land. State approved water systems, electric power, and fine all-weather roads offer you all the conveniences of the city.

Promises made back then are still controversial today. Recently Ameren and Lake homeowners disagreed on who owns the land to the water’s edge.

The buy of the century! Does anyone know what happened to the business? It was not a fly-by-night outfit and continued well after Cyrus Willmore’s death in 1949. (more info on Cyrus Willmore and the lodge on page 127 of Damming the Osage)

We have a link to Willmore Lodge in our Resources menu.



Oct 072014

750“Swinging Bridge, Monegaw” (click to enlarge)

Incredible 6 x 8 cabinet photograph of the SUSPENSION BRIDGE AT MONEGAW SPRINGS.

Joe Dice wasn’t the only builder of suspension bridges in the Osage River valley. The plaque on this bridge reads: “19-Monegaw -13 Built by Bledsoe & Alspach”.

The wooden towers protected the connections of the suspension wires from weathering. A farmer in coveralls stands by bridge, as two guys in a horse-drawn wagon cross it. This “swinger” is numbered in the inventory of historic bridge on In the comments you’ll find some personal recollections of the bridge. One brought up the Jesse James/Cole Younger gang. Another person remembered that his grandfather used to fish from the bridge and  “now all that is left is just the pillars of it.”

bridge1-Monegaw-LP photoThe suspension bridge at Monegaw is long gone, but the supporting  stone pilings  still stand on the banks of the Osage. … seen from Younger’s Bluff in morning light. (Leland Payton photograph – click to enlarge)