Hope you all had a relaxing and healthy 4th of July. All quiet here except for a few stray fireworks being ignited in the neighborhood and the smell of grills cooking up hot dogs, brats and hamburgers. This week’s post is a reminisce piece similar to the last two, if you missed them here are the links: The Barn and The Country Elevator.
As a kid growing up on the prairies of western North Dakota when someone referred to “The Dam” two places came to mind. The first one is the stock dam located on our farm not far from the farmstead. If I recall the story correctly, this small dam was built in the 1930’s by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), the work relief program started by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. This program gave unemployed, unmarried men meaningful work during the height of the Great Depression. Most of the work was done by hand so I can imagine the earthen dam that holds back the small stream was backbreaking work. The face of the 30 foot dam was lined with rocks to keep it from eroding away. The water filling the dam flows through a couple of farms before it reaches our place. Then continues to flow through a couple more farms until it reaches the Missouri River about three or four miles away. Here are a few photos of The Dam from my archives.
The Dam served an important role on our farm. It provided a source of water for our cows and the vegetable and tree garden that at one time was located near the water. When we had tame ducks and geese, they were turned out everyday to do what they do on the water. There were times in the summer when we would have to chase them off the dam in the evening so they wouldn’t get eaten by varmints. The dam was also a source of recreation for us kids. We’d explore the area around the dam being cautious to watch for frogs, water snakes and salamanders. We were always cautioned by our Mom to not get too close. I remember one time after reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, we tried to build a raft to float on the dam. It wasn’t successful, the water really wasn’t deep enough at our launch place and the sediment so thick we couldn’t use the pole to propel us ahead. It was probably for the best, none of us could swim! I wonder why we didn’t beg our parents for an old wooden row boat. In the winter, we would go ice skating or just sliding around on the ice.
The other dam that came to mind was the big Garrison Dam located about seven or eight miles from our farm. This dam is one of six dams constructed by the US Army Corps of Engineers on the Missouri River to control flooding, produce hydroelectric power, and water for municipal use and irrigation of crops. It also provide a way to cross the Missouri River other then by a treacherous ferry or driving 80 miles to Bismarck to cross by bridge. The Garrison Dam was built between 1947 and 1953 and is one of the largest earth rolled dams in the world. It was dedicated in June 1953 by President Dwight Eisenhower. My Mom tells me that I attended that dedication, however I don’t remember, I was barely three years old. She also told me that I got a terrible sunburn that hot day. Below are some photos of the Garrison Dam itself. The top photo is of the earthen, down river side with the town of Riverdale in the distance. The second photo is on the Lake side, note the various high water marks on the riprap that lines the face of the dam. The year this photo was taken the water was quite low. The third photo shows the emergency gates on the spillway. They were opened for the first time in 2011 to let water flow down the Missouri as the Lake was very high and more water was coming from the Rocky Mountains in Montana.
The two mile long earthen dam shown above created a reservoir that was named Lake Sakakawea, after the Shosone/Hidatsa woman that traveled with Lewis and Clark on their way west in 1805. The Lake extends nearly 175 miles to the North Dakota/Montana border. As a youth, I remember the elders telling stories about the people that were displaced from the Missouri River bottoms when the dam was built. They would say, ‘this family sold their farm and moved out to the West Coast’ or ‘they moved into town and got jobs working construction on the dam.’ My mother’s family lost some of their bottom land to this project. On the positive, the view from my Grandpa’s farmstead was spectacular. Here are a couple of photos from that vantage point on the lake.
The building of the Dam also resulted in the displacement of Native Americans living on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. They were forced by the government to move to higher ground when their villages were inundated with water. This rightfully IMHO stirred up animosity when the tribes lost their treaty rights to the land and water. Fortunately, they gained some of those rights back after years of congressional and court battles.
The Lake is about three miles north of the farm where I grew up. In certain spots, you can see the Lake off in the distance.
Almost straight north of our farm a couple of miles on the Missouri River was the town of Expansion. Founded in 1899, it served as one of the stops for the steamboats that plied the Missouri River delivering passengers and goods and taking away produce for markets down river. When we were kids, Dad used to going fishing at Expansion, now under water. I remember the road down to the Lake was really steep and we were never sure that we would make it out! The last time I was there I walked in as the Corp of Engineers has fenced the area so I didn’t have sit at the top of that hill and wonder if I should chance it. Here are a few photos from Expansion. When the water is low, you can still see some remnants of the village.
Lake Sakakawea has become a destination for recreation such as sailing, boating, fishing, camping and hiking. It is recognized as one of the premier fishing lakes in the country. There are several local and state parks located along the Lake shore as well as developments for summer cabins.
Earlier I mentioned that one of the reasons the Garrison Dam was built was to generate electric power. This was after World War II when industry, agriculture, suburbs and cities were developing exponentially. The demand for electricity was high and growing. The intake structure on the Lake side of the Dam draws water and transports it to the hydroelectric plant to generate electricity. Here are a few photos of the intake structure that were taken during a winter visit.
After the water turns the turbine to generate the electricity it’s discharged into the outlet to the Missouri River. Here are some photos taken over the years overlooking the hydroelectric plant and the “Tailrace,” the informal name given to the outlet.
In the summer time after chores were done, Dad would go fishing from the rocks at the Tailrace. Sometimes we kids would go along and tend a fishing rod until we got bored then play on the rocks. Dad would stay out until it was dark, or the mosquitoes got bad, or he caught some fish. On weekends, the rocks would be full of families fishing and picnicking along the Tailrace. Now days, most of the fishing is done by boat even in the winter. Here’s a photo I took at the boat dock during a winter visit.
A couple miles south of the Dam along the Missouri River is an excellent campground run by the Army Corps of Engineers, Downstream Campground. This near the North Hole where I spent a lot of time on Sunday afternoon’s swimming and hanging out.
Near the North Hole, visitors can view the Dam and hydroelectric plant from another direction.
From this vantage point, we can also see the old river townsite of Mannhaven. I own some lots in that townsite that I’ve never set foot on!
Next to the townsite is a piece of property my Grandpa bought for use as a summer pasture. I’m fortunate to be a part owner of that land with my siblings and cousins. Here’s a view taken from the bluff I rode my pony to see the valley below.
This is the story of the two dams in my early life. Fortunately for you, this is the short version, I can think of more stories within this story that I plan to exploit. Read about it in my memoirs!
Until next week, happy virtual travel!