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Big Dam Foolishness

Posted by Lin Fredericksen on May 21, 2009

Jackson Township, Riley Co. Atlas, 1909Family historians often visit Kansas looking for their ancestor's homestead. The lure of cheap or free land guaranteed that many families had ancestors who lived in Kansas in the 19th century, though they might not have stayed long. One day, I helped a family go through land records to pinpoint the location of great-grandfather Johnson's 40 acres near Randolph, Kansas. We located the land on an old plat atlas of Riley County, Standard Atlas of Riley County, 1909 then went to a modern road atlas for directions and found, instead, a big lake--a reservoir called Tuttle Creek.

Nearly all the original surface water in Kansas is in the form of creeks and rivers. After the record-breaking floods of 1951, the Army Corps of Engineers proceeded with a plan to build a network of major reservoirs on rivers across Kansas and other Missouri River basin states, for flood control and to hold water that can be released during the dry summers to artificially raise the river levels for barge shipping. From 1948 to 1981 the Army Corps completed 21 major dams on Kansas waterways, drastically altering the landscape that the 19th century farmers had homesteaded. Tuttle Creek alone covered 12,350 acresRuby M. Johnson to Governor Edward F. Arn

Construction of the Tuttle Creek dam began in 1952 and the government began acquiring the surrounding farmland. The project faced heavy opposition from local landowners. It displaced 3000 people and 10 towns: Stockdale, Randolph, Winkler, Cleburne, Irving, Blue Rapids, Shroyer, Garrison, Barrett, and Bigelow. This Big Dam Foolishness Sign posted in Randolph, Kansas and this letter, written by Ruby M. Johnson to Governor Arn in July 1951, illustrate the unsuccessful local opposition to the dam. The dam began full operation July 1, 1962. 

Big Dam Foolishness sign

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