Pick and Sloan forever changed the Big Muddy

Pick and Sloan forever changed the Big Muddy
As a youngster, I swam (mostly dog-paddled) in the muddy waters of the Missouri River, took a few puffs on a driftwood stogie and fished for sand-colored sturgeon in the undammed waters.

Then, when I returned to South Dakota, I found that the once-turbulent stream ��the Big Muddy of my youth ��was no longer the color of coffee-with-cream, but it had a greenish-blue hue.

And along the banks of that same river were eager fishermen, not catching the pre-historic-looking sturgeon or an occasional sluggish catfish like we used to do, but those tasty cousins of the walleyed pike, the plug-grabbing bass and fly crappies.


They used honest-to-goodness store-bought gear, too, and nylon lines which weren't anything like the thick twine we used. Shucks, the cord alone would have scared away any fish who could see it in the sediment-filled waters.

South Dakota had discovered something to augment its pheasants ��and it was all because of the work of two men, W. Glenn Sloan of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Lt. Gen. Lewis A. Pick of the Corps of Engineers.

Sloan was then the assistant director of the bureau's office in Billings, MT, when he conceived his proposal for flood control in that state. General Pick – and his minions ��devised a concept which would forever change the Missouri River by damming it in Montana and South Dakota. Their two ideas were meshed into one.

There ensued a great congressional debate, and the result was the Flood Control Act of 1944, which the Pick-Sloan Plan was a major part of – and we were at war in Europe and the South Pacific at the time.

See? Congress could act on internal things when it was not tied down with petty stuff like today's legislature is. (I just had to get that off my chest.)

The result of the Pick-Sloan Plan was four dams for South Dakota: the Oahe, named for the old Oahe Indian mission near the site; Fort Randall, next to the tumble-down cavalry post some six miles south of the town of Lake Andes; Big Bend, erected below the serpentine curve which 18th-century explorers called the Grand Detour; and Gavin's Point, west of Yankton ��which was not built on the land owned by Michael J. Gavin, but near Calumet Bluff, a short distance downstream.

The Gavin name stuck, though the dam was built elsewhere. With it my boyhood memories of the Muddy Mizzou were gone. No longer would the river carry the fertile topsoil of South Dakota southward to the Mississippi delta as it did for centuries, but with the tremendous dams blocking the way, the silt has a chance to settle out and the strange phenomenon of an aqua-marine Missouri is the result.

That was many years ago, but I think it brought and end to my trips to the river. I can still recall the twirling of that heavy cord about my head and heaving it into the murky current. My sainted mother won't have to gasp if I bring home a little shriveled sturgeon for her to cook.

I remember the paddle-wheel steamboats going upstream before the Pick-Sloan took place. The Missouri River isn't what it used to be.

Needless to say, this has been a nostalgic trip for me – but then, what isn't these days?

� 2006 Robert F. Karolevitz

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