Commentary: Missouri River is a ‘Mad Elephant’; Won’t be Tamed by ‘Bigger & Better’ Levees

By on April 14, 2019

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch:  Every time Missouri River flood season gets serious, I take out “the box.”

The sagging and slightly torn sides of the two-foot-long brown, cardboard container hold historic research that author and journalist Bill Lambrecht gathered in his many years writing about the eight-state river basin and its constant political battles over flooding, levees, navigation, agriculture, recreation and the environment.

When Lambrecht, author of the book “Big Muddy Blues,” left the Post-Dispatch, he bequeathed the box to me. Every time I peruse its contents, I come across something I missed before.

This time it was a 1944 piece in Collier’s Magazine by author Kyle Crichton. Written after the horrific flood of 1943, which led to the policies that manage the Missouri River today, it offered a description of the river that has repeated itself over and over for decades, most recently in the Flood of 2019.

“The Missouri is the mad elephant of rivers,” Crichton wrote. “Once a year and sometimes oftener it comes charging out of the mountains of Montana through the fertile Middle West in a roaring, insane torrent that overwhelms farms, railroads, towns and humans. Homeless families sleep in schoolhouses and churches until the water subsides and they can return to look at the ruin of their lives. Some manage to start over again; others surrender in the face of a disaster that seems to delight in repeating itself. The two floods of 1943 did damage estimated at 63 million dollars.

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