Jan 152018
 

Harnessing the power of moving water for profit and community betterment has been an impulse for many an entrepreneur. On the White River, the first dam to close the flow was #Powersite, a small, almost run-of-the-river, dam that held back enough water to ‘fatten up’ the river without drastically affecting the flow or habitat.

Financial overruns caused the initial backers to withdraw their support for building Powersite. Enter New York banker Henry #Doherty who was ‘collecting’ small power companies in southwest Missouri and consolidating them into what became Empire District Electric. He financed the construction of Powersite.

The dam closed in 1913 but White River waters remained warm allowing for fishing and swimming and water sports. The newly formed riverine lake was called #Taneycomo – some said it was a nod to beautiful Lake Como in northern Italy, but the accepted explanation is a mash up of Taney County Missouri. More than forty years later a much bigger dam, Table Rock, was built upstream bringing drastic changes to the #WhiteRiver, Lake Taneycomo and the James Fork of the White.

Like Bagnell Dam, Powersite Dam was started by men who soon encountered financial difficulties and sold out to bigger concerns. The St. Louis investors who organized the Ozark Power and Water Company engaged the Ambursen Hydraulic Construction Company of Boston to build it. Nils Ambursen, a Norwegian immigrant engineer, had designed a hollow cement slab and buttress structure used successfully elsewhere. Replacing the original backers was Wall Street accumulator of energy companies, Henry Latham Doherty. Doherty had already acquired a handful of small utility companies in southwest Missouri that were branded Empire District Electric Company. The White River operation kept its original name until being folded into the Empire group in 1927.

Cutline for this 1933 press photo reads “Col. And Mrs. Doherty watched happily a Christmas party which the Dohertys gave at Coral FLA.”

The next year Doherty organized the National Committee for Birthday Balls, which sponsored dances across the country to raise money for Franklin Roosevelt’s Warm Springs Foundation to treat victims of polio. The president had been paralyzed from the waist down himself with the disease since 1921.

Henry L. Doherty built his holding company Cities Service into a gigantic combination of all three sources of energy–gas, oil, and electricity. His charm and friendship with FDR kept him from many of the problems capitalists had during the New Deal.

From James Fork of the White: Transformation of an Ozark River

Dec 292017
 

In the pre-Christmas countdown days, we dropped by our local Barnes & Noble to see the offerings in their regional section. Prominently displayed were four of our titles: just-released James Fork of the White; our previous “river book,” Damming the Osage; perennial favorite, Mystery of the Irish Wilderness; and our early foray into Ozarks tourism, See The Ozarks.

For a small publisher this is a big win!  When our distributor closed its doors last spring, we found ourselves in the same situation many others are in – books with an audience but no avenue to get them on the retail shelves. Unlike amazon.com, major retail outlets are reluctant to set up accounts for small individual publishers. Using regional or national distributors, (like Partners, our former distributor) they can set up one account per distributor and order multiple titles from multiple publishers.  But this was no longer an option for us.

With the publication of our new book, James Fork of the White, and its potentially large audience in our region, Renee Hunt, Community Business Development Manager, at our local  (Springfield, Missouri) B&N helped us contact their main office and we were able to establish Lens & Pen Press as a vendor for Barnes & Noble. The obvious, happy outcome was the sight of four of our titles on the regional shelves during the busy pre-Christmas days.

Happy New Year!

Dec 052017
 

For an author, it’s deeply gratifying when a reader really understands what you’re doing and why. Steve Wiegenstein’s review of JAMES FORK OF THE WHITE: Transformation of an Ozarks River is that kind of review. Steve understands the subject and our own non-linear style of treating our topics.  Most importantly, he understand the Ozarks, the land, the streams, the people. Steve is the author of a series of historical novels set in a mid-nineteenth century Utopian community named Daybreak in a valley of the St. Francis River in Madison County.  The third in this series, just-published The Language of Trees, has earned high praise.

James Fork of the White is available on our website, www.beautifulozarks.com, at Barnes & Noble and on amazon.com

Dec 032017
 

Last week Steve Pokin, the Springfield News Leader‘s columnist of the unique and sometimes quirky aspects of Springfield, interviewed Leland about our new book, JAMES FORK OF THE WHITE: Transformation of an Ozark River.

In his columns, “Pokin Around” and “Answer Man,” Steve answers readers’ curious queries, investigates puzzles and reveals many of Springfield’s little known facts and interesting personalities. One of In his columns on the (eutrophic) small lakes of Southern Hills subdivision provided needed background information for us as we discussed Galloway Creek and other small tributaries flowing into the James.

We’re gratified that he concluded, “Interested in the James River? This is the book for you.

Available from our website, www.beautifulozarks.com (postage paid), Barnes & Noble and at amazon.com.

Nov 202017
 

We were pleased to see Harry Styron’s write up of our new book, James Fork of the White: Transformation of an Ozark River, on his blog, Ozarks Law and Economy.  We spent five years exploring our own James River, once the preeminent float stream of the Ozarks. Harry understood the depth of the research we put into this book:

Combining these graphics with a penetrating verbal narrative, the Paytons have given us what we all want and need to know about the White River’s largest Missouri tributary.

Thank you, Harry Styron!

 

Available now at Barnes & Noble in Springfield, on amazon.com, and from our website, postage paid.

Sep 162017
 
Hollister flood, 1943
 
The major Corps of Engineers dam-building era was a combination of dubious hydrologic theory propelled by the desire to create jobs during the Depression. Because our ancestors had foolishly developed the floodplains, there was much community support for flood control dams.
Springfield lawyer and land speculator William H. Johnson started building a Tudor-style complex by the train station in 1909 to accommodate tourists. As the faux half-timbered buildings were in the floodplain they were periodically immersed when Lake Taneycomo overflowed.
 
Table Rock Dam has kept the historic district, as it is now called, dry. Still some Hollister and Branson properties have suffered flooding, necessitating government buyouts. Believing the dam would afford complete protection, some people built even closer to the river, ignoring the Corps’ warning.
Sep 052017
 

Netflix series, Ozark, has a simple plot with big challenges for a deceptively mild-mannered accountant. “With wife Wendy and their two kids in tow, Marty (Byrne) is on the move after a money-laundering scheme goes wrong, forcing him to pay off a substantial debt to a Mexican drug lord in order to keep his family safe.” Marty’s new money-laundering theater of operations is Missouri’s vacation destination, Lake of the Ozarks.

As is often pointed out in the script, this dragon-shaped reservoir has “more shoreline than the state of California.” The floodgates of Bagnell Dam closed on the Osage River in 1931, creating the lake, as detailed in our book Damming the Osage. Its real-life creation does indeed have something in common with the Netflix show.

As our subtitle, The Conflicted Story of Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Dam, indicates, often there are nefarious and hidden motives for building dams. The dam and the lake that piled up behind it were the products of two schemes that could be considered money laundering. The motive for building Lake of the Ozarks had to do with the benefits of financial manipulations—not the production of hydroelectric power. Researching the origins of Lake of the Ozarks, we found subterfuge was integral to the whole scheme to dam the Osage.

A tale of Mexican drug cartels invading the lake’s shores is perhaps not too far-fetched. There is a long tradition of the Ozarks as a homeland of crime and refuge for outlaws. In the nineteenth century, it was known for the brutal irregulars of the Civil War, the James Gang, Younger Brothers, Alf Landon, bushwhackers and later Bald Knobbers. Meth dealers and dopers portrayed in Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone updated the Ozarks’ outlaw reputation to the twenty-first century.

Lake of the Ozarks, on the other hand, didn’t come from backwoods outlaws. It was the brainchild of the president of a Kansas City Land Bank, Walter Cravens, and his partner, Ralph Street. Catastrophic loss of value of farm property and product began soon after World War 1. Long before 1929, farm price values were punctured. Cravens faced bankruptcy having financed hundreds of Kansas farms that were now in foreclosure. Kansas City lawyer Ralph Street had an obsession with building a dam on the Osage. Together they cooked up a scheme to ”launder” the bank’s “underwater” Kansas farms, for Osage River farms that would literally go under water if the dam were built. When Guy Huston, his principal financier went under (bankrupt) Cravens turned to Dillon Read, a New York financial institution, which then hooked into Union Electric.

Union Electric (UE) had no need for hydropower, but—as later revealed in federal charges—UE was running an extensive kickback operation to fund lobbying. This was proven long after the lake was built. We suspect UE went ahead with the lake project to rake off slush funds and probably enrich the management. It was a complicated scheme that we covered in Damming the Osage. Louis Egan, Union Electric’s “moose-tall aristocratic president,” regarded the Lake of the Ozarks as his own private pond where he wined and dined politicians, family, and friends at his twenty-nine room Adirondacks-style log lodge—now called Willmore Lodge, a venue for group or corporate events and home to the Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. Undoubtedly, it was the site of bribes and kickbacks that would ultimately lead to his downfall.

Both Cravens and Egan did time in federal prison: Cravens for his Lake of the Ozarks land-laundering scheme; Egan for his subsequent slush fund conviction.

Walter Cravens appealed his 1928 conviction on 88 counts, but the appeal was denied and in 1933 he began serving a six-year sentence in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth Kansas. “He paid his $25,000 fine in installments. No. 43517 was discharged on February 7, 1937, having served three years and nine months of his six year sentence.” (page 126, Damming the Osage)

“Egan was convicted of violation of the Corrupt Practices Section of the Holding Company Act of 1935. UE paid an $80,000 file. Egan paid $10,000 and was sentenced to two years. His appeals failed and on December 31, 1943, the $68,000—year former executive entered the federal penitentiary at St. Petersburg, Florida.” (p. 127)
We didn’t have this photo when Damming the Osage went to press or we would have used it.

Lake of the Ozarks has always been rumored to be a vacation destination for the St. Louis underworld (mob). We’ve written extensively about tourism in the Ozarks. It would be an exaggeration to call the Lake Sodom and Gomorrah. Branson, founded on Harold Bell Wright’s moralistic, bucolic novel (Shepherd of the Hills), is a stark contrast to Lake of the Ozarks and its Party Cove and cigarette boat races. And now Netflix’s series tags it with Chicago money laundering and drug cartels from Mexico. In Ozark, the ultra violent local criminals are apparently trying to avenge the loss of their land to the lake Cravens started and Egan completed.

We don’t detect much realism in the series but there is a certain poetic resonance. The image of crime in the Ozarks has now entered the twenty-first century. No longer is it just the subject of yellowing newspaper articles, fading sepia photos or local legend. Now, it is the homeland of a mass media mythology.

NOTEWe now have a special running. You can buy Damming the Osage and our new book, James Fork of the White: Transformation of an Ozark River for $52.50, postage paid (a $17.50 savings for the two books).

Aug 052017
 

Following the gravel road east from today’s crossroads known as McDowell, we found the remnants of a mill that once took its power from Flat Creek. Footings and foundations still resist the work of water, but the building has been gone for a while.

Milldam of the McDowell water mill on Flat Creek. This stream has an average fall of seven feet per mile and with good water can be floated as high up as McDowell – noting obstacles like this milldam.

Water mills were not unique to the Ozarks, but they flowered in the region due to isolation imposed by the deep river-cut terrain and the abundance of spring-fed streams. There were five water mills on Flat Creek alone.

Mills powered by running water were constructed soon after settlement. Overshot wheels drove most, but turbines were common after 1880. Some even employed steam power at the close of the local milling era. The handsome building (below) was the McDowell Roller Mills, which unlike many could produce flour from wheat. Most early mills used stone burrs to grind corn into meal.

Vintage photograph shows a mill at McDowell. This one utilized rollers designed to process wheat. Photograph is courtesy of the Barry County Museum.

James Fork of the White, page 80

Aug 022017
 

As the release date of James Fork of the White approaches, I’ll be posting some samples of what you will find in the book. All research is not done in libraries or other books.  To write a book on a river, you have to learn the river, its people and places. Over the last several years, we have explored the watershed of the James, its tributaries – large and small, the byways, backroads and the small and large towns of its landscape.

We met people and pets, sportsmen with their catches and families recreating on the banks of creeks, playing at Table Rock, or floating the river. We found remnants of past mercantile enterprises. We ate chicken at Crane’s Broiler Fest, joined the crowds at River Jam and sought out the source of the river in Webster County.

Greene, Christian, Barry, Stone, Webster, and Taney counties. Creeks and larger streams. Dams that slow or halt the flow; a dam that wasn’t built. Drainage systems and sewage treatment. We visited them all…

Railroads, highways, dam projects, tourism, the growth of towns, agriculture, industry, media and art, political will, and cultural values—all interact. The river we see today is an outcome of all these forces. Even though transformed, and still changing, the watershed of the James Fork of the White is still in many places scenic and beautiful, and where it lacks aesthetics, it is interesting.

James Fork of the White, introduction

Jul 222017
 

Near where the Branson Entertainment Strip (a.k.a. state highway 76) meets highway 13, in a little town once known as Lakeview (now Branson West), hidden in a deep hollow are the decaying facilities of the Lost Silver Mine Theater, which opened in 1983. Not quite lost to history – yet – the concrete steps/seats are gathering moss, woooden letters occasionally flutter to the ground from creaking signage. In the amphitheater at the bottom of the hollow, remanants of stagecraft are melting into the ground. Here the story of the Lost Silver Mine and the Yocum Dollar played  out summer nights in the early Branson ‘boom’.

The Lost Silver Mine theater was owned, operated and supplied with a creative narrative by Artie Ayres, who like his father, was obsessed by the legend of the Yocum Dollar. Numerous different story lines have described the origins of the fabled coin (no authentic one has ever been found) and the silver mine where its ore was dug. Despite extensive searches and diligent research, no authenticatable specimen has yet been produced.

The legend itself has been around for 150 years or more. The Yocum (Y-o-a-c-h-u-m is an earlier spelling) brothers arrived in the upper White River country sometime after the War of 1812. They traded with the Delaware Indians who, as the legend says, happened to have a silver mine in the area. The details vary in different versions or more elaborate tellings, but tales of lost mines and buried treasure are not uncommon in this region. One rumored location of the lost mine was at the junction of the James and White Rivers, now under 150 feet of water. Artie Ayres, owner of the Lost Silver Mine Theater and author of Traces of Silver about the legend, has most likely had the best return on this silver investment of all the generations of fortune hunters and tellers of tall silver tales.

 

Find more extensive background for this entertainment relic on our new book, James Fork of the White.