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Cape Central High Photos

Ken Steinhoff, Cape Girardeau Central High School Class of 1965, was a photographer for The Tiger and The Girardot, and was on the staff of The Capaha Arrow and The Sagamore at Southeast Missouri State University. He worked as a photographer / reporter (among other things) at The Jackson Pioneer and The Southeast Missourian.

Come here to see photos and read stories (mostly true) about coming of age in Southeast Missouri in the 1960s.

Please comment on the articles when you see I have left out a bit of history, forgotten a name or when your memory of a circumstance conflicts with mine. (My mother says her stories have improved now that more and more of the folks who could contradict her have died off.) Your information helps to make this a wonderful archive and may end up in book form.


Taming Swampeast Missouri

Keith Lewis had a story in The Missourian October 4 noting that work on the Little River Drainage District started 100 years ago. There was a good reason why old-timers refer to this area as Swampeast Missouri: a large portion of Southeast Missouri was nothing but nearly impenetrable swamps with names like the Dark Cypress, Old Field and Big Field.

This aerial photo was taken south and west of Delta and shows the old Whitewater River meandering through what once would have been swamp. Dad had a job to divert the river, essentially cutting off this channel years and years ago.

Miles and miles of farmland

Once the timber was logged off and the land cleared, it turned out to be incredibly rich for farming.

Cut trees when swamp froze over

I interviewed Wife Lila’s Uncle Ray Seyer a couple of years ago when he was 89. Ray remembers growing up in the Tillman community area and hearing stories from his dad about the old days. “Pop would ride a horse – no cars in those days – from Kelso down through Delta and most of the time the water was up to the horse’s belly.”

“When they started clearing that ground there – it was all wooded area – they couldn’t cut when that water was in there.. they’d wait until it froze over, then cut it above the ice and let it float out later.”

Video: Soft ground could swallow tractor


Ray told some stories I had heard from old-timers back when I was a kid. I’m hoping I can run across a tape recording I made of one of Mother’s friends describing putting 12″ x 12″ “mudshoes” on horses to keep them from sinking into the “sinky” muck.

Ray and Dad both said you’d better not stop once you started across the old swamp. Ray talked about a couple of guys who used to haul limestone out of there. Their Caterpillar-type tractor stalled out at the end of the workday and wouldn’t start. They decided to leave it until the morning. The next day, only two smokestacks were visible above the muck, he said.

Diversion Channel

The Big Ditch is one of the main ways to move water out of the basin into the Mississippi River. Here are some of the stories I’ve done about the Diversion Channel.

16 comments to Taming Swampeast Missouri

  • Several years ago, I interviewed Lloyd Francis, who had a farm east of Advance in the Old Field. He showed me one of the pieces of wood that they nailed to the horses’ hooves to keep them from sinking. I seem to remember that they couldn’t use mules, because their hooves were too small. I can’t imagine a mule letting them nail wood to its hooves, anyway!
    As I understand it, the water table in that area has gone down significantly over the years.

  • Mary T Marshall

    Surely a member of the Vandivort clan has a comment. Or the Harrison, Himelberger or Oliver folks.

    Heck, although John didn’t tell J Fred everything, he still knows a lot.

  • Lee Dahringer

    Stories were all true. OUr farm was outisde Advance in the oldfield area. Even in my day it was tricky work using a tractor after a rain. We had cypress trees too, which of course are used to significant water. Also a hill which had been an indian camping ground – we found many artifacts of their presence.

  • Tom Abernathy

    My first job after graduating from MSM at Rolla, was with the Mo. Conservation Commission . One of the projects was the Duck Creek Project near Puxico. The old Diversion Ditch project by the Corps of Engineers drained all this area. The Duck Creek Project put 10,000 acres back into swamp by building new levees and diverting Caster River into that area for re-establishing the swamp for hunting and fishing purposes. What goes around comes around! Dad used to talk about catching the old Houke(sp) RR into that area when it was the Mingo Swamp for those same purposes.

  • Tom Abernathy

    My first job after graduating from MSM at Rolla, was with the Mo. Conservation Commission . One of the projects was the Duck Creek Project near Puxico. The old Diversion Ditch project by the Corps of Engineers drained all this area. The Duck Creek Project put 10,000 acres back into swamp by building new levees and diverting Caster River into that area for re-establishing the swamp for hunting and fishing purposes. What goes around comes around! Dad used to talk about catching the old Houke(sp) RR into that area when it was the Mingo Swamp for those same purposes.
    The stories about sinking tractors os catapillers are true!

  • Sally Bierbaum Dirks

    In 1974, Doug and I bought the Kochtitzky home in Malden. In the attic was a model of the dredge Otto Kochtitzky developed to move across the cypress swamp and dig the drainage ditches. It is now on display at the Malden Historical Museum.

  • Gabe Ford

    I’m glad we still have the conservation areas in Southeast Missouri that are still swampland. I love duck hunting down there.

  • Carole Schaefer

    Fortunes were made cutting that swamp timber.

  • Larry Points

    I remember SEMO biology teacher Paul Heye taking my class to some of the former swamp turned to farmland. At one point we all got out and stood together in a field. He asked the class to all jump together. The dark land rippled and quaked all around for quite a distance out.
    Any one but me who has shot a “swamp rabbit”? I regret doing it now (near Greenbriar)… they are huge and I hope some still survive.

  • Keith Robinson

    My great-grandfather, a fireman on the old Houck railroads, had said that when they started draining the swamps, the decaying material would build up enough heat that the ground would catch on fire. The run from Cape to Poplar Bluff was one of his jobs.

  • I like this website it is awesome and interesting

  • You will find that Ken Steinhoff has written about nearly EVERY conceivable aspect of life in Southeast Missouri! His footprints are all over this country!!

    • Interesting………the farm that LLoyd now owns did belong to Ford Groves Family. Lloyd is a first cousin to my husband. My husband’s family owns a farm across the road from Lloyd’s. There is so much humus in the soil that it can easily catch on fire………Through the years I have heard many interesting stories……..

      MARY SEABAUGH FRANCIS

  • YES, I just discovered Ken’s stories………and one he has just brought tears of joy…
    He just returned a soul after almost five decades.

    This quote of his says it all.

    “Doing this blog has taught me that I didn’t really ‘steal” the souls. I merely borrowed them for three, four or five decades. Now I’m returning them.”

  • I’m gone to convey my little brother, that he should also visit this weblog on regular basis to get updated from latest reports.

  • Mary Seabaugh Francis

    I just finished rereading this blog……still very interesting to read. My father-in-law owned several hundred acres….300 something I think belongs to the boys now……

    When I was dating my future husband his mother would have a half gallon jar of homemade lemonade ready for me when I stopped by the house on my way home from SEMO. I would take my shoes off and go barefooted out to where Al was working to deliver him some ice cold lemonade. That black dirt stain was extremely hard to get off my feet. Great memories of times at the farm…..

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