Flood Pits Neighbor vs. Neighbor

The controversy over breaching the Bird’s Point levee that’s putting Missourians against Illinoisans isn’t anything new.

A dam erected by farmers in 1967 pitted neighbor against neighbor.

My film envelopes were slugged “Dutchtown Dam 6/22/67,” and I thought the photos were taken south of Hwy 74 between Cape and Dutchtown. The newspaper story, however, describes it as “south of Cape Girardeau and east of old Highway 61 between that highway and the Mississippi River.”

Bits and pieces of the story ran for days. You can read the one that ran with my photo in the June 23, 1967, Missourian.

Farmers on the “wet” side of the dam contended that the structure would cause water from the Diversion channel to back up on their land earlier than it would have normally.

Threats to blow up the dam

The Cape County Sheriff’s office received at least two threats to blow up the dam. Some of the farmers stood guard over the earthen structure at night. At least one of the men in this photo had a rifle or shotgun. I’m going to surmise that it was probably more for snakes than potential bombthrowers.

A story on June 26, said the Little River Drainage District had ordered the dam removed. A flood story on the 27th said it was still standing. A story on June 28 said that attorney Jack O. Knehans was contemplating filing a suit seeking $50,000 to $75,000 in damages from the dam builders.

I scrolled through papers for the next few days and never did find how the issue was resolved.

4 Replies to “Flood Pits Neighbor vs. Neighbor”

  1. My father, Don Pemberton, was very involved in this as mentioned in the newspaper article. We were on the “dry” side. The “dry” farmers hurriedly built the earthen dam as the Mississippi flood waters came up.

    I was home after my freshman year at college and stood a regular watch on the dam. We had three men (if a college freshman counts as such) on the dam continuously. Some of the guys brought rifles or shotguns. There were snakes around. A radio station reporter found the dam and asked those on it what they were doing. My dad had advised discretion. So the response was: “We’re just here checking for leaks”.

    Emotions ran high because this flood was in late June. That meant that crops could not be re-planted. If this dam was removed the farmers of the land it protected would get no income for the year.

    I remember what happened after the threat of the lawsuit. (By the way Mr. Knehans’ daughter was in my CHS class of ‘66). The “dry” group met and decided to follow what we understood to be Earl Shultz’s direction to remove the dam. Mr. Schultz, Secretary of the Little River Drainage District, was widely respected and the farmers did not want to be a bother to him. I was amazed to listen in on this discussion. These men were going to give up a year’s income to avoid causing someone else a problem.

    My dad asked for a little time to document the flooding and the land protected by the dam. A day or two later, Tom O’Loughlin flew my dad, me and “One-shot” Frony over the flooding, which Frony photographed. A couple more days went by. We heard nothing. A couple more days went by and the Mississippi started going down. Finally when the flood waters had receded and the dam was removed as directed. The crops were protected.

    Today a permanent flood gate stands at nearly the same place. It was built by the Corps of Engineers and it is maintained by the Little River Drainage District. Most of the cost was paid by an assessment on the landowners protected by it.

  2. Andy,
    Good to hear from, you I was going to write “I bet Andy Pemerbton knows what is going on here!”
    My rememberances of your dad’s farm in flood times involve you and Bob Young with a sail boat Bob Young built for sailing the fields in flood times. ….and getting stuck on barbed wire fence that was under water and almost freezing to death. …But that is a story for another time.
    Mr. Schultz was in my church and he was a man that earned the respect of all. I can see in that day and time real men would would out of respect not want to cause problems for another man. Unlike today were each individual is the center of his own univerise and others don’t matter. The only thing that matters now is the feeling of the “ME” that is involved. Mr. Pemberton was a real man.
    I guess as kids floods were only seen as an opportunity for fun and not seriously as we as adults do today.

  3. The situation with the Byrd’s Point levee has yet again brought forward the moral dilemma of who/what should be saved. The person(s) making that decision must have broad shoulders to carry the ramifications. It doesn’t appear the folks in the affected areas will get much of a break in the weather. 2+ inches are forecast for later this weekend. Mother Nature has shown us her fury; we are now ready to be wrapped in her arms of sunshine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *