Vol. V, No. 3, Winter 1992

Spring 1989, Fall 1989, Spring 1990, and Summer, 1990

The Damnable Current River Dam and Other Topics: A Conversation with Dan Saults, 1982

Dan Saults was a pioneer in Missouri conservation activities. He joined the Missouri Department of Conservation in 1947, heading their information service and serving as Editor of the Missouri Conservationist. He later became Assistant Director of the Department. In 1964 he moved to Washington D.C. with the Department of the Interior where he worked with both the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Dan retired to Branson, Mo. in 1973, where he remained active in conservation causes until his death in 1985.

Dan Saults was a provocative writer but he was also an articulate talker ....

On February 15, 1982, an extended tape recorded interview with the late Dan Saults was conducted by Bob Flanders and Lynn Morrow.

Part I: Saving the River

Much of the Current River is now part of the Ozark National Scenic' Riverways, and protected by the National Park Service as a free-flowing stream. Shortly after World War H, however, the Corps of Engineers had announced its intention to dam the Current and create a large impoundment----a project that did not meet with universal approval, to say the least.

The interview begins with a question to Dan Saults about the background of the Current River Dam controversy---a controversy that was beginning to heat up about the time he joined the Department of Conservation in 1947.

Saults: Basically this [controversy] began at a time when dams were considered a cure-all for economic ills. No one was opposed to building a dam because it showed what a progressive and wonderful country we were. I think that the Corps of Engineers led almost a sacred life in that everyone asked them to come build dams.

[In the post WWII years] then, there began to be a great emphasis to build dams on Current River because 1) it would improve the economy tremendously; 2) it would provide a great deal of fishable water; 3) it would create a tourist attraction; and 4) it was just right to build dams!...

Now to be completely honest it wasn't just the Corps of Engineers. Realtors were trying to get the dams built, and people who owned big chunks of land in the valley, because it would increase the value of the land tremendously.

When Dan joined the Department of Conservation in 1947 as an editor, he found the four-member Conservation Commission undecided about what official stand to take regarding the proposed dam.

It was a little difficult to get the Commission to take a stand because, remember, it did mean a lot more fishing water. We had studies proving that a lake could provide a hundred times more fishing visits than a stream could, which was quite true. And the Commission existed only off the sale of hunting and fishing permits and what small federal grants they got. Therefore they needed to sell more fishing licenses...

The Commission consisted of Robert A. Brown, Chairman, Frank Briggs, Edward K. Love, and Dru Pippin. At the time Dan Saults joined the Department, Briggs, a Macon newspaper man, had just

been appointed to the commission. He was a former state senator and United States senator who had finished out Harry Truman's term when Truman went to the vice-presidency. Dan characterized the other members of the Commission with insight and affection.

Bob Brown was chairman, a St. Joseph corporation lawyer, didn't try many cases at that time. A silk stocking, hunted with a fine double barrel shot gun, used pedigreed dogs, and believed in killing quail in the proper gentlemanly fashion....Many years later, after leaving the Commission, he was Chairman of the Board of the Conservation Federation. He was an Audubonite, a man of many, many parts, much charm and a short temper. He could not stand fools.

Edward K. Love [was] a wealthy St. Louisian, a deeply interested man, who had given a great deal of money. And his estate still is giving to the cause of conservation. Mr. Love, among other things, established a foundation to be administered through the Conservation Federation of Missouri....And Mr. Love played an important part early on in the campaign to get through an amendment to the State Constitution freeing the Commission from all political influence. He not only played an intellectual part, he had financed much of the program which cost quite a lot of money ....

Dru Pippin was a man who knew land well, was very interested in the hill people, was [himself] an Ozarkian from Waynesville. He had a resort...inherited from his father...a rather swank resort, in the old Victorian style, where people came and rocked in the swings, played genteel tennis, or fished for trout and ate good food. He made the place famous for its food ....

The Commission made a decision and instructed the Department Director, I.T. Bode, and the staff to oppose any dams on the Current River.

I have always suspected without any proof (and I don't want to be unfair to the Corps of Engineers, they're very efficient people) that it became a celebrated cause to the Corps because they were losing. There was opposition! They wanted to win. They didn't want anybody knocking out a dam. They put a great deal of time, publicity, and money into trying to build a Current River dam.

Meanwhile--I'm probably giving away what was a secret at the time--the Forest Service and the people in Missouri working for the Forest Service reached the same conclusion about the dam that the Commission had; and while in the propriety of the federal bureaucracies where people are not allowed to have [public] opinions, only in private--they joined the fight against the dam on Current River. At that point the matter began to be taken quite seriously, and the battle lines did get well drawn, and one of the strongest supporters of the anti-dam position was the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.


Opponents of the dam were delighted when Governor Forrest Smith wrote an eloquent denunciation of any dam on Current River and announced there would be no dam built as long as he was governor.

I'm probably giving away another secret. A young man named James Kirkpatrick was then the Governor's press secretary. And while he still denies it, he wrote the statement. It was well enough done, and so effective among the public, that subsequent governors, rather than writing new statements of their own, simply repeated it. Why did Jim deny it? Because a press secretary never admits being author of his boss's [material]. He must never do it. I like Jim, though I do not hold to that standard of decorum. I wrote a lot of speeches that I never got credit for! So I like to give credit where it's due ....

In the Current River Valley itself almost everybody opposed the dam. Apart from notable exceptions such as Leonard Hall who lived outside the Current Valley and bitterly fought against it, mostly this was a local proposition---except for the Missouri River Valley. St. Louis, Kansas City, and the belt of population between. In that heavily populated area, that's where you had the preponderance of the strong battle against the dam, the emotional battle.

I remember one occasion in which the Corps of Engineers was going to hold a hearing on the Blair Creek Dam and they were going to hold it in Bradley Point, Virginia. And St. Louis raised money and sent a delegation on busses on just a few day's notice from Van Buren and Eminence to Washington D.C., where they stormed into the hearing and literally raised bloody hell. Very effective. But they could not have been heard if it wasn't for the people in St. Louis who raised the money to hire the busses.

So the Missouri Valley strongly supplied the publicity in the big papers----even the Kansas City Star.... The Star, after the Post-Dispatch came in, came out against the dam on Current River. They were led by the outdoor editor, the outdoor writers--and that's maybe a significant point. The outdoor writers on the paper who did not just write of hunting and fishing but who, by this time, were writing of much deeper issues--writing about habitat, and ways of life, the meanings of hunting and fishing. Such things as "One day on a stream is worth 100 days on an artificial impoundment...."

Dan was asked why there was so much support across the state for the campaign to oppose the dam ...The Current was a sacred stream to Missourians. There were probably 500,000 Missourians who knew, and crossed themselves at the [mention of] the name of the Current River, who never saw it. There are many today--men who say, "Have you been there?" in that awed voice. Don't tell them about the hoards that are now afflicting the middle Current in the summer time; you simply say yes, I've been there. It's a beautiful place.

Part II: The Commission Supports the Riverway

In 1961, Missouri Senators Stuart Symington and Ed Long introduced legislation to create an Ozark Rivers National Monument along the Current, Eleven Point, and Jacks Forks rivers. (See The Seckatary in the Ozarks, OzarksWatch, Spring, 1989). This legislation resulted in the establishment in 1964 of the Ozark National Scenic' Riverways, under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service (NPS).

Dan was asked about the Commission's involve-merit in the creation of a National Park on the Current.

The idea of making a National Park out of Current River did not come out of the Conservation Commission. The idea of making it a National Park had been hanging around for a good many years, and nobody had paid much attention to it at the NPS level in Washington, or even in the region, simply because most of those people had not heard of the Current. The publicity that resulted from the battle to keep dams off gave the Current River a national reputation. I don't mean a catch-word in everybody's home; but many who dealt with resources became aware of the Current River, though they had never been in Missouri. And that in fact stimulated [the idea of the National Park].

Our national legislators began to be interested in this sort of thing; not greatly, but Stuart Symington got an education in the Current River, as a result of the battle. A number of legislators did. The NPS people became interested just by hearing so much about it. Began to have some studies. Joe Jaeger, who had been with the Conservation Commission as head forester, and had left to head up state parks, thought it was an excellent idea and Joe managed to get things done rather well.

Eventually, NPS sent people out to take a look at it. They drew up a report; and a good many of us--the conservation community, Leonard Hall, for example, and others---came up with the idea that if this were a National Park we would never again have to worry about dams. We would not have to worry about increasing commercialism on the banks of the river, about more resorts coming in and the water becoming terribly polluted, if it were a National Park ....

By this time I was Assistant Director. Bill Dow was the Director, and his training was as a forester--his original profession. We agreed between the two of us that we didn't like the idea. It would bring too many people; and it would tend to freeze things....We were afraid of the NPS, what it might do. NPS very much likes to freeze things.


Although the staff members of the Conservation Department were in agreement that a National Park on the Current should be opposed, the Commission still had to be convinced The staff felt, however they had the perfect instrument with which to work on the Commission, what Dan called "a perfectly good hurt feeling thing to base our objections on."

The NPS had blithely assumed in their report--their second report on how they were going to do it now that the legislation was passed--they were going to take over a 25,000 acre block of land called the Cartereva State Forest, which the Conservation Commission owned...The NPS hadn't bothered even to check into this. Hadn't inquired about the ownership of the State Forest ....

Well, at the next Commission meeting, when they told us to come in with a recommendation, Bill and I, primarily, appeared and pointed out that the Park people had not really even talked to us about our holdings in the area; they had not asked us for our formal opinion; they had not bothered to find out that they couldn't have that 25,000 acres; that [the Forest] belonged to the Commission; and that [NPS] had publicly announced they were going to take it over. We suggested that we felt insulted, and hoped that you gentlemen did too. And they did. The Commission instructed us to get in touch with Senator Symington and Senator Long, and tell them, headlong, that we opposed it ....

That opposition, however, was soon to be overcome.

At that time the Gateway Arch was being built in St. Louis, and a man named George Hartzog was in charge of construction for NPS. Hartzog had come to the Commission when they started building the [St. Louis facility] and said, "You people don't have any land here; it's not really your cup of tea, but I need your help. We want wildlife, we want many things demonstrated. We want to be able to lean on you, to have your help."

He fascinated me. And he didn't just come once; every time he was in Jefferson City he would drop by to chat. That's how we got to know him. So a week after our telegrams arrived in Washington---of course we sent copies to [NPS [ headquarters---George Hartzog came into our office. He said, "I understand you people, and only those stupid apes the Park Service sent out here would have done a fool thing like that."

Damn, if he didn't con us [laugh] into going back to the Commission and saying, "We support [the National Park]--but you don't get the Cartareva."

George also [understood] our ]concern] that hunting would be diminished since no hunting was allowed in National Parks. He said, let's get special legislation, which he helped get through, to allow hunting. So he completely stole our thunder, and we

came out strongly approving it. Now we have to answer to the people who say there are too many canoes on it. I don't know why I keep on saying"we," because I haven't worked for the Conservation Commission since 1963 [laugh], but my heart is still there. I went to Washington after that, and took part in the fight against the dams on the Buffalo River. Oh, yes.

Part III: About Table Rock Lake

...Here he discusses the decision the Missouri Conservation Commission had to make about whether or not to support the building of Table Rock Lake.

The Commission almost automatically opposed it, because by then they were used to opposing dams. But here was a situation where there was [already on the White River] a Taneycomo Dam in Missouri and Bull Shoals in Arkansas. Maybe we should go ahead and not oppose this dam on White River. Let Table Rock go. The Commission and staff pretty much agreed on this and we wrote a statement to that effect. And a storm hit us.

[From our earlier successful opposition] we had built a knee jerk reaction to any dam. We had built so much anti-dam sentiment, making these things almost satanic and the Corps of Engineers a bunch of utter scoundrels, that we couldn't support anything the Corps wanted to do. That's one of the problems with good propaganda, you sometimes get caught up in your own words.

We thought we had a good position. White River was ruined as a river anyway. Beaver Dam would have been built anyway so there was no point in trying to block Table Rock. But we spent almost as much time defending ourselves permitting Table Rock (as though we had the power to ban it)--we had to persuade the governor to say it was ok to go ahead and build Table Rock!...

Some farmers opposed the dam very strongly, with good cause, and they raised hell with the Commission, which they had every right to do. I'm not backing them. On the whole, we reached the conclusion that most people along the Upper White favored it because they figured they would make money out of it. Those who opposed it were pretty much committed to a [certain subsistence] way of life.

In Branson, however, the powers that existed at that time, such as Jim Owen, were very strongly in favor of it. Most of the people in Branson were in favor of Table Rock Dam. [The construction of the dam] didn't mean nearly as much to them economically as they thought it would. Table Rock was built almost mechanically--high technology took place there, mostly done by machines; and about the only local people who got any jobs were the ones who came out as carpenters to build forms in which the concrete was held.

Dan laughed about his frustration in trying to maintain his critical posture toward dams.


One of my problems is that it turned into such a beautiful lake. It's just so lovely that I'm almost glad that I finally went along with its support. Prettiest lake in the whole Corps system, I think. Interestingly, the Corps civilian in charge of the dam construction-----charming man, Lincoln Sherman from Atlanta, Georgia--he knew I was interviewing him both for a report back to the Conservation Commission in closed session, and for an article I was going to do on the subject for the Missouri Conservationist magazine. He took me out and said,"I think these are beautiful little lonely lost valleys, but look at this picture." And he had taken a picture from up on top of Table Rock, from where the dam was originally to have been built (it was moved upstream because of faulty rock formations). And he had sketched what the lake was to look like, air-brushed it in, and it was a beautiful picture...

Part IV: The Environment of the Mind

...In this concluding episode, Dan examines the environment of the Ozarks that exists, at least partially, in the mind. He explores notions, some (perhaps) fanciful, about the lure of the Ozarks and describes a very special love his father had for an Ozarks river.

You had St. Louis (and to a lesser extend Kansas City) conservationists, early on, before that term was used, who liked to come out into the wild places. They were deeply in love with the Ozarks, and with the Ozarks people. I know the popular myth of the hillbillies and all the rest of that, but the opinion makers, people with money, and also people not necessarily moneyed, just liked to come here [in the '30s and '40s]. They came with a great love for the landscape, and for the people who lived in it.

My own father in his many trips to the Current River, 35 consecutive Octobers, talked as much about the people as about the beauty [of the river[. He was not one who used such terms much, but he would talk of the beauty of the Current. He also talked of the beauty of the people--and he used that word. I don't remember being much inspired by it at the time, but he thought the people along the river were living privileged lives. Remember, he came from a small town of 1200 and [on the Current] he found independence--something not found in his own little town. His compatriot Walter Carr, floating the river at the same time, had the same idea--and they didn't agree on much of anything except going fishing together every October. But they painted a picture that I thought at the time (I was 20, became cynical at age 15) was mere sentimentality. Well, it was sentiment, but it wasn't sentimentality.

Almost everywhere you go in the Ozarks you find that somebody has come in here long ago seeking something--I don't know what. It's almost as though there were some sort of an emanation coming up from the ground. Lures in the adventurous [people] .... There's something here that pulls people in. Jim Keefe (longtime staff member of the Missouri Department of Conservation) was talking about that. You know, he thinks the Little Folks have been here. He claims the Irish Wilderness is haunted. Well it is! Keefe is right. Go out there by yourself, stand up on those bluffs and wait. It's haunted. Not by evil spirits. But not by benign ones either. They don't give a damn about you. They're going to outlive the humans. When we're all gone they'll still be living there. Maybe they--ah, this is ridiculous. I'm having a romantic fit--going back to my childhood--get-ting senile!

People say you can find ghosts at the Rosecliff [Hotel in Van Buren, Missouri, on the Current River. The Rosecliff has since burned]. Last time I was there I walked down the street across the bridge to the old hotel--it was quite true, my father was calling me. Of course, just my memory, but he loved the Rosecliff, like everything else [about the river]. When he was too old to float the river anymore, I would take him down to the Rosecliff where they always had a deer check station--install him in a room, then go pursue whatever I was doing with the agents. He would tote deer around, help weigh them, walk [across the bridge] over to town and get two cans of beer, walk back, sit on the balcony above the river, shivering a little--November--and drink the two cans of beer. After a while he'd walk back and get two more cans. By the time I got home he'd have drunk several beers. We'd go over, eat dinner, I'd put him to bed and say, "Dad, let me get you a case. You won't have to go over to town [so much]." He said, "What the hell you think I do this for! I like to go over to town! Don't want to get but two at a time! Keeps me going!"

He would sit on the porch. When I'd come to get him after a couple of days--I'd have to move on--and hold in front of him the dream of going someplace else, to check into the deer season there, he'd go out on the porch and cry. 'Cause maybe next year he'd be dead and couldn't come back to the Rosecliff, back to the river.


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