This article was written by Mary Griffin came from the Jan. 31, 1985 Wagon Wheels insert in the Rich Hill Mining Review.
The land between the Osage and the Marais Des Cygnes River is an area of rich black soil. This land has long been subject to overflow making it more fertile but causing the land owners heavy crop losses.
Early in the history of Bates County the land had been given to the county by the state for reclamation. Numerous plans were presented, but until 1906 nothing feasible had been offered. State laws had been passed for the owner's of these lands to form drainage districts and assess the lands for improvements that would have to be approved by the county court.
In 1906 a petition was presented to the landowners for the purpose of forming such a district. The petition was signed by the owners of a large percent of the land. The petition was presented to the Bates County Court consisting of J. W. McFadden, presiding judge and associate justices P. A. Bruce and John Armstrong.
The court then appointed A. H. Bell of Bloomington, Illinois, an experienced drainage engineer. Cyrus Requa, Charles Van Benthusen and Robert Johnson were appointed as a preliminary board of viewers. It was their duty to go over the route of the proposed plan and report on how practical the plan would be.
The plan provided for digging a new straight channel of the river starting at Marvel Bridge and running to a mile below Belvoir Ferry. The channel would be cut straight for a distance of twenty-five miles while the river the same distance flowed seventy-three miles.
Politics entered into the picture and owners of twenty-five percent of the land representing a large majority of owners got a remonstrance and had Johnson to bring in a minority adverse report. The other three brought in a favorable report to the court. The remonstrance was signed by two-hundred thirty land owners while the petitioners had only seventy-five signatures.
The remonstrators held meetings and tried to influence the court to deny the petition. The McFadden court decided in favor of the plan over the large opposition.
The court next appointed a permanent board of viewers and an engineer. The members of their board were A. H. Bell, engineer, J. J. March, J. W. Bard, and Estes Smith as permanent viewers.
The duty of this board was to go over the land, locate improvements, classify each tract of land for benefits, estimate the entire cost of the work, assess each tract of land a sufficient sum to pay for the cost of work in proportion to classification. The work took five months to complete at an estimated cost of $386,000. Lands receiving 100% of the benefits were assessed $10.93 per acre.
The court held a hearing for objections to classification then the court took eight days to go over the objections 10 classifications. Slight changes were made which reduced the cost about $8000.
Next a day was set to receive bids for the work. Contractors from several states submitted bids. Timothy Faahey and Sons were given the bid for the entire work for .08 per cubic yard. The money was to come from the sale of bonds issued against the assessments. $370,000 worth of bonds were advertised for sale.
The bonds were sold subject to the approval of Wood and Oakley attorneys of Chicago. Judge Wood required consent of the Missouri Pacific Railroad to cross its tracks before he would
approve the proceedings. This required careful negotiations. The railroad company had been assessed $15,000 for benefits. Judge Wood required that the assessment against the railroad company be cancelled by court decree.
Soon after the cancellation, the contractors began moving in the machinery. The work was all done by floating dredges. Five dredges worked at one time, two of them were considered large with two and one-half cubic yard buckets.
The construction work was all completed by 1909 except the rock work at the lower end of the channel. The contractors sub-let the rock work to A. V. Wills and Sons. Litigation followed, and the county court re-let the rock work.
Rainy weather followed, and the land owners found that the ditch did not have sufficient depth to carry the flood waters. Once again the necessary preceedings went through the county court and $171,000 was raised to dig the ditch ten feet deeper. Four big bends were cut into the old channel. The work was completed in 1911. There were 41,000 acres in this drainage district.
This information came from an account given by W. 0. Atkeson in the Bates County History 1918.
Jessie Anderson told me that she remembered how the young people walked to the work site on Sunday afternoon. She said that some of the work crew lived in a house boat. A houseboat was something new to Papinville and all wanted to see inside. Some of the workers boarded with Mrs. Finley.
George and Grace Craig said they remembered how people came from miles around to see the big dredges at work. George said these dredges were not large at all compared to the steam shovels that came later