College of Arts & Sciences Missouri River Institute

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Oral Histories

Oral Histories of Long-Time Missouri River Residents


Above: 59-mile reach of the Missouri National Recreational River.


The 59-mile reach of the Missouri National Recreational River (MNRR) is located between Gavins Point Dam and Ponca State Park and is a unit of the National Park Service. It is one of the few remaining segments that most closely resemble what the river was like prior to channelization and damming.  Long-time residents of this particular area were interviewed to provide a historical account of  what the Missouri River was like both before and after the dams  were constructed.


Above: Picture of Gavins Point dam during construction.

Purpose of this Project

This project will provide valuable insight into the pre-development conditions of the Missouri River during the 20th Century. The interviews provided will aid in obtaining a more accurate picture of the river in its unaltered state related to habitat, flooding, drought and human use. A better understanding of the river prior to dam construction would guide efforts to conserve and restore this ecosystem. The project also provides citizens with a sense of place, insight into the local culture, and a context for how they view the regulated river. The interviews given will be documented and will also be available to families and institutions for future use.

Above: USD faculty shooting footage of the river for the project.

Screening and Interview Selection

During the summer of 2010 project staff visited with over 30 people who resided between Springfield and Ponca. People were chosen who had resided or made a living near the river before and during the time of dam construction, and in the decade following. Topics of particular interest included what that transitional time was like after the dam was constructed and how it was different prior to dam installation, as well as personal stories and other interesting background information provided by the residents. 

Seven residents were selected for interviews.  On-site filming was  done by the Contemporary Media and Journalism department at USD. Residents were asked a general set of questions  and were encouraged to deviate and tell their own stories. Some of the interesting topics talked about by the residents were personal stories related to the river changing course, the effects of large-scale flooding events,  the fate of nearby homes and small towns in the river's path, the scouring effects of ice sheets, and the challenges of navigation and snags.


The primary product that will be produced from this project is a documentary. Stories from interviews of long-time Missouri River residents will portray what life was like along the Missouri River before the dams were built and in the transitional period just after the dams were in place. This documentary is planned for airing on South Dakota Public Broadcasting. Video podcasts of additional interview material that did not make it into the documentary will also be made available. Interview material will be digitally archived at the USD Oral History Center and National Park Service Archives.

Video Podcasts

More interview material was filmed than can be included in the documentary. Some of the extra interview material has been compiled into video podcasts, which can be viewed from the Video Podcasts page.

Project Partners
 parkservice sdoral2   mofutures sdpb 
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