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Oral Histories of Long-Time Missouri River Residents


The 59-mile reach of the Missouri National Recreational River (MNRR) runs from Gavins Point Dam to Ponca State Park. This reach is managed as a National Park by the National Park Service. It is one of the few remaining river segments that most closely resembles what the river was like prior to channelization and damming. Long-time residents of this area were interviewed to provide an historical account of what the Missouri River was like before and after the dams were constructed.

PurposePurpose of this Project

This project will help document the pre-development conditions of the Missouri River during the mid-1900s. The interviews will help obtain a more accurate picture of the river in its unaltered condition. This will help to guide efforts to conserve and restore the Missouri River ecosystem. The interviews also help to provide citizens with a sense of place and insight into the local culture.

ScreeningScreening and Interview Selection

MRI staff interviewed more than 30 people who lived between Springfield, SD, and Ponca, NE. People chosen for interviews had lived or worked near the river before, during and in the decade following dam construction. Interview topics included typical lifestyles, interactions with the river and how these changed after the dams were constructed. Many personal stories were also provided by the interviewed residents. These include stories of large-scale floods, the challenges of navigating the river and property damage from ice sheets during spring thaws. 


The primary product of this project is a series of videos. Stories from interviews of long-time Missouri River residents portrayed what life was like along the river before the dams were built and how it changed after the dams were in place. Interview materials will be digitally archived at the USD Oral History Center and National Park Service Archives.

Project Partners

  • National Park Service
  • South Dakota Oral History Center
  • Missouri River Futures
  • South Dakota Public Broadcasting
  • Department of Media & Journalism