How the Bagnell Dam created the Lake of the Ozarks and reshaped southern Missouri forever

Photo courtesy of the Missouri State Archives

“It goes back to the Federal Water Power Act [of 1920]—they were trying to get rivers around the country to produce hydroelectric power. So people thought, ‘OK, I can make a buck, let me see where some places to do this would be.’ In the Midwest, some engineers or somebody started looking at the Osage River. The back end of it starts out in eastern Kansas and wanders down and goes through what is now Truman Reservoir and to what is now the Lake of the Ozarks.

“The thought was there, and people started buying land rights from these what we call ‘true natives,’ who mostly came from Appalachia. Most of the people who were of ‘true native’ heritage came from the Appalachian states, and they brought their entertainment with them—there was nothing else around out there. They had get-togethers and that was the start of country music.

“The Ozarks had the high hills to hold the water in, and it was just a little bottomland along the rivers to buy. They thought, ‘Well, hell, we’ll just buy those people out.’ They could buy an option on the land for two hundred dollars. The people they bought from thought they had the world by the tail and that they’d never be flooded. There are many statements you can read handed down by the families where people said, ‘Oh, it’ll never happen, they will never get this done.’ There was no belief in a thing like that. A lot of people down there could not comprehend anything that big being built, let alone down there, between two hillsides in the Ozarks.”

— Kent Van Landuyt, co-author of A People’s History of the Lake of the Ozarks as told to Kansas City. Kent Van Landuyt and co-author Dan William Peek are “true natives” of the Ozarks. Their book was published in 2016 by The History Press.

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