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March 28: Missouri River Flooding in 1929 (Part One)

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In March of 1929, ice on the Missouri River began to break up early. Some of the ice flowed free, but some piled up in ice gorges, blocking the waterflow. The threat of flooding loomed.

One large ice gorge formed at Huff, 18 miles south of Bismarck. The jam was 25 to 30 miles long – solid, and stuck. Three other gorges at Williston, Independence, and Mannhaven, held back water that would otherwise rush down to the blocked area, which staved off immediate flooding. But that couldn’t last. Eventually, they broke free and a torrent of water rushed toward the logjam at Huff.

The city of Mandan feared inundation, pinched between the Missouri and Heart Rivers. The residents had sent a telegram asking President Hoover to order army planes to bomb the ice jam with dynamite, saying flooded towns and farmland could result in millions of dollars damage. The telegram stated: “in the name of humanity, use your influence. Slash that army red tape and order airplanes with bombs to smash the ice gorge and relieve the grave emergency.”

No dynamite made it before the river swelled, hitting a peak of 18.5 feet in Bismarck before dropping to 16.7 feet, which was still well above the 15-foot flood level. The Huff ice pack started to breakup, but it reformed.

The engineering corps prepared to dynamite the ice pack, which was visible from the Liberty Memorial bridge in Bismarck. One shot of 1600 pounds of the explosive was detonated, but in the end, the water cut across the land, forcing a new path.

On this date, the Bismarck Tribune noted many changes, including the formation of another island at Sibley and the backing up of Apple Creek, reporting: “thousands of acres of farmland inundated and ruined, other thousands washed away, new islands formed and hundreds of dead fish and animals, countless numbers of trees cut down by icy axes, damaged roads and highways. That is the toll exacted by the mighty Missouri.”

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


  • The Bismarck Tribune, March 19, 1929, p1
  • The Bismarck Tribune, March 20, 1929, p1
  • The Bismarck Tribune, March 21, 1929, p1
  • The Bismarck Tribune, March 22, 1929, p1
  • The Bismarck Tribune, March 23, 1929, p1
  • The Bismarck Tribune, March 26, 1929, p1 and 9
  • The Bismarck Tribune, March 27, 1929, p1
  • The Bismarck Tribune, March 28, 1929, p1
  • The Bismarck Tribune, March 29, 1929, p1
  • The Bismarck Tribune, March 30, 1929, p1
  • https://www.stlmag.com/history/1888-mississippi-river-ice-gorges-photograph/

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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