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March 30: Missouri River Flooding in 1929 (Part 2)

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In March 1929, as ice broke up in the Missouri River, local federal meteorologist O. W. Roberts watched, issued advisements, and recorded what was going on. He wrote: “As long as there is ice on the Missouri river, there is danger of a flood.” Many others also watched the river. The Bismarck Tribune commented the “banks of the river between Bismarck and Mandan were crowded with spectators.” They watched huge logs in the river and reported seeing muskrats riding downstream on cakes of ice.

An ice jam that formed at Huff caused water to back up to the towns of Bismarck and Mandan. It became a crisis when three other ice jams to the north broke up, causing rapid rise in the river.. As reported in an earlier datebook, an effort was made to dynamite the ice jam. Most of the explosives were flown in, but they did not arrive in time. Men with the engineering corps did have some dynamite, and they began “laboriously and perilously” preparing to place it on the Huff ice jam. But aside from the dangerous conditions, they were barred from crossing the Liberty Memorial bridge to Mandan because employees of the state highway department thought that their “caravan of trucks and automobiles could damage the road.” The engineers finally resolved that dispute, but then they got lost while attempting to reach the ice jam, having to take a different route because the roadway through the river bottoms was flooded.

As one would expect, the water wasn’t about to stop. It cut a new path, but even so, the engineers used 1,600 pounds of dynamite to help matters along. As the water fell, left in its wake were dead animals and a path of destruction.

Throughout everything, there were some lighter moments. Agents from a malt extract manufacturer had driven night and day from Chicago to show samples and sell in Mandan. When they arrived, the Memorial highway was closed to auto traffic. They couldn’t walk across with their samples, and they couldn’t charter an airplane. So, the Northern Pacific Railway offered them a lift with the help of a freight locomotive.

By this date, the Missouri river was again peaceful, and had resumed its regular channels.

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

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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