The Garrison Dam is the fifth largest earthen dam in the world. Made by packing down dirt with other materials, its total volume is 66.5 million cubic yards of earth fill and 1.5 million cubic yards of concrete. However, underneath its many layers is a sad story.
The dam was part of the Pick-Sloan project, a plan for flood control and power generation. It required the purchase and flooding of 152,360 acres in the Fort Berthold Reservation, home to the Three Affiliated Tribes. So, in April, 1946, the Corps of Engineers began the project. Interestingly, the Corps altered the project's specifications to protect Williston, but didn’t do anything to protect the tribes. Instead, they threatened eminent domain, so the Tribes brought the issue to Washington. Based on the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, Congress halted expenditures for the dam until the Tribes received a suitable settlement.
On October 29th, 1949, Harry S Truman signed the final settlement. The tribes were compensated a total of 12.6 million dollars – 5.1 million for losses and 7.5 million in additional benefits. They estimated it was 9 million dollars under market value for the damages sustained. The settlement also denied their request for irrigation development and royalty rights for subsurface materials in the reservoir area, shutting them out of a large portion of the dam’s benefits. They couldn’t even use the reservoir shoreline for grazing, hunting, fishing, or other traditional purposes. They began their relocation over the next few years.
Land appraisers came to Fort Berthold on November 13, 1950. They suggested the people accept or reject appraisals made in 1948 – the majority accepted. Around this date, they completed the road surveys and finally began construction for the new town of New Town. By 1954 they had finished relocation and built the road system and school houses, and even moved churches and cemeteries to new locations.
All in all, 300 families and 1,700 residents were forced to relocate. And while this recent generation has worked hard to counter the effects, the damage from the Garrison Dam is still felt.
Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas