History of the Garrison Dam is forever entwined with the lifeways of the native people of the Fort Berthold Reservation in western North Dakota. The massive water project for flood control and hydroelectric power took seven years to construct west of Underwood, North Dakota. But the massive rolled earth dam also claimed the lives of 15 workers and most of the reservation's river bottom land, which the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara people had relied on for centuries for their gardens, water and other resources. The Garrison Dam forced them to higher, windier ground and the new town of New Town as the reservoir of what would become Lake Sakakawea swallowed their homes.
On this date in 1953, The Bismarck Tribune rolled out its Garrison Dam souvenir edition, previewing President Eisenhower's visit for a ceremony celebrating the dam's closure to divert the Missouri River. The paper had dedicated two full-time reporters for six weeks to compile interviews and research for the special edition. One of the reporters had already been covering the dam throughout its construction with regular reports on the progress.
Articles detailed the dam's design and construction, its final phases, and even the weather forecast for Ike's visit. Some stories did focus on the dam's impact to the reservation. One story featured the 12 churches that were moved to avoid the rising water. One of those was the Elbowoods church, which burned down in April of this year. Another story profiled the "first family" of Riverdale who hoped to welcome President Eisenhower at the townsite as its first residents. The same family had previously welcomed other officials and dignitaries brought in by Senator Milton Young.
Newspaper ads in the Tribune compared the height of the North Dakota Capitol to the face of the dam and cheered for the president's impending visit. Another ad prominently featured the ceremony's agenda, listing army band music, water sport exhibitions, and remarks by Governor Norman Brunsdale and President Eisenhower.
The Tribune displays the framed cover of the Garrison Dam special edition among other historic front pages in a conference room at its office in Bismarck.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
The Bismarck Tribune, 1953, June 10.