Notes from the Field, July 2, 2011, Pick City

Pick City, North Dakota.  Pick City was named in honor of U.S. Army General Lewis A. Pick, author of the Pick Plan for Missouri River Development.  In the wake of the Missouri River floods of 1943, Pick submitted a plan to Congress in August of that year that proposed the construction of five earthen dams across the main-stem of the Missouri in North and South Dakota.  Pick believed his dams would protect the lower valley from floods, secure the navigation channel from complete destruction by the Missouri’s high flows, and ensure Army control over the entire Missouri Valley through the Dakotas by acquiring an excessive “taking area” of land for storage space in the reservoirs.

Pick’s plan recommended dams at Gavin’s Point, Fort Randall, Oahe, Oak Creek, and Garrison.  Pick considered Garrison Dam necessary to hold back the floodwaters of the Yellowstone River.  Since a large dam could not be built across the Lower Yellowstone, Garrison became the means of checking that river. Pick and the Army insisted Garrison be included in the Pick-Sloan Plan legislation of 1944.  The Bureau of Reclamation and its Missouri River expert, Glenn Sloan, opposed the construction of Garrison.  Sloan did not believe Garrison would provide enough benefits to justify its cost.  He also thought the Missouri’s two annual floods could be stopped by a series of smaller dams along the river’s tributaries rather than a handful of massive dams and reservoirs athwart the main-stem.  Sloan concluded that with Fort Peck’s storage already in place by 1940, the Missouri’s flooding could be brought to an end with only three additional main-stem dams rather than the Army’s five.  Sloan’s fewer dam’s and reservoirs would have to be operated properly in order to guarantee flood protection for the lower valley, but he knew that could be done.  In 1944, Sloan lost, Pick won, and the Army gained congressional authorization to construct Garrison Dam.   Pick did not get his Oak Creek Dam near Mobridge, South Dakota.  But in lieu of that structure, he and the Army did gain a higher Oahe Dam at Pierre and a power generating dam at Big Bend.

Pick City lies about a mile west of Garrison.  It arose in the late 1940s during the dam’s construction.  It would not be here today if it had not been for Lewis A. Pick.  The town exists because the dam exists.  Pick’s namesake city has “Teresa’s” grocery store, “Little’s” bar and grill, a car wash, a motel, a smattering of trailer houses, and another bar named the “Dam Bar.”  The bars are the town’s two centers of activity.  Both their parking lots are full on Friday night.  Posters plastered on the exterior walls of the bars advertise various low-grade American brews.  Pick City hardly honors Lewis A. Pick anymore.  From what I know of Pick, his reincarnated self would cringe at the sight of the town named for him.  He would immediately order it renamed “Sloan City” to disgrace one of his most intelligent and politically potent critics, the mild-mannered Glenn Sloan.

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