5 Myths About the Missouri River
1) Dead men are entombed in one or more of the Missouri’s dams.
The Truth: When the Army Corps of Engineers built the earthen dams across the Missouri, construction crews laid down soil and concrete in thin layers, making it impossible for anyone to be buried alive. Nevertheless, a landslide at Fort Peck Dam in 1938 killed eight men, six of whom were never found. Their bodies may or may not be in the dam.
2) Lewis and Clark were the first to explore the Missouri River.
The Truth: Centuries before Lewis and Clark, Native Americans explored the river and its tributaries. Furthermore, during the 18th century, French and Spanish traders explored the Missouri River at least as far as the Mandan villages near today’s Bismarck, North Dakota.
3) The Missouri River was more treacherous in the past than it is today.
The Truth: Prior to the construction of the river’s big dams and channelization structures, the Missouri flowed at an average current velocity of two miles per hour, while maintaining an average depth of three feet. Today, the river south of Sioux City flows at an average velocity of six miles per hour and maintains an average depth of nine feet. Recently, a dive team measured the river’s current velocity at Sioux City at 9.2 miles per hour and the river’s depth at twenty feet. If you have ever been on the Missouri below Sioux City, or had the misfortune of boating on one of the river’s reservoirs on a windy day, you know that the modern, human-engineered Missouri is not to be trifled with.
4) The Army Corps of Engineers has the river under control.
The Truth: After the Army completed the navigation channel south of Sioux City and the main-stem dams in North and South Dakota, it publicly claimed to have “tamed” the Wild Missouri. Yet, the Missouri still floods, sometimes spectacularly – as it did in 1993, 2011, and 2019.
5) The Missouri once possessed catfish big enough to eat a man.
The Truth: There has not been a single recorded instance in the history of the Missouri River of a catfish killing and eating a human being. Nonetheless, there have been large catfish caught in the Lower Missouri, including a 130-pound blue catfish taken near the river’s mouth in 2010. But even that record catfish would have been hardpressed to kill and eat a fully-grown man of average build. Catfish are not like sharks, they do not seek out human flesh. And in the recent historical period, the catfish in the river north and west of Sioux City did not grow as large as the catfish in the lower river. The Upper Missouri lacked the water volume, habitat, and food to support huge catfish.