|Little Missouri River, Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit (photo by Lillian Crook)|
The crooked Little Missouri River is in my bloodstream, deeply embedded in my psyche. I grew up working and playing on its banks in Slope County, North Dakota, and have canoed and kayaked almost every ND mile of the river countless times, and frequently written about my explorations on WildDakotaWoman. My favorite stretches of the river are in the Deep Creek area, my home country, and through the North Unit wilderness of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The river flows into the Missouri River north of Bismarck (now Lake Sakakawea), where I now live, and thus in some way, I drink its waters each and every day. In my file cabinet are many maps of the Little Missouri River including a thick folder filled with Wyoming maps, accumulated in my quest to learn more about the place from which the river begins. Today I've taken out that folder and am thus transported in my mind for many hours to these wild places, my spirit landscape.
The Little Missouri River originates west of Devils Tower National Monument in Crook County, Wyoming, due west of where I was born when my parents were stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base. How much more synchronicity can there be? It was destined that this sweet little river would burrow into my brain.
With a surname of Crook, I have some fascination with anything to do with Crook County and Camp Crook. These place-names "Crook" originate from the Civil War Union general, George Crook, a distant relative, who campaigned in the area in the 1870s and whose grave in Arlington Cemetery I've visited. There are several excellent books about Gen. Crook readily available for anyone interested in learning more. When I was a child, we took frequent Sunday excursions to places of interest, the Logging Camp Ranch and nearby Burning Coal Vein, Pretty and Bullion buttes, the Limber Pines, the Powder River area, Medicine Rocks, and, naturally, Camp Crook, South Dakota.
|Crook Walk at Arlington Cemetery, Lillian with her daughter, Chelsea (photo by Jim Fuglie)|
"As a surname [Crook] first appeared as Crok, Cruke, Crokes and Crekes, which should indicate the name was once associated with a creek....It is found in very old records in England, Ireland and Scotland....One who dwelt near a bend in the river or road might be called Bend or Crook." Crook, an American Family, 1698-1955, pg. 11. Crook is a historic market town in County Durham in the northeast of England and hosts an annual Crook Carnival every July as well as Crookfest, a music festival. Sadly, I did not visit Crook when I traveled to England in 2019 -- yet another reason to return.
|The Camp Crook Centennial t-shirt was purchased when my sisters and I visited Camp Crook on a backroads expedition from Medora to Spearfish. The cookbook was a gift from my mother. The photo right was taken in 2017 when my friend Valerie and I visited Crooks Tower, one of the highest and most remote summits in the Black Hills of SD. The tower is long gone. |
|Little Missouri River Basin, 1959|
"A butte is a mesa's orphan, the freestanding remnant of a larger landform. Protected from the erosional brunt of rain, frost, and wind by its overlay of hard caprock, the butte's mass stands flat-topped and steep-sided, always taller than it is wide. The parent escarpment may be but a gap of space away: imagine this gap filled with rock and you can picture the entire landform's sweeping, high-crowned continuity." Ellen Meloy, Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez, 2006.
"The basin formerly consisted of broad rolling upland surfaces that since have been extensively eroded into breaks and badlands. This is particularly true in the lower reaches from the southwest corner of North Dakota to its confluence with the Missouri River....a well-cut channel...spectacular, fantastic, colorful and intriguing." (Little Missouri River Basin, 1959)
"There was no particular motive for the trip. It was a vacation and done for the mere joy of it, although back of it all was a passionate love for the Bad Lands and the Missouri River, and an intense interest in ornithology, geology, archeology, and the historic associations with which the region is especially rich."
|Lillian (photo by Jim Fuglie)|
|Jim Fuglie (photo by Lillian Crook)|
|Jim and Lillian (photo by the camera)|
|Lillian, the late Lizzie, and our yellow canoe|
"The earliest USGS topographic map on which the name Little Missouri River appears is the 1:125,000-scale Devils Tower, Wyoming map, published in 1905. Unfortunately, the exact source of the stream is not made clear, although it would appear to originate upstream of the present-day location of Oshoto Reservoir."
"Presumably, because of the imprecision of the 1905 map, the BGN decided in 1930 to establish the official source of the stream. The October 7, 1931 decision read "...rising in Sec.14, T53N, R68W of 6th P.M. Wyoming, Cook Co. [sic]....". Following this decision, the USGS Devils Tower topographic map was reprinted in 1939, although with no change in the placement of the type for Little Missouri River, but this name placement did not alter the official source as established in 1931."
|The 1905 USGS map from my collection|
"In 1957, the first larger-scale map, entitled Oshoto and produced at a scale of 1:62,500, was published. This is the map...on which Oshoto Reservoir first appears. The name Little Missouri River continued to appear upstream of the reservoir, yet the name was placed on the more "southerly" tributary, in conflict with the application decreed by the BGN in 1931. The exact source of the stream is not apparent on the 1957 map, because the feature extends beyond the edge of the map, but it is clearly, and incorrectly not the aforementioned tributary, 'rising in Sec. 14, T53N,R68W....".
He continues: "In 1962, the Army Map Service (AMS) in cooperation with the USGS, published its 1:250,000-scale Gillette topographic map. Despite the small scale of this map, the name Little Missouri River was clearly applied to the more "westerly" tributary (that is, present-day Deadman Creek). Although this corresponded to the location established by the BGN in 1931, the BGN was informed in 1974 by a representative of the USGS Mapping Center that the application was incorrect. Based on field investigation conducted by the Mapping Center, local authorities recommended that the source be depicted in accordance with the 1957/59 map, not the 1962 AMS map or the 1931 BGN decision. This investigation further revealed that the more westerly tributary was indeed Deadman Creek. Upon review of this evidence, the BGN voted on December 10, 1974 to change officially the application of the name Little Missouri River to the more southerly tributary and apply officially the name Deadman Creek to the more westerly stream. This application is still official for Federal use today, although...the name Little Missouri River appears only downstream of Oshoto Reservoir on the 1984 Oshoto topographic map."
|1957 Oshoto quad from my collection|
|1972 Flag Butte map from my collection|
|1955 Army Service Map Wyoming|
|1984 Oshoto quad from my collection (what started it all)|
|I can't help but wonder why all states can't produce |
such a map with rich topographic detail as Wyoming's
|The headwaters of the Little Missouri River, Crook County, Wyoming, the Little Missouri Buttes on the right horizon|
|Lillian Crook, overlooking the Little Missouri River headwaters in Crook County, Wyoming|
Confirming that indeed there was a reservoir, albeit small, near the tiny village of Oshoto, we knew the myth of the undammed river arose from the confusion in the maps described above, stemming from the 1984 version of the map that did not name the river above the dam. Nonetheless, about 555 miles of the river's 560 miles run freely through the wild landscape. We headed north, staying as close to the banks of the river as the roads allowed, the perfect exploration of the Little Missouri River country. Throughout its Wyoming and Montana reach, it is really more a prairie stream, dotted with place names signifying the river's name. It isn't until Camp Crook, SD, that a bridge of any significance crosses the river, and after that, there are just seven more bridges of any substance, at Marmarth, Medora (interstate, highway, and railroad), near Watford City, and the illegal bridge, all in ND, and a whole lot of "Texas crossings" built by the local ranchers, wide places filled with rocks (some naturally occurring, some hauled in) rendering it easier to cross except in the rare instances of high water.
Our destination that last night of the road trip was the US Forest Service campground southwest of Camp Crook in the West Short Pines, one of the many "pine islands" scattered about this west river country, rolling hills covered with ponderosa pine, uprising from the prairie expanse, thus different from the more commonly occurring buttes. Short Pines was once a Forest Reserve in its own right, established in 1905, but is now part of the Gallatin National Forest. Sadly, there had been a recent fire in the area. We had the entire campground to ourselves and a splendid, star-filled sky.
Postscript: I am now a member of the Fort Crook Museum in California and have met someone at the ND Heritage Center who grew up in Crook County, Oregon.