It Came Down the River

In Days Before Dams

By John M. Larsen

Before the C.J. Strike Dam was built southeast of Grand View in 1958, nothing held back the floodwater that came surging down the mighty Snake River during spring runoff. At Marsing, the islands in the river often would be completely submerged as the water crested up to six feet higher than it does today.

Back then, I was down at the river’s edge every chance I got, along with Cockroach (real name Bobby Roach) and other friends, to search through the reeds and willows for whatever treasures might come floating by.

After the Sinker Creek Dam (officially the Hulet Dam) south of Murphy burst in 1943, it was especially great to patrol the green riverbanks as a young lad, because an abundance of wonderful things floated by: shacks, outhouses, cows, and boats, to name a few.

We weren’t the only ones on the lookout for such prizes. The nation was plunged in World War II and everything was rationed or placed aside to maximize the war effort.

For example, my parents started to build a home on our ten acres in 1942 but had to settle for a basement house until the war ended because of the unavailability of materials. This put local lumberyard owner W. P. (Bill) Bales out of business, as he could not get lumber or hardware to sell. When the dam burst and lumber floated by on the river, Bill tried to salvage some of it from the swirling current. But the wave of water was changing the river channels and he evidently made a misjudgment. His boat capsized and he drowned, in effect becoming Marsing’s first war victim.

Each year, we boys figured that whatever we could catch we could keep. The boats were a special prize. When one of these vessels, a rowboat about ten feet long, came close enough to shore, tousle-haired Cockroach and I snared it. We immediately imagined ourselves ready to rule the high seas as pirates. Both of us were a little small for ten-year-olds, and we had neither a boat trailer nor understanding parents, which limited our options.

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John M. Larsen

About John M. Larsen

John M. Larsen came to Idaho in 1940, went to high school in Marsing, and graduated from the College of Idaho. His parents were co-founders the Owyhee County Historical Society and from 1998 to 2018, John was either the society’s president or a board member. He worked for the City of Marsing and later was a consultant for the city until 2018.

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