St. Charles County, Missouri
Theft of 17,000 acres and uprooting of peoples and destruction of towns. The emotional & mental cost was ignored and the government was not bothered in the least.
IN FACT, the government caused the upheaval and then did not pay for half of the land for six years.
Busch Wildlife Area Map. Not shown is the Weldon Springs conservation map. Together they comprised most of the 1940 Government land theft west of St. Louis Missouri.
I suppose acceptance of oppression is one of the hallmarks of civilization. Accept the corruption of kings, city councils, judges and home owners associations. The alternative is often chaos. And Chaos is rarely a good thing....
And when power or corruption is out of control?
The Government steals 17,000 acres displacing generations.
Our government then refused to pay at the agreed upon price. (A price agreed upon at gunpoint)
And be dammed the mental, physical, family, generational, societal and monetary damage and anguish resulting from the theft.
"Your land is now our land"
Like millions others Ambrose went overseas for Roosevelt's War
Ambrose's family Farm was the land Under the current "Lake 33" in the conservation area
It was not until his final days on earth that Ambrose talked about the Government men and Roosevelt's soldiers.
I was genuinely surprised that he had never broached the subject because nearly my entire life Ambrose had regaled me with stories of growing up in the area now known as Busch Wildlife Area. (August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area)
It wasn't that it was a particularly exciting time or exiting area: Farming country in eastern Missouri towards the end of the decade long depression.
However Ambrose was privy to details and people that were mostly lost to history.
On the northern edge of the land I knew as "Busch Conservation Area"- there are poison ivy covered ruins that in Ambrose's youth, had been houses and barns. When Ambrose was a boy, the crude stone chimneys dotting Dardenne Creek had been rotting pioneer log cabins.
Bridges had names, creeks had fords and head stones had names and faces to be associated with remembered people.
The ruins, some letters and yellowed newspapers were that remained of a community & three towns forced away at the point of a bayonet.
The area west of St. Louis, across the Missouri River had been a German and Irish community of farmers intermingled with some of the original European settlers. Spanish & French from when the area was known as the Louisiana Territory.
All the Presidents wars
Ambrose talked of grand uncles who fought in President Lincoln's war at a place called Vicksburg. Ambrose described crippled neighbors who had given a leg or lung in President Wilson's overseas war.
However no one could have ever imagined that President Roosevelt would steal 17,000 acres of prime farm land to build the worlds largest munitions plant for Roosevelt's war that had not even been declared yet.
"Eminent Domain" where the words he had said with a whisper. There was pain in those words. Soul wrenching deep-but little talked about pain.
A war across the Pacific Ocean
(One of Ambrose's photos he gave me without any details)
I have read how many of the World War Two veterans never talked about their war experience (or medals) until weak and gasping their last breath.
And indeed Ambrose's stories of being in the Army in the Pacific campaign would have one would believe he had never touched a rifle.
His photo's of fallen comrades in distant lands belied his stories --stories mostly about a grand armada of thousands of soldiers packed in boats traveling the endless Pacific Ocean.
Ambrose's WWII stories always stopped at land fall. Even at the end of his life he would not talk about the war 'after departing the transport ship' nor explain the faded photos of Japanese soldiers.
Ambrose's final stories were not about Burma or the fierce soldiers of the Rising Sun.
No his final stories were from an even greater pain from before the war.
His mother's pain.
Ambrose's mother on her death bed had relived the terrible day Roosevelt's soldiers had burned their home and barns.
She had wailed out a name that pulled on ancient heart strings "Shep!"
For the soldiers had shot the family Shepherd mix dog.
Live stock that had not been moved, or could not be moved for age or lameness were also shot as the flames licked one hundred year old farmsteads.
All of the area from the O'Day Branch Creek, Dardenne Creek east to the Missouri River was thick in smoke, the sky orange as Government agents and soldiers burned what could not be moved.
Painting on the floor at the Weldon Springs interpretive center.
"Acquired" is such a sterile word.
How his mother had wailed that day.
Her cheeks scratched with self inflicted wounds and moans louder than any pains of childbirth or the crushing agony of a still born child.
How would the family be fed? Land was everything. Their garden, their spring of sweet water that was the envy of the community.
The deep attachment to the land via buried children and pets, the memories of weddings, Christmas celebrations, barn raising and communal sufferings of blizzard, flood and drought. Pain that bonded families and neighbors.
His father-a man of great loquacity had hardly spoken aside from instructions on moving Poly their milk cow to St. Charles until a new farm could be purchased or leased.
Only the homes near the new TNT plant were spared the burning. Atlas Powder Company took over schools and homes that were close to the new plant
Local News paper article from 1940
A dozen agents of the R. Newton McDowell Company of Kansas City, authorized agents for the United States Government to purchase 18,000 acres of land in the Hamburg-Howell neighborhood for construction of a $14,000,000 high explosive plant, began their duties Monday morning.
The men came here from the Kansas City office and were accompanied by Mr. McDowell who will be in charge of activities. The company has opened an office in the Building and Loan building.
Each agent is carrying a copy of the authorization from Col Valliant of the United States Army.
The authorization, dated October 23, reads:
To Whom it may Concern:
A contract has this date been entered into with the Mr. R. Newton McDowell, Kansas City, Mo., to obtain options for the United States of America on approximately 18,000 acres of land in the vicinity of Weldon Springs, St. Charles County, Missouri.
Mr. McDowell and his agents are duly authorized to procure said options on behalf of the War Department and the United States and it is hoped that full cooperation will be given Mr. McDowell and his agents in procuring said options on the property in question which is a vital link in the national defense program
R. D. Valliant, Colonel, Q. M. C.
U. S. Army
Twenty six years after the burning, his mother dying relived that story, her worst day; and a terrible wail had sounded in the hospital bed.
Ambrose at her side, also had to relive his worst day.
His utter helplessness to provide any aid or consolation to his distraught mother while the house was torched and orange-red flames burned everything they had known.
Their wagon has crossed the old iron Dardenne Creek bridge and out of sight of the flames and destruction
Before the coming of the soldiers
In his final days, Ambrose told me how he had been plowing the arrowhead rich fertile land where Dardenne Creek and Kraut Run merged together when the strangers in the ebony black car stopped at their farm entrance.
The Government men from Kansas City come to serve papers that their farm was forfeit for the war effort.
Even though there was not a war except across the ocean-other nations wars.
The papers stated that they along with the other families had forty-five days to vacate. 45 brief days to find another farm to shelter the family and livestock. But no money was offered to help.
"Fair compensation for the farm would be forthcoming." explained the Kansas City man to his parents.
"In war everyone has to sacrifice and you just happed to have to sacrifice your land"
"But there is no war!" his mother had protested.
"You can accept the fair offer or the government will condemn the land and take it for a third of the value," was all the man said, for he had other neighbors to inform that their property was forfeit for a war not yet declared.
"Forty-five days," Ambrose had whispered to me.
I learned there was no money to help relocate, to help rent or purchase new land. No money to feed the live stock that could be rescued from Roosevelt's men.
No compensation to feed the families. Nothing to placate the banks that demanded payments after a decades long depression.
For even though the government agents soon held the deeds to the lands; the farmers still owed the banks for any loans against the those lands.
Just 45 days notice. Get off the Government land.
There had been estate sales of sorts. Impromptu sales of anything that could be sold just to eat. To purchase food for the milk cow. Repair the old farm wagons.
Although he had never said it before, Ambrose was still bitter at the people who came out of St. Louis to purchase their family's goods for penny's on the dollar.
"Vultures" is how Ambrose described the St. Louis visitors who were on a grand holiday adventure to find a bargain.
They were not being evicted for Roosevelt's war.
On the wall at the Weldon Springs Interpretive Center.
Three Missouri towns were erased with one stroke: Toonerville, Howell & Hamburg
Ambrose returned from the war to find the families best farm land submerged beneath the lake.
A Satellite photo of western St. Charles County shows several large lakes. The largest lake is "Lake St. Louis" however to the south west of the largest lake is Lake #33 in the August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area
Lake 33 where Kraut Run Creek and Dardenne Creek once merged.
Ambrose's family farm lands lie under Lake 33 where Kraut Run Creek and Dardenne Creek once merged. The family home and barns once stood in the clear area at the bottom right where the road shifts.
A "World War II photo" of the family farm when the two creeks merged.
The aerial photograph used by the Government in their eminent domain/condemnation of the St. Charles County land. As if they were planning for an invasion..... Or a theft of 17,000 acres....
During the years before I had joined the United States Air Force, Ambrose had personally taken me to the overgrown parcel where his family farm had once stood before the coming of Roosevelt's soldiers and fire.
Oldly enough, I had already explored the hill and fields of his family home. Because all the hills around the intersection of the two creeks were covered in flint chips and broken arrowheads.
The hill where the house had stood was nondescript-an elm and Osage Orange covered hill overlooking the intersection of Dardenne Creek and Kraut Run Creek. Those intersections of streams under the water of the largest lake in the August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area: "Lake 33" had been submerged for my entire life.
So it was just fascinating as Ambrose pointed out the long gone buildings and neighbor's homes. Including a nearby school.
Spillway of Lake 33. The homestead was behind the trees
Ambrose, Rest in Peace, 1927-2019
The TNT Plant
Poster on wall at the Weldon Springs interpretive center.
Ambrose's family settled in Cottleville.
Ambrose like thousands of other farm kids went to war across the ocean.
The United States Government constructed the largest TNT works on the planet.
Records of the Department of the Army's Weldon Spring Ordinance Works:
Plant began operation in 1941 and eventually had more than 1,000 buildings, employed 5,000 people and manufactured 700 million pounds of TNT.
The fumes alone were so intense that the waters of Dardenne Creek flowed chemical pink for years-a lifeless stream.
The Femme-Osage Creek below the plant was so polluted that there were massive fish kills where the creek emptied into the Missouri River. The Government re-routed the Femme-Osage away from the TNT plant and sealed off the original channel to create a giant red cess pool of poison.
Peach orchards in Wentzville twelve miles to the north died or were barren during the war years (The TNT plant's operation)
The Weldon Springs Ordnance Works closed in 1944!
Over half of the displaced farmers did not get paid for their land until 1946.
One of the approximate 100 TNT bunkers that dot the landscape south of Dardenne Creek and Lake 33
The government finally fulfilled their obligations to the displaced farmers. However the Banks of St. Louis and St. Charles had been waiting since 1940 for "their" checks.
Farmers who had taken their plight to the United States Supreme Court to get (any) compensation for their farms, suddenly found themselves without (any) compensation. As banks intercepted the government money.
A large portion of the farmers had mortgage payments on the original land taken by the United States Government.
Four years of interest had accumulated and the banks swept in for their just due.
A sad tale of woe....
As the government man from Kansas City so artfully explained "This is war and people must make sacrifices.
Missouri Department of Conservation
1947, only a year after the last farmers (and banks) were paid for their land; the United States sold 8,000 acres of the Eminent Domain "acquired" land to the Missouri Department of Conservation.
The Army National Guard received a large portion and Missouri University was awarded the largest section.
I do commend the Government.
For they 'grudgingly' allowed some of the farmers, upon their death to be buried in the family cemeteries with their ancestors who had settled in the area when it was a Spanish territory known as Upper Louisiana.
The farmers had given up their homes and livelihood, some had given up a son and other had worked at the TNT plant on their old land for President Roosevelt's War.
The generosity of the Government is sometimes startling.
Never expect fair treatment from the justice system, the federal or local Politicians.
I did not write that because of some vast conspiracy. It is just a simple truth that humans are flawed.
Greed and power seeps into the pores.
People who make the rules, enforce the rules and follow the rules are flawed creatures.
The wolves in charge depend up everyday sheep to accept corruption of the ruling class, accept oppressive rules and taxes.
The role of sheep is to hope things get better while trying to care for family and loved ones.
Return HOME from Eminent Domain of Busch Conservation Area
My book on Florida history:
Struggle for the northern frontier and other lost tales of old Florida