1912 Sioux Falls Mill Dam Tragedy Killed Three On Big Sioux River
Sioux Falls has a lot of history. And with that history, there are many stories of death, loss, and tragedy.
Sioux Falls was incorporated in 1876 then became a city in March of 1889. In 1877 a dam was built on the Big Sioux River just north of what is now 8th Street.
This Dam at 8th Street was built of native quartzite and was 6 ft wide at the base with the whole structure firmly bolted to the bedrock.
This dam is was what is known as a 'Low-Head' dam. THose types of dams came to be known as a very dangerous pieces of river architecture responsible for killing many people all over the United States.
When water flows over these low-head dams it creates strong turbulence that sucks in victims and pushes them underwater. It continues this action again and again pulling a person back to the face of the dam in a repeating cycle.
Once someone is caught up in the waters below a low-head dam they rarely live to escape a drowning death.
If you've traveled the Sioux Falls bike trail just south of the Ark of Dreams you may have noticed a placard under 8th Street not far from the Country Inn and Suites.
The placard commemorates the MILL DAM TRAGEDY of 1912.
The placard explains that ... on May 13, 1912, during a flood of the Big Sioux River, four young Sioux Falls' men steered two crafts, a rowboat, and a canoe, over the Cascade Mill dam.
Guy Beck and Mat Yost successfully made the descent, but John Meehan and Will Dahl were thrown from their canoe when it capsized.
When Beck and Yost pulled Meehan into their rowboat, the dam's turbulent current overturned it. Pitched into the backwash, the three men were swept upstream to the dam where floodwater surging over the dam pushed them down to the river bottom and then downstream.
The hydraulic action of the low-head dam then circulated them to the surface where the backwash again carried them upstream to the dam. The cycle was repeated again and again until a hushed crowd of over 2500 watched the recovery of three bodies.
Using over 100 dynamite charges, searchers tried vainly for three days to bring Will Dahl's body to the surface. He was finally located pinned between rocks only 40 feet from the dam.
The Big Sioux River claimed nine lives in Minnehaha County during the 1912 spring flood.