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Havre History: The Bull Hook unit of the Havre flood control project


November 8, 2013

Photo compliments of Tom Echelard Collection

A car was washed into Bull Hook Creek near 5th Avenue during the 1938 flood that damaged much of Havre. The creek overflowed and a bridge landed in the creek.

(This is part 1 of a 2 part series.)

In 1913, James J. Hill, founder and owner of the Great Northern Railway, was in Havre for the J.J. Hill County Fair, then located east of town. J. J. Hill Day was on Sept. 15 and after greeting the crowd, he said, as the Havre Promoter reported:

"The first time I came to this part of the country was long before you had a name. There was a little brook running into the Milk River that we called Bull Hook. In looking over a location for division point we found the best water in Bull Hook Creek. It had something to do with the selection of our division point. Nothing else will take the place of good water."

Throughout the years Bull Hook, the spelling of which was changed at some point to Bullhook, has flooded its banks, sometimes causing considerable damage.

As Havre grew, the damage worsened. In June 1938, Havre had a major flood. An inch and three quarters of rain fell in an hour, this included 1.20 inches in a half hour. The Havre Daily News reported:

"... fighting thousand of tons of water which swept over the city from Bull Hook Creek which drains the Bear Paws south of the city."

It went on to say that the flood was the worst in the history of floods in Havre. The base-

ment level of the courthouse was flooded with over three feet of water, up to the window sills. A car belonging to Dr. W. B. Rogers, the former mayor of Havre, was swept into Bull Hook. The people that lived on the south end of Havre said that when Bull Hook overflowed its banks, it hit the city like a wall several feet high.

A mass meeting was held at the courthouse June 29, 1938, to discuss Bull Hook, the damage it was causing and flood control measures. In 1944, Congress authorized the Flood Control Project here in Havre, but no funds were issued due to World Was II and the Korean War.

In April 1952 Havre had another major flood - this flood caused excessive damage and left hundreds of people homeless.

On May 27, 1952, President Truman asked Congress for money to fund 11 flood-control projects in the United States. One was for the Havre Montana Flood Control Project, which was already planned and mapped out by the Army Corps of Engineers to cure the flooding of Bull Hook and the Milk River in Havre. The flood control project was divided in two parts; Bull Hook dam being part one and the construction of a dike along the Milk River being part two.

Photo courtesy of Don Greytak Collection

A bridge over Bull Hook Creek caved in during this flood. The building in the back is the old VanOrsdel United Methodist Church before it burned down. The date of the photo is not certain.

Before they could start, local government had to secure the acquisition of land and rights of way. In January 1953, Havre City Council created a special improvement district to fund its share of the Bull Hook and the Milk River Flood Control Project.

In June 1953, Havre had another flood, Bull Hook was overflowing into Havre Streets.

The Havre Daily News reported:

"By 1 p.m. Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Avenues were running curb full of water in some areas and cars driving in the flooded areas were running hub-deep in the overflow waters from Bull Hook. City Crews Busy."

In July 1953, the acquisitions of land needed for impounding flood waters and right-of-ways for construction of dikes, dams and ditches, and the construction of bridges, were completed. Bids were then called for to build the Bull Hook dam, which included the Scott Coulee dam. Scotts Coulee also drains into Bull Hook.


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