Enabling the Formation of a Large Drainage District
In January of 1905 the Missouri Legislature’s first order of business was to enable the formation of a large drainage district that could receive tax revenue for its operations.
1905 – 1907: COURT PROCESS
Attorney and former Missouri State Senator from Cape Girardeau, R.B. Oliver, prepared and introduced a proposed bill permitting formation of The Little River Drainage District. On April 8, 1905 Governor Joseph Wingate Folk signed the bill into law. (Interesting: Marie Elizabeth Watkins Oliver, wife of R.B. Oliver, designed the Missouri State Flag in Cape Girardeau in 1908)
However, the District could not be formed until a state circuit court approved its plans. On September 20, 1905 the Oliver and Oliver law firm filed in New Madrid County Circuit Court the longest petition ever filed at that time in a Missouri civil proceeding. In the 285 pages, the filing traced the proposed district’s boundaries, outlined its plans, and sought authority to levy taxes to carry out the drainage improvements and maintain the facilities that were to be built. The first name to appear on the petition was Otto Kochtitzky, who later became The Little River Drainage District’s first Chief Engineer.
Not everyone liked the idea, and opposition quickly surfaced. The opposing forces were mostly railroads which built lines into the swamps to serve the timber industry and the limited number of farms operating there. The opposing railroads – the Cottonbelt, Iron Mountain, and Frisco – were a dynamic group. If railroad companies were not the biggest landowners in the drainage district, they were one of the largest. A prominent opponent was Cape Girardeau entrepreneur Louis Houck, a railroad developer and landowner whose endeavors have left positive and lasting imprints on much of Southeast Missouri. Mr. Houck fought against every effort to form the District.
But eventually, the United States Supreme Court in The Little River Drainage District v. Louis Houck agreed with the Missouri Supreme Court in saying that the plaintiff was wrong in all claims and thereby upheld the constitutionality of the law under which the District was organized.
On November 30, 1907, authority to incorporate The Little River Drainage District was granted by the Butler County Circuit Court in Poplar Bluff, Missouri to which the case had been transferred out of the proposed drainage district on a change of venue.
1907 – 1912: PLAN FOR DRAINAGE
Once LRDD was approved by the Butler County Circuit Court in 1907, the organizers had two immediate and important tasks: Elect Board of Supervisors and design a “Plan for Drainage”.
In December of 1907 all the landowners in The Little River Drainage District elected the first five-member Board of Supervisors. Each landowner had one vote for every acre they were assessed. This criteria for voting is still used today.
The first President of The Little River Drainage District Board of Supervisors was John H. Himmelberger, one of the original organizers and one of the driving forces behind the District. Himmelberger served the District faithfully and energetically until his death in 1930. The other four Supervisors were C.W. Henderson, Alfred L. Harty, S.P. Reynolds, and A.J. Matthews. The Board selected George S. Hansford as the Secretary-Treasury and hired Otto Kochtitzky as Chief Engineer. Oliver and Oliver law firm was selected as legal counsel.
In formulating a “Plan for Drainage” Chief Engineer, Kochtitzky was joined by top engineers. Isham Randolph of Chicago who had been involved in the Panama Canal construction added his input and the dean of the Engineering School of the University of Iowa, Daniel Meade.
Otto Kochtitzky, in 1881, was sent into the Little River Valley to survey the area between New Madrid and Malden for the Arkansas Railroad. After the rail line was sold to the Cotton Belt system, Kochtitzky moved to Cape Girardeau where he married and lived while he had a land trading business.
In 1903, Kochtitzky published “Map of the Lowland of Southeast Missouri.” It covered the seven counties that would eventually make up The Little River Drainage District. (see photo below)
From around Cape Girardeau to the Arkansas state line, there was a 100 feet drop in elevation. As the distance is about 100 miles that is an average drop of one foot per mile which should allow easy drainage. This was the center point in The Little River Drainage District plan to drain the Bootheel. Some people questioned if this drop in elevation was realistic in expecting gravity to pull the water off the land. The engineers were confident it was.
Map design by Otto Kochtitzky in 1903
When everyone agreed on the proposed “Plan for Drainage”, it was submitted to Colonel J.A. Ockerson, a member of the Mississippi River Commission; C.E. Elliot, head of the reclamation division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and the chief engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They all agreed the plan would work, and on November 15, 1909, the Board of Supervisors adopted the “Plan for Drainage”.
The “Plan for Drainage” was submitted to the Butler County Circuit Court in Poplar Bluff, Missouri which resulted in the finalization of the “Original Petition of The Little River Drainage District Circuit Court – Butler County 1912”.
After the plan for drainage was approved, the Judge of the Circuit Court appointed 3 commissioners:
Wm. Cooper Cracraft of Cape Girardeau County, Hina C. Shult of Pemiscot County, and M.O. Reed of Stoddard County. They assessed benefits to the lands reclaimed under the drainage plan and the District began collecting taxes from the landowners.