LAKE TEXOMA, Okla. (KFOR) – There aren’t very many people left who remember the Red River as it existed a century ago near towns like Durant, Kingston, Madill and Tishomingo, Okla.
The waters backed up by the Denison Dam created the state’s largest lake and a playground that attracts six million visitors every year.
Downstream from the dam, Texoma Lake Manager Jacob Ellison can talk at length about how the ‘Raging Red’ (as it was called then) used to spill its banks just about every spring.
Controlling all that water was, chiefly, why this dam was built.
“Construction began in 1937,” he says. “This particular dam has saved billions of dollars over 75 years in flood damage reduction.”
Local farmer, turned congressman, turned Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn pushed the idea through the legislature.
Construction began in the 1930’s and finished just as World War II ended.
“I want my people out of the mud and out of the dark,” Rayburn is quoted as saying.
The huge hydroelectric turbines, one of which is now on display, turned on shortly after the lake filled up.
There might be no construction project in south central Oklahoma that changed the landscape more than this one did.
Commander of the Tulsa Corps district Col. Scott Preston, and the people who gathered for a 75th year, would say the Denison Dam proved a good idea.
“We’ve got 23 marinas and 125 federal Corps sites; campgrounds, boat ramps and docks,” he says.
A few speakers and the Durant High School Band showed up in a dust settling light rain to celebrate three-quarters century of making electricity and drinking water, controlling floods and catching Stripers.
Lake Manager Ellison sites, “We’ve been listed as one of the top 100 bass lakes.”
It’s hard for anyone to imagine Texoma Country and its big lake not being here at all.
Those old days were swept away a lifetime ago and the waters don’t show any sign of receding.
Six different counties in Oklahoma and Texas surround Lake Texoma.
The Corps estimates 8 million people live within an hour’s drive of its shores.
For more information on the lake and its history, go to www.recreation.gov/camping/gateways/578.