In 1951, a catastrophic flood changed the course of the Missouri River. The French Bottoms, an area of fertile farmland in St. Joseph, originally lay in the bow of the river and formed the border between Missouri and Kansas. This map shows how the flooding carved a new path for the river to flow, creating an oxbow lake that now cuts off the small portion of Missouri. The map, however, does not show the effect the 1951 flood had on Missouri and its people.
While the flood altered Missouri’s natural landscape, it also altered the built environment in cities across the state. On Friday, July 13, 1951, the Kansas River flooded Kansas City, Kansas, before pouring over into the West Bottoms in Kansas City, Missouri. The floodwaters damaged homes, stockyards, warehouses, railroad yards, and packing plants. Oil tanks, destroyed by the water, erupted into major fires while boats collided with the Hannibal Bridge. From Kansas City, the excess water continued to rush through the Missouri River to St. Louis. In the end, the flood caused roughly $107 million in damages to Missouri cities and its agricultural industry. Although this map depicts only a portion of the flood, it is a reminder of how natural disasters have fundamentally changed both Missouri’s natural and built environment.