History of Chouteau Lock and Dam


The Verdigris River has had a romantic and colorful role in the history of Oklahoma. Near its mouth, where the Arkansas, the Grand (Neosho), and the Verdigris Rivers converge, the Three Forks area was the center of exchange for products by trappers, Indians, French, and others. Great mission schools flourished and declined in the vicinity. The Indian occupation of this area included the Osages, the Cherokees and the Creeks. During the Civil War, it was the scene of bitter guerrilla fighting between the Northern and Southern factions.

The Chouteau Lock and Dam, located just upstream from Three Forks, is named for the early Chouteau family. Col. Auguste P. Chouteau, son of Jean Pierre Chouteau who established the first permanent white settlement in Oklahoma at the present site of Saline in 1796, purchased a trading house at Three Forks in 1823. He built a complete shipyard on the bank of the river and brought Creole carpenters from New Orleans and Saint Louis to build keelboats in which the traders shipped their furs and produce down the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans.

The little settlement has been known by several names - Falls City, Verdigris Falls, Verdigris Landing, Three Forks, Creek Agency and Sleepyville. With the coming of the railroad in 1871, the settlement moved north to the present site of Okay and was known successively as Coretta Switch, North Muskogee, Rex and finally, Okay.

The Three Forks marker commemorates where the Old Texas Road crossed, the location of the old trading post, Three Forks Landing, the Osage and Creek agencies, the arrival of the first party of emigrating Creek Indians in 1828, Washington Irving's visit in 1832, and the nearby tavern of Sam Houston, who lived in this area from 1829-'32.  

The town of Wagoner came into being when the Arkansas Valley and Kansas Railroad built to a junction with the Missouri-Kansas-Texas line here in 1886. It was named for the popular train dispatcher, "Big Foot" Wagoner of Parsons, Kansas. Muskogee took its name from the Creek Indians who were sometimes called "Muskogee" from the Muskogean language they spoke.


The Chouteau Lock and Dam project was authorized by the River and Harbor Act of 1946, amended by Flood Control Acts of 1948 and 1950.  Construction on the project was started in 1966, and it was essentially completed in 1970 at an estimated cost of $31,800,000.  It was officially opened to navigation on December 2, 1970.