Native American Heritage Month

By Brig. Gen. David C. Hill

November is National Native American Heritage Month, with a theme of “Serving our Nations.”  What a great theme that dovetails with other November observances that highlight service, such as Veterans Day. But the spotlight throughout the month belongs on Native Americans and their contributions, sacrifices, and achievements that have made our nation the great country that it is today.


Native Americans have a long and illustrious history throughout the Southwestern Division region, and their influence is still seen today.  Although they comprise a relatively small number of our Division workforce at 68, that is still almost 20 percent of the Native American percentage across the USACE workforce.  Oklahoma alone is home to 39 federally recognized Tribes, and Texas to three.  Our Tulsa District, with 47 of SWD’s 68 Native American colleagues, has a strong Tribal Support Program that affects the quality of life of the Tribes within its District boundaries.

Although I have shared this information previously, I think it really brings home the significance of the Native American influence in our region:  the very names of the states within our Division all trace their roots back to American Indians.

  • Arkansas, from Acansa: the name of a Quapaw Indian town and literally means “southern or downstream place;”
  • Oklahoma, from Okla Homma: “Red People” in the Chowtaw Indian language;
  • Texas, from tejas or taysha: “friend” in the Caddo Indian language;
  • Missouri: named for the Missouri Indian tribe whose name means “town of the large canoes;”
  • And Kansas: from the Kansa Indian tribe, literally “south” and meaning “people of the south wind.”

Not only are Native Americans part of USACE and the U.S. Army today, they have participated with distinction in U.S. military actions for more than 200 years. Their courage, determination, and fighting spirit were recognized by American military leaders as early as the 18th century.   Some have served quietly and with no recognition, and some famously.  The latter who immediately come to mind are the Navajo code talkers in World War II, and Marine Corporal Ira Hayes, who was one of six flag raisers immortalized in the iconic photograph of the flag raising on Iwo Jima during World War II.

Their military contributions continued in the 1980s, 90’s and this century, as they saw combat in Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.  Altogether, American Indians have earned 71 Air Medals, 51 Silver Stars, 47 Bronze Stars, 34 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 32 Medals of Honor.

The Army will never forget the contributions and sacrifices of Native Americans, and in at least one small way, we work to honor them through a long-standing tradition of using American Indian names for our helicopters.

In the case of the Army’s newest Lakota aircraft, the name honors the Lakota legacy as stalwart defenders of their homeland. Joe Red Cloud, a chief of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Lakota Nation, accepted the Army’s first Lakota helicopter, saying, “You honor our tribe by naming this helicopter Lakota. You are not only honoring our past, you are recognizing that we are still here, joint partners in the heritage of the promise of America.”


5 Oklahoma locks and dams on the Ark. River Navigation System

By Jay Townsend
Photos by Preston Chasteen

The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) is made up of 18 locks and dams, three different rivers and one manmade canal. All are managed to ensure year-round nautical navigation on the 445 mile system.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tulsa District manages the Oklahoma portion – five locks and dams and 137 miles of channel.

Down the Verdigris River from the Port of Catoosa near Tulsa, Oklahoma is the farthest upstream navigation structure on the MKARNS, Newt Graham Lock & Dam #18.

Newt Graham Lock & Dam #18
Newt Graham Lock & Dam #18

Construction on the project started in 1967 and was essentially completed in 1970 at an estimated cost of $43,400,000. The Lock 18 pool offers 24.8 miles of navigable waters between the lock and the Port of Catoosa.

A little over 18 miles down the Verdigris from Newt Graham is Chouteau Lock and Dam #17.

Chouteau Lock and Dam #17
Chouteau Lock and Dam #17






Chouteau is the last lock and dam structure on the Verdigris River before the navigation channel enters the main stem of the Arkansas River. Construction on the project started in 1966, and was essentially completed in 1970 at an estimated cost of $31,800,000. The lock and dam is named after the early Chouteau family. Col. Auguste P. Chouteau established the first permanent white settlement in Oklahoma at the present site of Saline, Oklahoma in 1796.

A little over 34 miles down the channel from Chouteau is Webbers Falls Lock and Dam #16.

Webbers Falls Lock and Dam #16
Webbers Falls Lock and Dam #16

In addition to navigation Webbers Falls Lock and Dam is also congressionally authorized for hydropower production. This is why the river upstream from the dam is referred to as Webbers Falls Reservoir. The water in the 10,900 surface acre reservoir is stored and allocated for hydropower production.

Webbers Falls Dam is a little over three miles upstream from the historic falls. The falls, referred to as “LaCascade” by General Zebulon Pike were reported in 1806 to be six or seven feet high at normal stage of the river.

Continuing downriver the next navigation structure is Robert S. Kerr Lock and Dam #15.

Robert S. Kerr Lock and Dam #15
Robert S. Kerr Lock and Dam #15

Construction on the lock and dam began in April 1964. The project was put into operation in 1970. Like Webbers Falls, the Robert S. Kerr structure is congressionally authorized for hydropower production. The generators began supplying hydropower to the electric grid in 1971.

The projects original name was Short Mountain Lock and Dam. The name was changed before construction began in 1963 to Robert S. Kerr Lock and Dam because of former governor and U.S. senator’s career-long commitment to the navigation project.

The fifth and final lock and dam on the MKARNS before the river flows in into Arkansas is W.D. Mayo Lock and Dam #14.

W.D. Mayo Lock and Dam #14
W.D. Mayo Lock and Dam #14

The stretch of the Arkansas River on which W.D. Mayo Lock and Dam is located was once a lawless, rugged area, identified on early maps as Indian Territory. Construction began on the project in in 1966 and was complete by 1970.

Named in honor of W. D. Mayo, late Sallisaw businessman, civic leader, and early champion of full development of the Arkansas River, this is the first lock and dam on the Arkansas River after the navigation channel leaves the state of Arkansas. It is located at navigation mile 319.6 in southeastern Oklahoma about nine miles southwest of Fort Smith, Arkansas.

DID YOU KNOW it takes roughly 48 hours for rain that falls above Newt Graham Lock and Dam to make it to the Oklahoma/Arkansas border? From there the water will pass through 13 locks and dams in Arkansas before it goes through the manmade Arkansas Post Canal and flows into the Mississippi River.