A Newsletter of the White River Valley Museum

January 2001

Diversion of the White River
Homemade dams, dynamite, and the story of compromise. Controlling a river to make way for farming

(As excerpted from contemporary newspaper articles)

Click here to see a map showing the "original", pre-1906, path of the White River.


Nothing but hard feelings between the ranchers in Pierce County along the Stuck River against their neighbors in King County has as yet resulted from the recent land slide which occurred on the Muckleshoot Indian reservation. The {dynamited} slide stopped the flow of water down the White River and sent it into the Stuck, which joins the Puyallup River. This, it is claimed, has caused the inundation of thousands of acres of hay land along the Stuck River and suits for damages are threatened by the farmers who have suffered.

Rare 1906 photo of debris dam made to divert
the flood waters away from Auburn.
WRVM 3274


The recent injunction proceedings brought to restrain the commissioners of King County from building a dam at the junction whereby to divert the greater portion of the water into the Stuck was followed by a visit to the scene of the work by County Surveyor Noel and several engineers ...

It is the opinion of several of the engineers that had King County been permitted to complete the dam all the water which would naturally run into the White River channel would be diverted into the Stuck and that the country on that side would be flooded. This would result, they say, in leaving the bed of the White River as dry as a bone within a few months.

On all sides there were evidence of previous attempts to change the course of the main stream by the use of sacks of sand and quantities of brush and driftwood. There is no question in the minds of the engineers that, if unrestrained, the water which now flows into the Stuck would naturally verge into the main channel of the White in time if allowed to take its course.

The farmers in that district are willing to compromise. It is stated that the White River faction have expressed themselves as agreeable to a plan whereby the flow of water would be divided between the two streams. By so doing the possibility of damage from floods in either district could be averted. The engineers state that they are satisfied that neither the White nor the Stuck river channels could carry off the flood waters with which they are deluged during the winter season.


The White, Green and Stuck valleys were visited Thursday night and Wednesday morning with the heaviest flood that has ever been known. There was no damage done in the Town of Auburn, the town not being in the flooded districts. Considerable water covered some of the surrounding country, but practically no damage resulted. At the junction of the White and Stuck rivers, the damage is quite heavy, and in Pierce County reports indicate serious loss. The country below Auburn, in and around Kent and on toward Georgetown, is reported to have been visited with an enormous amount of water, but nothing definite is known as to damage done.

  • Reports from Green River Valley indicate everyone safe.
  • Several bridges on the Palmer cut-off are reported washed out.
  • The Stuck railroad and county bridges were both washed away.
  • There are no trains running on either the Northern Pacific or Interurban railways, owing to the loss of a couple of bridges.


There were fully 300 persons present in Mystic Hall when Senator Knickerbocker, of Auburn, called them to order with a brief speech on the object of the gathering ... Various plans for the permanent control of the rivers were discussed, and all without acrimony or hard words. There was an earnestness and a harmony that augured well for success. Senators Knickerbocker, Paulhamus, Nichols, Metcalfe, and Cotterill, and a number of Representatives present pledged their efforts in aid of any plan adopted by the convention. So, also, did the railroad men and the chamber of commerce. Many suggestions were made as to appropriations to be asked for in aiding the work, and letters from parties unable to attend were read making other suggestions for the river work. One was that the U.S. government had appropriated $240,000 for the widening and deepening of the Puyallup from the harbor line to a point a mile up stream, and that the state should follow suit upon the Stuck and White.

The plan most advocated for paying the expense of the necessary work was to form an improvement district similar to the usual assessment districts, consisting of the property owners and persons to be directly benefited, to bear the largest portion of the cost, and the procuring of appropriations from the state and the United States to pay for the balance.

... The discussion finally ended by the adoption of a resolution that King and Pierce counties shall bear the expense of the preliminary work looking to the permanent relief of the valleys, and that a committee of eleven be appointed by the chair to consider and report upon the best methods for effecting such relief.

Briefly stated, the plan which the committee will ultimately decide upon is: To straighten and widen the Puyallup River from its mouth to its junction with the Stuck; to divert the Stuck by an entirely new and straight waterway into Hylebos Creek, straighten the creek, and thus on into the bay; to divide the waters of the Stuck, sending a part down the White; to straighten the latter river and the Duwamish. We said above that the committee "will" decide upon this plan, but the expression should be modified to "may", as no final decision was reached, altho' this plan seemed most feasible.

Senator Paulhamus suggested that the committee employ a government engineer, since, in the end, the government would have to pass upon whatever plan was adopted. Major Chittenden, the U.S. engineer in charge of this district, said he would work with the committee; and a government engineer will probably be provided, and two counties to pay the expenses of the necessary surveys.

The committee is now considering the plans advocated and making up its report.


The King County board of commissioners, the Puyallup and Stuck River commissioners, and representatives of the Northern Pacific railway have agreed to expend $5,000 to dig a new channel 4,000 feet long for the Stuck River, beginning just below the county and railroad bridges, near Auburn, and continuing across the Pierce County line to a point near Pacific City. The new channel will split a loop at present existing in the Stuck River, which occupies two channels, and is constantly encroaching upon the banks, washing away farm land that is said to be worth $300 per acre.

Of the expense, $2,000 will be paid by King County, $2,000 out of the Puyallup and Stuck River appropriation, and $1,000 by the Northern Pacific.

It is expected that scrapers can be used to start the new channel, and that the river can be relied upon to cut down a deep channel within a few days after its diversion.


The beginning of the end of the old White River bridge is in sight. Monday morning, Councilman Cavanaugh, chairman of the street committee, and R.N. Hemphill, road supervisor, enclosed the bridge to team traffic. The planking had become so badly worn that there was danger of horses going through.

An attempt will be made to induce the commissioners to take the bridge away rather than go to the expense of making repairs. An eight or ten-foot fill and a big culvert to take care of any possible flow that might come down the old river bed would meet the approval of the folks around here.

1910 image of the dry river bed,
spanned by Main Street bridge.
WRVM 167


The joint board of county commissioners of Pierce and King counties, with Engineer W.J. Roberts in charge of the work, Wednesday opened bids on the work of constructing the concrete dam in the White River valley, designed to assist in controlling the flood situation and awarded a large share of the work to M.C. Hinemau of Seattle at $13,380. There were twenty-eight bidders.

The contractors will be given four months in which to complete the work. The general plan of flood prevention is being paid for by King and Pierce counties in the ratio of 60 and 40 percent, and will cover a program of several years of work.

The dam will permanently close the branch of the White River that formerly inundated considerable territory in the vicinity of Auburn. A large sum will be expended in erecting barriers in White River designed to hold all logs and refuse and driftwood that is a dangerous element at flood time.


County Commissioner Hamilton inspected the inter-county improvements at the Stuck-White river junction Tuesday and reports the work progressing very satisfactorily.

Engineer Roberts' report to the joint commissioners this week shows that the construction of the Auburn dam, a concrete wall 1,600 feet long, 14 feet high, 10 feet and 7 inches wide at the base, containing 5,850 cubic yards of concrete, was completed October 28.

Three donkey engines are clearing the river channels of drift and bars where it is necessary to return the river to proper channels. {It took years to clear and burn 60,000 cords of drift from the White River, along a five-mile stretch.} The cost of land, right-of-way, barrier and road to November 1 amounted to $2,813.55.

Drift barrier built adjacent to river at two places
to help maintain flow and catch debris, 1916.
WRVM 2533


(As excerpted from contemporary newspaper articles)