Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What's in a name: Lakes Ellis & Morris

The north shore of Lake Morris on Monday --- ice melting, but still in place.
Back in 2010, I complained here about the fact neither Roy Ellis nor Lyle Morris, two young men who were among the first Lucas Countyans to die in service during World War II, was acknowledged at Lake Ellis and Lake Morris --- named during 1943 in their honor.

The "twin" lakes at the heads of Little White Breast Creek branches just east of Chariton have been the sources of our water supply for many years, Ellis built during 1915-1916 and Morris, during 1941-42. Before 1943, neither had a name other than "West" and "East."

It still strikes me as odd that in this new era of flag-waving, when the local Legion is talking about commissioning a painted patriotic rock, we've forgotten about these two brave young men.

This came to mind again a couple of weeks ago when I heard via e-mail from one of Lyle's nephews, Don Evans, a Humeston native who now lives some distance from his roots --- on the Southwest Pacific island of Yap. Don had found that earlier blog entry, entitled "The Memory of Water," and we talked a little about a family-financed commemoration of his uncle along Lake Morris.

Anyhow, I poked around a little at City Hall, then drove out to the lakes Monday --- a beautiful afternoon when it seemed as if spring might come. I wanted to make doubly sure that I hadn't missed a sign somewhere over the years, but I hadn't. Both lakes are identified in the headers of billboard-sized signs that spell out what you have to do to be considered a trespasser and treated as such ("welcome to Chariton"), but say nothing about who "Ellis" and "Morris" were or why the lakes are named for them.

Here's what I wrote in 2010 about the the naming of the lakes:
The answer to the question “Who?” is Roy Ellis (left above) and Lyle Morris (left below), both 22, and at the time the lakes were named in 1943 thought to be the first Lucas County men to die in World War II.
Roy, a coal miner’s son from Williamson, had worked in the mines himself before enlisting in the U.S. Army during the fall of 1940. He completed training as a U.S. Army Air Forces radio operator in October 1941 and advanced in rank to staff sergeant. During early June 1942, he was deployed to Alaska. On June 11, 1942, his B-24 bomber was shot down by Japanese planes attacking the Aleutian Islands. Roy was killed on his first mission.
Lyle Morris was the son of a general store operator in Derby who enlisted in the U.S. Navy, also in the fall of 1940, after attending the American Institute of Business in Des Moines. A storekeeper first class who had trained at the Ford Motor Plant in Detroit, he died at his battle station aboard the USS Enterprise on Oct. 26, 1942, during a Japanese assault on the carrier.
The Chariton City Council did not decide spontaneously to honor Roy and Lyle by naming the reservoirs after them.
The Lucas County Conservation Club had made the suggestion that the two reservoirs be given individual names simply to avoid confusion and proposed a lake-naming contest. The council agreed to act as judges.
The contest was conducted during April of 1943 and quite a variety of names was proposed. Clara Rutherford was the only one to suggest, however, honoring Ellis and Morris. Her entry struck a chord among council members and Ellis and Morris the reservoirs became --- by council resolution dated May 3, 1943.
Mrs. Rutherford received $10 in War Stamps --- $5 for each name --- for her suggestion.
Mayor Mack Young proposed at the time “that suitable markers be erected at the two lakes explaining for whom each lake is named so that newcomers and future generations will know the history of their nomenclature.”
After the war, it was determined that Andy Knapp (right), a 1936 graduate of Chariton High School, actually was the first Lucas Countyan to die in the war. The 23-year-old perished of malaria on or about June 2, 1942, in a Japanese prison camp after surviving the Bataan Death March. But this wasn't known until after the war was over and records of the camp had been recovered.

Roy's remains were recovered and are buried at the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery in Kansas. Lyle was buried at sea and he is among those commemorated on Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines. Andy's remains were identified in 1947 and reburied --- also in the Manila American Cemetery.

And if Mack Young's suggestion about signage ever was carried about --- well, those signs have long since disappeared.


Chariton didn't have a municipal water system of any sort until 1906 when voters finally authorized installation of infrastructure and construction of a water tower, but the source of water --- a shallow well 16 feet in diameter and 30 feet deep in the southwest part of town --- was woefully inadequate.

In March of 1915, voters approved bonding for a new $100,000 reservoir, treatment plant and pumping station east of town --- the current Lake Ellis. Construction began during the fall of 1915 and was completed by August of 1916, when water began to flow out of taps in town.

It was thought at the time that the new reservoir would be able to meet Chariton's water needs for generations to come, but that turned out not to be true. The first crisis occurred during 1934, when levels fell dangerously low, and again during the spring of 1941, following a very dry 1940.

City officials scrambled that spring to keep the city supplied with water. Use restrictions were imposed, some water was siphoned from Red Haw Lake and pumps were installed in Little White Breast Creek so that whenever it rained and the creek drainage began to fill water could be pumped into the reservoir before it flowed downstream.

Although conditions had improved slightly by fall, Chariton firefighters --- due to host a statewide convention on Sept. 16-17 with water fights on the agenda --- had to innovate. Chariton oil company tanker trucks were lined up on the last Sunday in August and sufficient water for the fights hauled from the Gun Club lake (now country club lake) to the city reservoir.

Construction of a second reservoir --- soon to be named Lake Morris, a $100,000 project paid for two-thirds by revenue bonds and one-third by WPA funds --- commenced during late October 1941.

World War II then intervened --- although construction continued. The lake was essentially ready by August of 1942, but the dam gate --- built at Johnson Machine Works --- needed finishing touches by a Des Moines firm now doing war-related work. Chariton had to apply for a government priority rating before that company could touch the gate.

In addition, the bed of Highway 34 at the twin bridges east of town needed to be raised in order for the lake to be filled to capacity, a project also delayed by war-related priorities.

Despite the delays, the Herald-Patriot, in its edition of Nov. 15, 1942, was able to announce that, "Dam closed at new lake Tuesday, will fill soon."

That story was wrapped under a banner headline that stretched across the top of the page around a two column photo of a young man in Navy uniform and related text. The headline read, "Lyle Morris, 22, Killed in Action in Pacific."

"Lyle Morris, 22, of Derby, has been killed in action it was announced by the naval department Tuesday.

"He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Otis Morris of Derby and was killed 'somewhere in the Pacific."

"No details were given in a telegram received by his parents about 7 o'clock Tuesday. The telegram also requested his parents and friends not to tell the name of the ship or other information regarding where the action in which he was killed might have taken place.

"Morris was a first class storekeeper, having been promoted on Sept. 13 following a citation for bravery in another action in which his ship was involved. He enlisted in the navy in October, 1940, and was 22 years old on Sept. 8.

"He was a graduate of the Derby high school and then was graduated from the A.I.B. business school in Des Moines.

"He is survived by his parents, two brothers, LIut. Dale Morris, stationed at Camp Carson, Colo., and Charles, of Klamath Falls, Ore.; and a sister, Mrs. Harold Evans of Humeston. His grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. R.E. Morris, of Derby, also survive."

Although the Lake Morris regulations are posted clearly, there is no mention of the young man for whom it was named.


Nick said...

Great article Frank. Wished you had gotten a picture of the two stone markers on the South side of Lake Ellis that are in the roadside highway ditch. These are supposedly the monuments for Ellis and Morris. It is a shame they are left to be in the weeds and unmarked. The trail on the West side of Ellis should continue on and go right through these markers and across the highway to Red Haw. We have offered to clean that area up but it was said it would be a liability. Can't believe we treat those two young soldier's memories and sacrifice they made for us with such a lack of honor and pride! I would be glad to do anything I can to help out with any effort to clean up the area around the markers and at least put up signage and a flag!

Carson Haring said...

Great article, with great historical info.....I was interested to see Don Evans from Humeston and Yap mentioned....I inherited a ham radio he once owned, still has his name on it