Back in 1897, much of Joplin was an open sewer. The sewer system at the time was “plagued” and the “city dads” decided to direct various sewer mains into Joplin Creek. This was when the city was “young and was comparatively unsettled north of A street.” But the city fathers did not foresee that Joplin Creek would be dammed in several spots. This caused the sewage to back up and grow even more fetid. After being exposed to the sun, the raw waste was enough “to sicken a maggot or act as an emetic on a jackal.”
According to the Globe, the stench alone had caused “an immense amount of sickness between B and D streets, and there is good reason to believe that one death resulted from it.” It was reported that at the corner of C and Main streets two families living in adjoining houses “had six people sick at the time, three in each home” with other families in the area similarly affected.
The paper declared, “It is the plain duty of the authorities to jerk those dams out of the creek and to keep them out. It is also their plain duty to see that the sand is removed that chokes the channel up to and to see that is kept clear.” If the creek were not kept clear of dams, then there “will be much loss of life…The city cannot afford to have its citizens killed off in this sort of a manner. Death comes all too soon without keeping a trap like this to stink people to death.”
The day after the Globe groused about the condition of Joplin Creek, Mayor Cunningham ordered Marshal Morgan to inspect the creek, and, if the conditions were as stated, to have the dams removed. When Morgan contacted the individuals responsible for the various dams, they complained that they owned the land that the dams were on, and that “they would like to see the color of the man’s hair who could make them take the obstructions out.”
Morgan would have none of it. He told the dam owners to remove their dams within twenty-four hours or else they would face arrest. The Globe proclaimed, “There must be no let up on the part of the authorities until the channel is as clear as a whistle, and it should be kept that way forever.”
Mayor Cunningham got his way and conditions improved. Sometimes the good old days weren’t so golden after all.