Building the Belle Fourche (Orman) Dam - 1903-1907

Posted by Brian Gevik on
Orman Dam Construction ca. 1904
U.S. National Archives

Originally called Orman Dam, the Belle Fourche Dam was built in stages between 1903 and 1911. The dam was the first-ever project authorized by the 1902 Reclamation Act, which also established the Federal Bureau of Reclamation. A Icon Bureau of Reclamation history of the dam (257.6 KB) credits a handful of local politicians and farmers for the project, but a more popular version of events suggests that a strong bond of friendship between Black Hills entrepreneur Seth Bullock and then President Theodore Roosevelt actually led to the project's initiation.

The dam was built to allow irrigation of otherwise nearly arid land in Butte and Mead counties north of the Black Hills. Water stored in the reservoir still provides water to the area via an extensive system of canals and other waterways.

This video shows several photographs from the early construction phase of the dam. Note that workers used horse power and steam equipment to build the earthen dam in six-inch layers, one after another.

Images of the Past Building Orman Dam - 1907 How an earthen dam nearly a mile long was built with just horse and steam power.

Belle Fourche Dam is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and claims a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark designation.


Current Bureau of Reclamation Web site  - General technical information about the dam & reservoir.

National Park Service Info  - More detailed historical info about the dam.

Belle Fourche Watershed Partnership  - More detailed local information, including maps and other resources.