Boulder City Magazine is a monthly publication full of information about Boulder City and Southern Nevada. Boulder City Magazine features the Boulder City Home Guide, a real estate guide to Boulder City and Southern Nevada.

Boulder City History
by Dennis McBride, Boulder City Museum &
Historical Association

Dam Poetry
Great events often inspire great literature—or doggerel, at least—as writers both professional and not are moved to articulate their feelings in poetry. Construction of Hoover Dam so moved quite a lot of dime store Shakesperes and much of what they wrote survives today.

The earliest poem related to Hoover Dam in the museum’s collections is “The Colorado River and Boulder Dam,” by Mrs. Mary Gould Canova, published in the Las Vegas Evening Review on June 22, 1929. Mary’s immediate inspiration was Herbert Hoover’s pending authorization of the Boulder Canyon Project Act on June 25, 1929. Canova was quite a booster when she wrote, “Hats off today! three cheers for Boulder Dam/For President Hoover; for Dear Uncle Sam! … Roll up your sleeves, let’s back them every one. The task of all the Ages has begun!”

On June 14, 1930 the Las Vegas Age printed a letter to the editor composed as a poem titled, “Before the Dam Goes Thru.” Author Hattie May expressed her hope that if the dam project got funded, she and her brother, who “Own land in Charleston Peak” could increase their wealth with all the money construction would bring.

Los Angeleno Ruth Lee’s “Boulder Dam” was a romantic vision of dam construction: “As a crimson sun announces dawn/Another shift of men comes on./Another day’s work has been begun … /On they toil ‘neath a scorching sun … .”

Lee Howard Dana, a hydraulic engineer at Hoover Dam, sat one afternoon in May 1931 on Water Tank Hill and wrote a poem he named “The Saga of Boulder City” while he watched the little town taking shape on the desert floor below: “I dreamed of a place that was fair to see/A place beckoning to you and me./A place where man is glad to dwell/And of its virtues so glad to tell.”

Some of the most interesting dam poetry was written about the men who built it. Elton Garrett’s “Song of the Mucker” brought a graceful respect to the worst job on the project: “So hand me a muck stick, brother/And show me your pile of dirt,/Then leave me alone for I am well known/As the man who’s moving the Earth.” River Camp resident Claude Rader in 1931 wrote a long poem with the refrain, “Us Old Boys on Boulder Dam.” Rader wrote, “We’ll dam the Colorado/Says our Super ‘Hurry Up’ Crowe/And us stiffs is goin’ to help him/’Till she’s solid and complete/While they pay us honest wages/With a place to sleep and eat.”

An anonymously written poem about dam construction, however—found in the basement of the old Six Companies Hospital many years after it was written—gives a truer picture of how workers must have felt when they first saw Boulder City and the burning walls of Black Canyon: “You may talk about the hardships of the Israelites of old/’Tis true they did some penance when they made their calf of gold/But they did stand it for forty years in trials and various ways—/If they’d lived in Boulder City they’d have croaked in forty days.”

Sponsored by the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum.

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