Laumann Recounts History of Lake DeSmet

Helen Laumann enjoys a laugh with her audience. (Photo by Pat Blair)

Lake DeSmet was created about a million years ago, and Helen Laumann said she's heard two stories regarding the lake's origins.

Laumann said she was inclined to go with the coal seam theory. She presented a history of the lake in Johnson County Wednesday in her monthly Conversations in History program that resumed this month. Laumann is a volunteer and a member of the board of directors of the Sheridan County Museum. She said Lake DeSmet is the second-largest lake in the western United States and was an early landmark for explorers.

She said there's no outlet in the lake, and the water initially was very stagnant and salty. She said Father DeSmet, for whom the lake is named, described the lake in a letter he wrote in 1851.

Laumann said the lake at one time was reported to be bottomless and inhabited by sea monsters. She said the Indians had many stories about the monster inhabiting the lake. In the early 1900s, the lake was owned by Joseph Leiter, who built a dam at one end. The Leiter estate, including the lake, was acquired in 1949 by John and Ruth Rice, and the property was purchased in 1957 by the Reynolds Mining Company. Laumann said Reynolds had plans for the lake and the coal in the area, but those plans were never developed.

She said Texaco acquired the lake in 1976, but that company also never developed its plans for the property. Today, the lake is owned by Johnson County.

View more photos below.

Laumann checks a photo before showing it to the audience. (Photo by Pat Blair)
More photos of Lake DeSmet. (Photo by Pat Blair)
Laumann consults her notes. (Photo by Pat Blair)