Lake Texoma is one of the largest reservoirs in the United States, the 12th largest US Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) lake, and the largest in USACE Tulsa District. Lake Texoma is formed by Denison Dam on the Red River in Bryan County, Oklahoma, and Grayson County, Texas, about 726 miles upstream from the mouth of the river. It is located at the confluence of the Red and Washita Rivers. The project was completed in 1944. The damsite is about 5 miles (8.0 km) northwest of Denison, Texas, and 15 miles southwest of Durant, Oklahoma. Lake Texoma is the most developed and most popular lake within the USACE Tulsa District, attracting around 6 million visitors a year. Oklahoma has more of the lake within its boundaries than Texas.
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, George Moulton, a businessman from Denison, Texas, first talked publicly about damming the Red River at Baer’s Ferry in 1925. He began lobbying the Chambers of Commerce in Denison and Durant. [a] Congressman Sam Rayburn became interested in the project in the early 1930s, and helped bring Federal funding and the Corps of Engineers to make Lake Texoma a reality.
Denison Dam and Lake Texoma were authorized for construction by the Flood Control Act approved June 28, 1938, for flood control and generation of hydroelectric power. The dam, spillway, and outlet works were started in August 1939 and completed in February 1944. By 1942, much of the labor on the facilities was provided by German prisoners of war (POWs). These men were members of the Afrika Korps, who had been captured by the U.S. Army in North Africa. They were the first POWs used in labor camps by the U.S. Initially they were housed in camps near Tishomingo and Powell, Oklahoma.
At that time, Denison Dam was the largest rolled, earthfilled dam in the United States. The project was put into operation for flood control in January 1944. The first hydroelectric turbine was placed in operation in March 1945, while a second unit became operational in September 1949. The town of Woodville, Oklahoma, was submerged by the lake. The site was later exposed by a severe drought in 2011. Most of the town of Aylesworth was submerged by the construction of the lake. Lake Texoma is also the only lake in the contiguous United States to have its own independent government known as Lake Texoma Indian Territory. North of Gainesville, Texas Camp Howze was constructed for military training. German prisoners were sent there. Some were used to clearcut the timber below the flood line for Lake Texoma. The lake was pristine until flood waters rose above the clear cut line in 1957.