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Cannonball River

 About the Cannonball River

Cannonball River location map

The Cannonball River flows from west to east across southwestern North Dakota before flowing into the Missouri River. The Cannonball River derives its name from the sandy concretions found in the vicinity of the river.  Flow in the river can range from no flow during dry years to 95,000 cubic feet per second during wet years.

 Captain Clark

Thursday, October 18, 1804, on the Missouri River, near the entrance of the Cannonball River

Cannonball Concretions Described by Lewis and Clark

Set out early proceeded on   at 6 mls passed the mouth of (1) la Boulet (or Cannon Ball River) about 140 yards wide on the L. S. . . . above the mouth of the river Great numbers of Stone perfectly round with fine Grit are in the Bluff and on the Shore, the river takes its name from those Stones which resemble Cannon Balls.  The water of this river is confined within 40 yards. . . .

Antelope Herd - Photo Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Saw Great numbers of Goats on the S.S. comeing to the river   our hunters Killed 4 of them  Some run back and other crossed & proceded on their journeys to the Court Nou   at (3)  passed a Small River called Che wah or fish river on the S.S.1  this river is about 28 yards wide and heads to the N.E.  passed a small creek on the L. S. 1 mile above the last, and camped on a Sand bar on the L. S.2  opposit to us we Saw a Gangue of Buffalow bulls which we did not think worth while to kill.  our hunters killed 4 Coats 6 Deer 4 Elk & a pelican & informs that they Saw in one gang: 248 Elk, . . . The Countrey in this Quarter is Generally leavel & fine   Some high Short hills, and some ragid ranges of Hills at a Distance

       Course Distance & Refferences - 18th Oct  
       N. 50 W.  3  Miles to the mouth of a River (1) cannon ball L. S.
       N. 20 W.  2  Miles to a point of wood land on the S.S. passing a Bluff in which
                  theres round stone (2)
       North      2 miles to a point of wood land on the L. S.
       N. 15 W.    Mile on the L. S. opsd. a Creek on the S. S. (3)
       N. 10 E.  2 miles to a point on the S.S. passing a small Creek on L. S.  
       N. 20 E.  3  miles to a point of woods on the L. S. passing over a Sand bar

 Cannonball River Entering Lake Oahe on the Missouri River

Cannonball River Entering Lake Oahe on the Missouri River

Due to the Oahe Dam in South Dakota, the Cannonball River now enters a much wider body of water, Lake Oahe, than in the early 1800’s.  (USGS aerial photograph, taken September 20, 1997)

Historically, the Cannonball River has been prone to flooding, affecting transportation and communications services.

Flooding on the Cannonball in 1950

Cannonball River near Cannonball, North Dakota, April 1950

Flooding on the Cannonball in 1950

Cannonball River near Breien, North Dakota, April 1950

 Current Streamflow Data

To view current water-level and streamflow* data for USGS gaging stations** on the Cannonball River, click on the links below.

*Streamflow is the water discharge that occurs in a natural channel.

**A gaging station is a site on a stream, lake, reservoir, or other body of water where observations and hydrologic data are obtained.  The U.S. Geological Survey measures stream discharge at gaging stations.

 Water-Discharge and Water-Quality Records

To view water-discharge* and water-quality** records for USGS gaging stations on the Cannonball River, click on the links below.

*Water discharge is the volume of water that passes a given location within a given period of time.  Usually expressed in cubic feet per second, ft3/s.

**Water quality is a term used to describe the chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of water, usually in respect to its suitability for a particular purpose.


1Badger Creek, sometimes called Long Lake Creek, enters the Missouri River from the east in Emmons County (Reid, p. 24).

2Camp was on the west side of the Missouri River about 4 miles north of Fort Rice (Reid, p. 24).


DeVoto, Bernard, ed., 1953, The Journals of Lewis and Clark: New York, Mariner Books Houghton Mifflin Company, 504 p.

Leupold, James C., n.d., Pronghorn Antelope,  WO2656–023, National Image Library of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: accessed October 9, 2002, at URL

Reid, Russell, ed., 1947–48, Lewis and Clark in North Dakota: Reprinted from North Dakota History, published by the State Historical Society of North Dakota, vol. 14–15, 359 p.

U.S. Geological Survey, 1997, Cannonball River entering Lake Oahe on the Missouri River: accessed  June 19, 2001, at URL

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