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Wallis R. Tonsfeldt papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MS-0558

Scope and Content

The collection (1936-1984, undated) includes conservation plans, correspondence, project reports, policies and procedures, budget and financial information, damage reports, design criteria, work and design plans, criteria for watershed treatment, treatment plans, legal documents, meeting minutes, photographs, reports and various data and statistics gathered on the watershed and its subwatersheds. The collection does not contain the personal papers of Tonsfeldt, but consists of materials collected and created by Tonsfeldt relating to the Little Sioux Watershed Project.

Most of the collection consists of materials on specific projects, studies, plans, costs and work performed. Folders on areas of the watershed and subwatersheds (drainage areas of a watershed) often contain background information, statistics and reports on conservation work. The photographs contain images of erosion problems, damages and flood control measures of waterways, cropland, pastures, roadways, buildings and other properties. Descriptions on the back of the photographs contain the location and explanation of what was photographed, giving details of conservation measures used. The photographs and descriptions depict specific erosion problems and actions taken in a particular area not often found in the other documents of the collection.

Much of the USDA correspondence is between conservationists and the Little Sioux Works Committee. Correspondents include George E. Lamp, Sr. (state conservationist), L. J. Larson, and Frank H. Mendell (state conservationist). The correspondence covers topics such as policies and procedures, budgets and finance, meetings, treatment plans, decisions and project priorities.

The collection also contains some documents from work done prior to the 1946 authorization, such as correspondence and a survey of the area contained in the folder entitled Watershed Description and Basic Physical Data (Box 9, Folder 14). The survey consists of a description of the area, background information, physical analysis of the area, and a soil erosion and damage report.

For related collections, please see the Little Sioux Watershed Records (MS 106), Alden J. Erskine Papers (MS 85), George and Sewell Allen Papers (MS 81), and John D. Beardsley Papers (MS 79). The Special Collections Department at Iowa State University also holds a number of collections related to soil conservation and soil conservation districts such as the Iowa Soil Conservation Districts Records (MS 185), the National Association of Conservation Districts Records (MS 460), and the Hugh Hammond Bennett Papers (MS 164).


  • 1936-1984, undated

Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

Open for research.

Use/Re-use Restrictions

Consult Special Collections and University Archives


Wallis R. Tonsfeldt was born on November 10, 1927 in LeMars, Iowa. Tonsfeldt received his B.S. (1954) from Iowa State College (University) in farm operations. Wallis R. Tonsfeldt was a soil conservationist (1956-1957) in Cherokee County, Iowa. He then moved to the Sioux City, Iowa area office to work on the Little Sioux Watershed Project where he served as area soil conservationist (1957-1965) and then as area conservationist (1965-1984). He retired in 1984.

The Little Sioux River Basin Watershed and Flood Prevention Project was one of eleven watersheds authorized by Public Law 78-534 (Flood Control Act of 1946). In compliance with the Flood Control Act of 1936, a survey of the watershed had been conducted prior to 1946. The Little Sioux Watershed encompasses 4,500 square miles in fifteen counties of northwestern Iowa and includes Nobles and Jackson counties of Minnesota. Most of the area consists of farmland with very fertile, but fragile, loess soil. The area also contains many hills. Sheet erosion, gulley erosion, and sedimentation and flooding had been major problems of the watershed. The loess soils of the area are very low in clay, which contributes to the gulley erosion problem. In addition, during World War I the steep areas of the watershed had been plowed to increase production, furthering erosion and gully development. The erosion was damaging crops, waterways, roadways and buildings. Early flood prevention plans included covering very steep areas with grass and other close growing covers and assisting farmers in implementing improved farming practices that would help reduce erosion and gulley formation.

The United States Department of Agriculture's Soil Conservation Service administers the program, primarily giving financial and technical assistance. Eight Iowa conservation districts are a part of the watershed: O'Brien, Plymouth, Cherokee, Buena Vista, Woodbury, Ida, Sac and Monona. Four other conservation districts have a limited interest in the project. The soil conservation districts serve as a link between the farmers and the federal government's Soil Conservation Service.

As part of the Little Sioux Watershed Project, the Little Sioux Works Committee (established in 1946), provided guidance for the execution of the program, established priorities for assistance, and facilitated work and cooperation among the state soil conservation districts involved. The farmer-directed committee cooperated with the Soil Conservation Service in making polices and setting priorities for subwatershed work.

As of 2009, the federal government continues to assist farmers in land treatment measures to reduce runoff and erosion in the area, currently (2009) referred to as the Little Sioux River Watershed.


4.2 Linear Feet (10 document boxes)


The collection is organized Alphabetically.

Processing Information

Released on 2018-11-01.

MS-0558. Wallis R. Tonsfeldt papers, 1936-1984, undated
December 12, 2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives Repository

403 Parks Library
701 Morrill Road
Iowa State University
Ames Iowa 50011-2102 United States
(515) 294-6672