ast The flood at Naponee, where my mother was born four years later
ONE Family Story Woven In
Darkwater Creek, Nebraska is the setting for my novels, a fictional town along the Republican River in Nebraska, in Franklin County, my parents’ home.
The house on my grandparents’ farm was first located on the Republican River bottom, and it flooded in 1935. The man who owned the house then crawled into the attic to escape the floodwaters. He scrawled his will on the attic rafters, then hacked an escape through either a roof or an attic window, we’re not sure which. A man passing in a rowboat rescued him.
After the flood, the house was moved up to its current higher and drier location, and my grandparents bought the farm in the 1950s. When my grandparents remodeled the house, they found that homeowner’s writing, his last will and testament on the attic rafter. It was one of those stories about the house our family would talk about.
When I found that same story recounted in a published flood narrative during my research, and I was able to match up the name from the story with the former owner of our family home, history came alive for me. Family history lives if we breathe into it our interest and our intention. Remember with me in my novels, and revisit your own history when you can. In remembering you’ll find your place in a story, one worth sharing with the next generation.
THREE separate references to earlier (pre-1935) Republican River floods . . .
. . . from Native lore and local retelling, as recorded by Follansbee and Spiegel in 1937:
“For the Republican River, as for many other western streams, there is the usual Indian tradition of a higher flood before the days of the white man. Engineers, in the course of their investigations of the flood of May and June of 1935, found three separate references to such flood. An old Indian in the vicinity of Benkelman made the statement that 40 years before he was born there was a great flood 2 feet higher than that of 1935. As he was about 70 years old, this would date the legendary flood as approximately 1826. A resident near Cambridge stated that when his father settled the Republican River bottoms would be flooded out, as he had seen, while a boy, the waters ‘extending from bluff to bluff.’ At Red Cloud several residents stated that one of Chief Red Cloud’s relatives who lived nearby was authority for the statement that more than 100 years ago a flood covering the bottoms “from bluff to bluff” had occurred. These statements are consistent and apparently had partial historic confirmation. At the time of this earlier flood there were no white settlers in the Republican River Basin, and the only white travelers were fur traders on the way from St. Louis to the Rocky Mountains and points beyond. Search through the available writings of these travelers fails to reveal any reference to such a flood. It is therefore necessary to rely on inferential evidence from localities where whites had settled.”
(Follansbee and Spiegel, 1937, pg 50.)
*photo by Webber from noaa.gov, courtesy Joe Torrey
FOUR 1935 Republican River Valley Flood statistics1
110 people died in the flood, some whose bodies were never recovered.
20,593 head of livestock were lost.
The force of the water destroyed nearly 275,000 of farmland acres and washed out 171 miles of railroad track.
Eight fatalities resulted from four distinct tornado paths on May 31, in the McCook region of Republican River Valley, as the flood’s storm system moved eastward. The tornadoes rated from F2 to F4 on the Fujita scale.2
*photo by Webber, from noaa.gov, courtesy Joe Torrey