Republican River Flood of May 30, 1935

This website is dedicated to preserving the history of the Republican River Flood of 1935.

 

With all the water that roared through the Republican Valley Basin, everything in the water's path, including buildings, livestock, trees, snakes, and people were washed down the river. There are many stories of people clinging to trees until they could be rescued. Not only where people trying to survive in the trees, but snakes were common in the trees too. What happened after the flood is told below. 

Airplanes and Amateur Radio aided in the rescue and relief efforts for days after the flood with roads, bridges, railroads, and communication lines damaged. The limited number of boats in the area where used to rescue people stranded along the river.

Damage from Flood of 1935, Southwestern Nebraska

(from: U.S. Geological Survey Water Supply Paper 796-B)

 

Nebraska

Kansas

Colorado

Total

Persons Killed

94

10

6

110

Livestock Killed

8,100

12,193

300

20,593

Poultry Killed

46,500

NA

NA

---

Highways damaged (miles)

341

484

5

830

Highway bridges

307

202

5

515

Crops Damaged (acres)

42,000

221,615

NA

---

Farmland damaged (acres)

57,000

202,615

15,000

274,615

Railroads (miles)

NA

171

NA

---

Railroad bridges

NA

83

NA

---

Nebraska Farm and Crop Values for 1935

from History of Nebraska. Contributors: James C. Olson - author, Ronald C. Naugle - author. Publisher: University of Nebraska Press. Publication year :1997. Page Number: 407.

Number of Farms: 134,000
Average size of farms (acres): 348.9
Average value of farms: $11,696
Average value per acre: $32.00
Percent Change in acre values (annual average): -8.6
Value of all crops (x 1,000): 157,354
Percent Change value of all crops (annual average): -6.7 

For a 2009 dollar amount, multiply by 15.

 

 

Cleaning up - How long did it take to restore the area?

"As a result on the great loss of livestock the carcasses of horses, cattle and hogs were packed in the driftwood, laying on sandbars, and drifted in the current of the river. This menace to health required immediate attention, and to augment the efforts of local citizens in destroying the dead animals, the Federal Government established C.C.C. [Civilian Conservation Corps] camps containing 1,000 men and F.E.R.A. camps containing 600 men. When this work was completed, attention for several weeks was given to clearing the land of wrecked buildings, driftwood, and other debris and making emergency repairs to public works. For this work Federal funds amounting to $434,000 were made available in Nebraska, and $3,922 in Cheyenne County, Kans." Follansbee and Spiegel, 1937, pgs 43-44.

Repairs to the railroad started "immediately to clear trash, repair holes under the track  and prepare it for movement of section motor cars and work trains." The repairmen worked at several locations including Oxford, McCook, Benkelman, and Curtis in Nebraska; Sterling and Brush in Colorado; and Alma, Lester, Superior, Atwood, and Concordia in Kansas. As well as section men for the railroad, men were sent to repair the telegraph lines and bridge gangs worked on bridges as fast as the track was prepared.

There were many problems the railroad had to overcome with such a large workforce including payments of labor. "One payroll of 132 pages on the McCook Division called for 5,200 checks." The other problems to overcome were pure water, food and sanitation.

"The new lines were built above the flood plain. Materials to repair the railroad were:

38 carloads of trimmings,
185 carloads of piling and bridge timber,
79 carloads of track ties,
9 carloads of tools,
3 carloads of gasoline,
11 car loads of motor cars, rubble cars and trailers,
41 carloads of riprap, and
225 carloads of cinders and gravel for ballast."

  Map of Railroad Track Damage

Areas of railroad track to have been washed out include:

Red Cloud and East - 3 miles
Bostwick and Lester - 4.5 miles
Between Orleans and Inavale - considerable damage
Bijou - Bridge washed out
Nebraska-Colorado line to Edison - considerable damage
Between Hollis and Concordia, KS - line washed out.
Above is a map showing the locations along the track that were  washed out.  Click image to enlage.

Trenton - 3 days for mail service and about a month for the railroad.

McCook was without power for 3 days. (McCook Gazette)

Red Cross Set up lost and found centers and typhoid inoculation tents. 6460 cc's of vaccine were provided by the Red Cross, plus the necessary supplies for all the clinics and some transportation for nurses. On September 12, 1935 relief activity was terminated by the Red Cross. The cost of the entire operation was $167,411.47 (in 2009 dollars this is equivalent to $2,626,486.07) of which the Red Cross contributed half the amount. The other half was raised from individual contributions and gifts.

Great Republican Valley Reconstruction Jubilee held on Columbus Day 1935 in McCook, NE to "recognize the reconstruction of the Burlington's mainline throughout 200 miles of the Republican River Valley".  Click here to view the program for the 3 day event. The CB&Q Mark Twain Zephyr was part of the celebration running from McCook to Oxford round trip. For more infomation about the CB&Q Mark Twain Zephyr click here.

Nebraska National Guard Rescue Unit

The photo to the left shows the guard unit that conducted rescue efforts along the Republican.  They were from Holdrege, a truck unit. 

The photo to the right is of Roy (and wife Mary) Pearson, who still lives in Holdrege. He donated the photo us his unit to the museum there as part of their local history exhibit.

 

Key Landmarks and Towns Changed Forever

At Beecher Island, Colorado  the monument was destroyed. The town of Parks, Nebraska was said to be wiped off the map. The Pastime Park in McCook, with a dance hall, boating pond, and other buildings, was never rebuilt to what had been. 

The Republican Valley pastures were covered with heavy silt after the waters receded. In a measure to help farmers return the pastures to grass, College of Agricultural agronomists were suggesting a pasture seed mixture that cost three to four dollars an acre. In today's value, this would amount to 15 to 20 dollars an acre.

References 

Wood Preserving News, March 1936. "The Burlington Railroad and the Republican River Flood of 1935", by F. T. Darrow. Paper presented before Western Society of Engineers, Chicago, IL. January 27, 1936.

Wilmot, Marlene H. Bluff to Bluff. Greeley, CO: Wilmot Ventures, 1995.


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