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1898 Flood Report (1900)
By EXECUTIVE RELIEF COMMITTEE
The Shawneetown Flood. April 3rd, 1898. Final Report
T o the public:

Memorable will remain with the people of Shawneetown the terrible calamity which visited their city on the evening of April 3rd, 1898. At about 5 p.m. the north levee gave way at Locust Street. The high stage of the river registered 53.3 feet on the gauge. However, no general fears had been entertained against the soundness of the levee, and hence no efforts had been made by the people and the business men to place in safety any personal property. The damage which resulted was therefore so enormous. Few could forecast the destructive power of such a volume of water should it break into town. When the alarming news of the break was sentinelled many imagined themselves secure in the second stories of their dwellings and made no attempt to escape to safe refuge on the front levee, which they could easily have reached. Had it not been for this sense of security no lives would have been lost. But the force and the volume of water entering town carried with it death and destruction.

The unfortunate refugees perished with their houses. Twenty-five persons were drowned, among them some of our most prominent and respected citizens: Col. John A. Callicott, W. C. Callicott, Mrs. W. C. Callicott, Charles Clayton, Sr., Mrs. Charles Clayton, Sr., Gertrude Clayton, Grant Clayton, Jesse Clayton, Myrtle Clayton, Mrs. Edward Fleck, Mrs. C. R. Galloway, Dora Galloway, Mary Galloway, Mrs. John Halley, Mrs. Ellen McAllister, (col.) Mrs. Mary McAllister, (col.) Mrs. Paul Phalen, Minnie Phalen, Annie Rheinhold, Charles Rheinhold, Ella Rheinhold, Noah Welsh, Mrs. Noah Welsh, Mrs. Mary Eastwood and child, visitors at W. C. Callicott's.

The grief for the dead absorbed us. It could not permit us to weigh the losses sustained by damage done to property. Heroic efforts were made to rescue the distressed, and our community cherishes a grateful memory of those gentlemen who risked much to save the lives of their distressed fellow citizens. Whilst presence of mind prevailed to accomplish the first work of rescue, consternation followed. Some refugees had found their way to the hills, others had crowded in the Public School, the Court House, and second stories of some dwellings and business houses, but the greater majority had gathered in the Riverside Hotel, where Mr. Moody and wife exerted themselves to provide for them. A realization of the losses of the people gradually dawned upon them; their thoughts rambled into the future, the outlook was gloomy.

Telephonic and telegraphic connections had been cut off so that the news of our distressing situation could not be conveyed to the world. Immediate relief was necessary. We were obliged to appeal to the charity of the public for instant relief. After a short consultation held in the hotel, five gentlemen volunteered to go to Junction City that night, and if necessary, to Ridgway, to dispatch an appeal for relief. The people were informed that the delegation would dispatch for them such messages as they might wish to send to relatives and friends. With a bundle of messages, among them some from our Mayor to the Governor of our State, and to our Congressman, the delegation left town over the south levee about 10 p.m. and reached Junction City at midnight. The wires at that place were also under water, and it was here that a mile's width of deep water and no skiff cut the delegation off from the next telegraphic station, Ridgway. Fortunately after sometime a train from Ridgway arrived at the water's opposite edge. It conveyed several of the town's citizens who had been sent to ascertain the situation of our people. With the skiff which they had brought along, the delegation crossed the water and by the kindness of the B & O.S. W. crew were at once transferred to Ridgway, where they arrived at 2:20 the next morning.

From that time until 6 a.m., dispatches were expedited as rapidly as possible to our Governor, our Congressman and the friends and relatives of our flood sufferers.

Response to our needs followed immediately. When the delegation on dispatches returned to Shawneetown the next morning, the citizens of Evansville and Mt. Vernon, Ind., had sent down as early as five o'clock that morning a boat load of provisions to relive the first distress. Our people will hold in undying gratitude the instant charity of the citizens of these cities, who upon the meager news of the breaking of the levee worked all Sunday night to secure provisions and to charter a boat which reached us so early. The same evening another boat load of relief provisions arrived from these cities, authorized delegations from these cities visited us on Monday and Tuesday and extended to us the magnanimous offer of sheltering and providing for all flood suffers who wished to accept the hospitality of their cities.

Like invitations were extended and similar assistance was rendered by other neighboring towns, as Uniontown, Henderson, Cairo, Equality, Ridgway and Omaha, etc. Credit is due to the Evansville & Paducah Packet and other steamboat lines and our railroads, for the free transportation given to our citizens. Whilst in the list of financial contributions, these towns may not appear with any or only a small entry, yet the relief which they rendered us by provisions, clothing, etc., would be equivalent in cash to large contributions.

On Tuesday morning, April 5th, a permanent relief Committee was organized by the citizens, the members of which were Michael Carney, Mayor; Charles Carroll, Carl Roedel, Aaron Mayer and Frederick Buechman. They at once entered upon their arduous duties and selected as Chairman and Treasurer, Charles Carroll, and as Secretary Fred Beuchman. The consternation and confusion which prevailed rendered difficult the work of the relief organization. The judicious distribution of rations and clothing was the first pressing need. At once the Committee selected the following gentlemen as a committee on distribution: Geo. B. Parsons, Chairman; H. Drucker, E. Froehlich, N. A. Frier, J. McKelligott, M. Golden, W. R. McKernon, W. A. Howell. Under the able management of these gentlemen order gradually evolved out of chaos.

In response to an appeal of our Mayor, Governor J. R. Tanner issued immediately the subjoined proclamation:

"To the People of the State of Illinois-It is my painful duty to announce that a terrible disaster has overtaken the citizens of Shawneetown, in this State, which, owing to the condition of the public treasury, I am powerless to relieve without the voluntary aid of the charitably disposed.

"At 4:45 o'clock on the afternoon of Sunday, April 3, the levee which surrounds the city of Shawneetown broke and the city is under water and in the midst of a raging flood, poring down from the north. It is six miles to land, and the current of the Ohio River is sweeping through the town. I am informed by mayor Carney, of Shawneetown, that approximately one-fourth of the population has been drowned: all the property destroyed, and that the people are collected on the tops of houses, upon what remains above water of the levee, exposed to the rain, without shelter and without one meal of food.

"It would be of no use to call the Legislature together in special session to meet this emergency, because it would have no power to raise money from which to pay any appropriation that might be made. I have sent the Secretary of the State Board of Public Charities as my official representative, to the scene of disaster to assist in the organization of the emergency relief work, which requires to be done, with authority to draw upon me for what funds may be necessary, in anticipation of funds which will no doubt be contributed by the public at large for this purpose.

"I, therefore, make this urgent and instant appeal for contributions to enabler me to do what the people will no doubt wish me to do under the existing circumstances. All contributions should be sent to Mr. W. S. Phillips, President of the Ridgway Bank, Ridgway, Ill., which is the nearest point from which the relief work can be carried on. This disaster appears, from what can be learned, to be more appalling and immediate that the Johnstown flood."

"Down at the executive office, Springfield, Ill., this 4th day of April A. D. 1898.
     John R. Tanner, Governor."

Gov. Tanner, after consultation with Dr. F. W. Wines, Secretary of the State Board of Charities, sent the following message:

"W. S. Phillips, President Ridgway Bank, Ridgway, Ill.: Hon. Fred Wines, Secretary of the State Board of Charities and Miss Julie Lathrop will leave on the first train for Shawneetown. The Doctor represents me in caring for the sufferers. Cooperate with him in forming a relief Committee. I authorize you to draw upon me for $3000. Have issued proclamation appealing to the public for relief for the flood sufferers. Am preparing to sent a train with tents to shelter and accommodate 1000 people, 300 blankets and 1200 emergency rations.
     John R. Tanner, Governor."

On Tuesday evening the representatives of the Governor, Hon. Frederick Wines, Secretary of the State Board of Charities and Miss Julia C. Lathrop, a member of the same organization, arrived with a boat load of tents and a considerable quantity of rations, the fit of the State. Their experience in relief as well as the very energetic services rendered by Dr. Wines and Miss Lathrop, were of incalculable benefit to the Committee. With their assistance the work of relief was gradually systematized and rendered less difficult of judicious and equitable distribution. On April 6th, the Committee issued the following statement and appeal to the Public:

Committee's Appeal

To the public-The Citizens Relief Committee of Shawneetown make the following statement-The breaking of the levee which occurred on Sunday night, resulted, at a careful and moderate estimate in the destruction of 150 dwellings, or about three-eights of the houses in the town. These with all furniture and clothing in them are absolutely destroyed. Not a merchant in town can do business. The first story of every building, whether resident or business block is under water. The whole town is submerged. One tract of twelve acres is about 15 feet under water; this was formerly covered with small dwellings and is now absolutely bare. On this tract the greatest loss of life occurred. It is evident that bodies can not be recovered, nor any absolute knowledge of the number of deaths obtained until the waters abate. We are glad to believe, however, from careful estimates that the loss of life is far less than we feared at first, as we hope that not more than forty were drowned. We are deeply grateful for the prompt gifts of food and clothing, which are relieving our people of the most immediate suffering, and for some time to come we must have such help. We would urgently represent to a generous public, however, that we must also have money in a considerable sum, in order to make it possible for 40 per cent of our citizens to again be a in situation to support themselves and their families. Every citizen has lost. Many are stripped of everything, some of the cloths on their bodies. Not until the waters recede and betray their secret of death and ruin can the extent of the disaster be realized, but it plain that we must ask now for money, not to restore was we have lost, but to aid in making I possible for a large share of our people to exist. Send contributions and make checks payable to Charles Carroll, chairman executive committee.
     Charles Carroll,
     Carl Roedel,
     Frederick Beuckman
     Aaron Mayer,
     M. Carney,
         Relief Committee.

With the assistance of Dr. wines and Miss Lathrop, a census of the flood sufferers was taken during the first week and on separate quarto size cards were entered a list of the members of all families, their ages and the amount or rations in weight to which they were entitled. Full army rations were allowed to adults and half rations to those under 14 years. Each allowance of provisions was dated and entered upon this card, which served as a guide to the Secretary of the Distribution Committee who issued the orders for rations. Injudicious distribution and waste were thus prevented. As soon as possible the commissary was moved from the wharftboat to the old Beck building which provided better storage facilities and was easier of access.

The food and clothing contributions were so freely and so promptly made to our sufferers from every point of the compass were not accounted for to the generous donors as were the cash contributions, since in many instances the contributions were delivered by a Committee, in person, of the localities making them; in other and numerous instances, there were not marks or other indications on the packages showing the origin of the contributions; again, as all such contributions were conveyed free of transportation by all the railroad and steamboat lines, no bills of lading or invoices were furnished the Committee by either the transportation companies or the great hearted donors. The Committee did, however, acknowledge the receipt of all such contributions whenever possible, and it does now extend to every person who made such contributions, however small, its heartfelt gratitude for the assistance rendered our people when they could not assist themselves.

When the resumption of business recalled the members of the Distribution Committee away from the gratuitous services to their usual occupations, it became necessary to hire several clerks to continue the work. The Committee feels grateful for the valuable and gratuitous assistance rendered by many of our citizens and visitors from neighboring towns.

Dr. Wines and Miss Lathrop organized a very efficient system of relief at Camp Lathrop, where they superintended the relief of about two hundred flood sufferers, mostly colored.

Dr. T. M. French, Secretary of the Citizen's Permanent Relief Committee of Philadelphia, Pa., who called on the Committee as the representative of the Governor of Pennsylvania, extended the sympathy of the people of his State an assured us of their assistance if necessary. He deposited $500.00 with Dr. Wines as a relief contribution.

To preserve order and peace, Governor J. R. Tanner had deputed Col. Smith and a file of infantry from Co. F., 4th Reg., I.N.G., and it is with feelings of gratitude that we recall the gallantry and excellent services of the colonel and his brave boys.

Although provisions and clothing arrived in considerable quantities, they were insufficient to supply the distress, which compelled the Committee to purchase as much of these necessities.

Efforts were made to recover the bodies of the dead as soon as possible, and although most bodies were not found until the end of the first week and later, they were fortunately an excellent state of preservation. To provide for as decent a burial as possible, a special Burial Committee was appointed and rendered very efficient service. Much credit is due to those brave and sacrificing ladies who prepared for burial the remains of their unfortunate sisters.

Through the intervention of Senator Cullom, the government Steamer Cisca was sent here and remained several days, rendering valuable service in ridding the town of dead stock. The crew was under the supervision of W. T. Walters. The live stock rescuing crew was superintended by H. G. Sanks, whilst F. e. Minter served as chief of the Vigilance Committee. The very efficient manner in which these gentlemen as well as those under them accomplished their hard and often very disagreeable task, is worthy of the highest respect and gratitude of our community.

Fortunately the health of our flood sufferers did not suffer much from their trials and exposure. Such as needed attention were gratuitously attended by our physicians and the necessary prescriptions were filled free of charge by the Committee.

As soon as the waters had abated, the work of restoration was begun. Dr. J. A. Egan, Secretary of the State Board of Health, appeared on the scene to look after the sanitary condition of the town. He ordered that at once the town be thoroughly cleansed to prevent the outbreak of a pestilence. There being no available funds in the City Treasury, the committee felt itself obligated to undertake this work. Also great quantities of disinfectants were purchased, which were liberally scattered about town. It is to be ascribed to his that the health of our people, to the surprise of all, happily remained as normal as ever.

Whilst idleness always carries with it a certain danger of degeneration, the Committee recognized that the interest and welfare of the people would be best served the earlier opportunities were given them to again become self-reliant and self-supporting. Opportunities for employment were not abundant. The able bodied were therefore cut off from ration allowance and the list of those thus cared for was reduced to the widows, the aged and infirm on April 14th. Camp Lathrop was abandoned on April 21st, and Dr. Wines and Miss Lathrop departed, having earned the respect and gratitude of the Committee and our people All rations allowances were discontinued on May 9th and the Secretary of the Distribution Committee was ordered to present to the Committee an invoice of the balance of provisions on hand. Following is a list of the same presented by Edward Froechlich, Secretary of that Committee:
     95 sacks 1/8 choice Flour.
     85 sacks 1/8 Crown Flour.
     60 sacks 1/8 Mt. Vernon and Cairo Flour,
     51 sacks 1/8 Harrisburg Flour.
     11 sacks Grayville Flour
     8 bbls. Assorted Flour.
     12 bus. Corn Meal.
     2 bbls. Salt.
     3 bags Beans,
     bbls. Sugar
     1 lot Paper Bags.
     3 boxes R. Coffee.
     20 lbs. $. Coffee.
     4 lbs. Baking Powder.
    9 small boxes Candles.
     34 boxes Crackers.
     1 bus. Dried Peas.

The Committee at first was undecided whether to distribute this balance among the people or to sell the same. The amount being so small that beneficial and equitable distribution was difficult of execution, the Committee resolved that the money raised from the sale of the same could be more easily and equally handled and hence the sale was authorized, provided a fair price could be obtained. On May 14th the same were sold for $325.00 to the highest bidders, Krebs and Shaw.

Financial assistance came in rather slowly and did not meet legitimate demands. It is a matter of unavoidable regret hat the outbreak of the Spanish-American War at his time somewhat diverted the attention of the charitable public from our dire distress with the result that in proportion the immense damage sustained only a very limited relief fund came into disposal of the Committee. Great credit is due to the Mayor and the people of Chicago whose energetic efforts and great liberality in our behalf made up a magnanimous gift of over $10,000.00 being over one-third of the entire contributions obtained. However, even a limited reimbursement of the losses sustained by all the flood sufferers was out of question. To apportion this limited fund among all the sufferers according to the rate of losses sustained would have given little, practically no relief to the poorer class. Such as prorate would not have replaced, repaired or rebuilt houses for them. Without present regard for the losses of those who where better situated, the Committee resolved to provide shelter for the more destitute by moving back swellings washed away, repairing those damaged, rebuilding those destroyed and reliving their most urgent wants.

As early as April 21st a special Committee consisting of M. Carney, M. Golden, J. R. Loomis, Wm. T. Walters and C. Clayton were selected to ascertain according to printed schedules of the damages sustained by property owners. As soon as this Committee presented its report, bids on the moving and repair of dwellings were advertised for and contracts were awarded to lowest bidders. Although a special Superintendent was hired to overlook this extensive work, the members of the Committee themselves gave also tot his work their individual attention and withheld payment for work until the conditions of contract had been fully complied with. At the expense of much of our own time we sough to obtain the best possible results.

The Committee then entered into lengthy correspondence with various Lumber firms to secure special rates on building material for erection of new dwellings. Michael Carney and S. H. Stinchcomb were finally sent to St. Louis, on June 14th to select and to purchase the required amount of dressed lumber. Rough lumber was purchased at lower figure in town. Fortunately all building material was purchased when the market was at its lowest and the advance of from 30 to 50 percent since then was saved.

After plans and specifications had been drawn up by the Committee, bids for the erection of new swellings were advertised for. All bids being far in excess of what the Committee considerable reasonable and fair, were rejected the Committee resolved not to pay more than twenty-five, thirty-five and fifty dollars respectively for the erection of one, two and three room dwellings. Contractors finally agreed to accept work at these figures, and the erection of three one room, twenty-two two-room and twenty-five three-room dwellings rapidly proceeded.

The feasibly of now replacing the loss of household goods engaged the serious consideration of the Committee for a considerable time. Cooking Stoves were furnished to families and to the most needy were given blankets and comforts. However the balance of the relief fund and the nature of more pressing public needs, involving the safety of life and property, would not permit us to further venture upon this course of relief.

What was to be done with the balance in the treasury? Those who had not receive any assistance were safety over bridging their own losses. The balance was insufficient to assure beneficial distribution among the many. However and urgent necessity confront the community - the safety of the town was menaced. Although the government was rebuilding the washout in the levee, the excavation on he inside of the levee remained. Until this was filled, the lives and the property of ht e people must remain in danger. The government would not make the fill, the town had no means to undertake it and special taxation of the citizens of Shawneetown at such as disastrous time could not be resorted to. The public good and safety, which is always superior to that o the individual, necessitated the course which the Committee at last decide upon, to devote the balance of the treasure to safeguard the lives and property of the people by filling the dangerous excavation at the break. The plan of the Committee met with the approval of especially all such who had not receive any relief, yet were willing that their portion of relief should be applied in this way. Incidentally and fortunately again the poorer classes became double beneficiaries, indirectly sharing with all the protection thus provided and directly deriving there from employment. Since the government estimate places the mount of earthwork required to rebuild the levee proper at 54,000 cubic yards, and that of the excavation, not included the previous figure for the levee property at 74,000 cubic yards, the Committee fells confident that the expense of the work is comparably small, and that the best interests of the public have been provided for as economically as possible. Three lots, requiring somewhat less than 6,000 cubic yards of earth, remain unfilled on account of the opposition of their owners. The position of these lots was such that a roundabout drive was necessary to fill other parts of the excavation, adding to the expense of the fill as much as would have been sufficient in the estimation of the Committee to fill also these lots without any additional cost to the expense incurred.

For the very same reasons that the city could not, and the government would not, the Committee decided to undertake other improvements absolutely necessary for the public safety. The south sewer was therefore extended to prevent the closing up of the main draining sewer by the additional government levee fill. The north sewer, which had served as d a drainage outlet for the northern end of the own, had caused considerable alarm before the break in the levee occurred. It was declared dangerous by the government engineers and its removal was urged by them. The public safety demanded the removal and the Committee hesitated not to assume the expense. By the closing this north sewer, the northern part of the town had lost its drainage, which could be restored only by the digging of a ditch which would draw the water from this part of town towards the south sewer.

Considering the insufficiency of the relief fund, which scarcely covered fifteen per cent of the losses incurred, the recovery of out town and its people from the losses sustained under such adverse circumstances is most reassuring. Hardly any vestige of the disaster remains and out town presents as creditable an appearance as ever. Our population has not decreased, and our business and industrial condition was not more active or prosperous before the flood. Of late the government has appropriate forty thousand dollars to repair and strengthen our levee, and additional appropriation are expected which will insure us of greater safety. During the eighteen years previous to our late flood, our levee secured us from all devastations of high water, and we confidently hope that the additional work lately done and yet to be done on the same, will guarantee us from a recurrence of a similar disaster.

Submitting this final report, the Committee makes the same very explicit and detailed. Every relief contribution in cash, whether sent directly by the donors to the Committee, or indirectly through others, has been duly entered. The disbursements are accounted for by mention of the number of check, the names of the payee and also the beneficiaries.

Since April 3d, 1898, the members of the Relief Committee have been engrossed with many arduous tasks which demanded much of their time, thought and labor, and we feel happy that the course of time has at last relieved us of further obligations. Whilst we appreciate the trust with which the confidence of the people invested us, we rejoice that the only compensation which we have received for our arduous ask is the conviction, that ever since assuming our trust we have discharged it fearlessly and unflinchingly along with adopted lines of action as we deemed productive of the greatest possible public and individual good. No unreasonable comments or criticisms or undue influence have diverted us from an earnest and energetic endeavor to advance the best public and individual interests, and we believe that in accordance with the prevailing circumstances this was accomplished.
     Charles Carroll, Chairman
     Fred Beuckman, Secretary
     Carl Roedel,
     Aaron Mayer,
     M. Carney,
         Executive Relief Committee

The booklet goes on giving details of receipts, expenses, etc.


Charles Carroll, chairman and treasurer; Michael Carney, mayor; Frederick Beuckman, secretary; Carl Roedel and Aaron Mayer. 1900. The Shawneetown Flood. April 3rd, 1898. Final Report of the Executive Relief Committee. Shawneetown, Illinois: Executive Relief Committee.



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