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Franklin County Nebraska and the 1935 Republican River Flood


I would like to thank Bernice Haskin Post's family for their permission to publish their Mother's memories of both the Republican River Flood, and her impressions and work as a Missonary at Inanda Seminary in Africa. I am happy to put these memories on my web page. The Republican River Flood article itself was written July 31, 1936, just 14 months after the devastating flood. It is a first-hand account of what everyone living in the Republican River Valley experienced in 1935.


Reminiscence of the

Republican River Flood of June 1, 1935

Bernice Haskins Post

Naponee, Nebraska

 

Yes, The Flood. I had lived on the river bottom all my life. The flood of June 1st exceeded anything we had ever seen, heard of or imagined in our wildest dreams. It is now the last of July 1936. A year and two months after that day of Republican River Valley History; yet I have no desire to write this story. To those who were victims of the flood, no words are adequate to describe it. To those who see the valley now, or read about the flood, it is hard to realize what the flood did. It seems long, long ago, even to us.

We live about one fourth mile south of Naponee on a 125 acre farm. Our land has Turkey Creek on the North and the River all along the west side. The highway south of town is on the east side of it.

We were married in September 1926. Just kids, 21 years old. Started out second and third years of College by going a semester to Agri College after we were married. But we were eager to see what we could do with a certain 125 acres of unimproved land, about one fourth mile south of Naponee, Nebraska. So with lots of ideas, we started improving our farm, which was to be our home forever, we hoped. We went heavily in debt, those first four or five years. We asked an old timer here, who had rented the land for years, where to build, so that there would be no danger of water and he instructed us. So we built on land upon which there had never been flood water to man's knowledge.

We built just a three room house that first summer, knowing that in a few years we could build a "mansion". All our other improvements were to last a life time, so we thought, including a large dairy barn, garage, silo, 120 foot hen house, 20 by 28 foot hen house and garage, corn crib, horse barn and milk room; hog houses, cattle shed and square tile silo. Irrigation system to water 90 acres. Our layout included a herd of pure bred Holstein which still holds the state's highest record in Dairy Herd Improvement Assn for butterfat production. A complete line of horses and machinery to farm our 125 acres and another 120 acres of rented land.

The last four years we had been reducing our indebtedness. The spring of 1935, things had never looked so rosy for us. We had secured a Federal loan and could see our way out financially. During May we had received wonderful rains, after the worst dirt storms our country had ever seen. The valley fairly blossomed with small grain, alfalfa, and corn. We had for the first time, been able to irrigate early in the spring, our 50 acres of alfalfa, 30 acres of oats and barley. We had watered twice. It promised to be the best crops we had ever raised. The name we had given our farm, "Sunnynook Dairy Farm" indeed seemed appropriate before June 1st, 1935.

May 31st, some of my friends called about five o'clock in the afternoon, and told me about high waters west of us. I wasn't alarmed at all because I thought it would be down, before it got this far. That night we went to Republican City to the alumni banquet. It rained terribly hard before and during the banquet. No one at the banquet seemed to know about high waters coming or seemed to be alarmed about it. We hurried home because we thought Turkey Creek might be out of its banks and keep us form getting home.

Walters' folks lived a half mile south of us, closer to the river than we did. We did not want to alarm them unnecessarily, so Walter went up to read the Hastings Tribune and see what it said about the water. He came home about eleven p.m. said it sounds plenty bad. But no use waking the folks up before morning because it won't be here till then. We went to bed about eleven thirty and were sleeping on the west porch, so didn't hear the phone ring at twelve o'clock. It was raining; three different parties came to tell us the news and to help us get out. Well, I had always heard high water reports before. They were never half as bad as they sounded. We knew the water had never been near the buildings. It all sounded foolish to me to dress the three youngsters, wake folks up and get out in the rain when it was far away as Oxford and couldn't possibly get here before morning; but Walter thought we had better go right now, as the creek might cut us off from town when the water did come.

First all the men went down to Walters folks to move them out, but they had already moved out the previous evening while we were at the banquet; they hadn't taken their furniture, however, that didn't seem at all necessary. Then the men drove the cows south across the river to a neighbor's pasture. The horses were on the other place and there were plenty of high knolls in the pasture, so they would be all right. I wanted to get my 600 chickens and 150 hens moved to the hay mow of the barn but no one seemed to think we had time. We thought of the livestock, and how uncomfortable for ourselves to be surrounded by water, but didn't think that the force of the water would wash machinery and buildings away.

Reports kept coming until we left abut two a.m. The worse the reports got, the more I put things up in the higher places in the house. I took each of us a change of clothing to last us a day. It would just be a nuisance to take along more than we needed. I took some bread, bacon and eggs to help with the breakfast, where ever we were, and a little bowl of butter. I left a big jar of butter in the ice box. I wanted to be practical and sensible. The last report we got just before leaving the house was from Oxford, saying the Chamber of Commerce insists that everyone leave the valley. The two bridges had already gone out at Oxford. May I say right here, that this community shall always be in debt to Clifford Rebman, our telephone office manager, for his heroic work in seeing that people were notified and moved. He didn't quit calling or send men until he knew that each family had moved. He didn't eat or sleep until it was all over. We took our children to Walter's sisters' house which was already full. We had been invited to some friend in Perth, which is lower Naponee, but as reports kept coming in, most of the people in Perth moved to higher ground, until every house in Naponee was running over. The four of us stayed in the car awhile and tried to sleep but soon gave up and walked to the central office in the rain. We sat around listening for reports until daylight. About five thirty a whole bunch of us women, one trucker and some small boys, came down to our place and carried chickens to the hay loft. Walter and Andy, the hired man, had gone to the elevator to elevate grain out of the pit. They soon joined us. Mrs. Reuben Bashford stayed in the house at the telephone, Clifford kept posting us as to where the water was. When it was this side of Republican City we left. Had all them up in the mow but about two hundred chickens. Thanks to Illa, she had grabbed together lots of our clothing. Walter and I came back once more and piled the car full of clothing, our bank box, violin etc. at about seven fifteen. We then drove west of Naponee to watch the water come.

We were on a hill, with the river and valley just below it. A large crowd had gathered. Some had driven down the hill and up the next one to see the water sooner. The sight was such a shock. The river was not out of its bank, yet it was bank full and the center of the river seemed to be ten feet higher than the banks. In the middle of the river was a solid mat of trash. It looked as if one could walk on it without getting your feet wet. Looking west, we could see a rolling wall of water about four feet high, from bluff to bluff. We saw it hit the railroad grade and twist those rails off as if they were paper. But look. What are people saying and pointing at? A car on the highway in the water. They didn't get back across in time. It's sweeping the car off the road; the people are getting out; who are they? Gil Rains car; but who is with him? His father, Ed Buising, Ralph Rebman, and the two little Houtz boys. We saw some of them swimming north to the bluffs. We saw Mr. Frank Rains just stand in the road and then all at once go under the water. The crowd was frantic, too far away to help. We rushed to our cars and drove to town for ropes etc. Not until this terrible sight, did we realize how awful it really was or that it would be in our buildings, three fourths mile from the river. The shock made me cry. I couldn't stop, though I tried desperately. In about thirty minutes word came back that all had been saved. Until then, men, women and children stood down on the highway in groups crying, waiting for news of the men. It seemed hopeless to think that they could get out alive. The town rejoiced when word came back. All that day, and the next, when anyone saw Marvin and Dale Houtz aged about twelve and fourteen, some pals had their arms around these boys shoulders.

At about ten a.m. we ate breakfast. It had been ready since five o'clock, but no one could eat. We were at Roy Bashford's on Saturday, for our meals, refugees among many others; however, no one was able to eat much. Neither were people able to do their household duties or stay in their places of business. When the water hit our farm, we saw the hog houses and corn crib leave. Other people saw our 120 foot hen house too. We wanted to watch the water and yet it gave us a sickening feeling to see the destruction. Once Walter saw our horses floundering in the water down on the other place, and we knew they were gone, but in the afternoon we went to the elevator and could see that they had reached a high knoll and were safe. They were on the only knob that wasn't under water on the whole place. Ray Drummond's mules found a neighboring knoll and were safe.

An unusual thing happened that evening. The men had driven two little calves up town as they were missed when the cows were driven out in the night. Along about evening, a man drove up and wanted to see that good bull calf that I had written to him about. There it stood on the tracks, near the water. The calf was sold and loaded right there. We lost two little ones that were left in the barn.

People were very kind and invited us to their homes; however we were able to get the Evangelical Parsonage to live in until we could move back home. In a few days Mr. and Mrs. Will Melton moved in with us. They were an old couple. We enjoyed being together.

Saturday night, as we tucked our three children in one bed, we were happy and gave thanks to God that we were all together and safe. It was then that we realized that material things didn't count. We had heard reports all day of acquaintances west of us being drowned or marooned in trees. Also of another eight foot wall of water coming. Walter and I got up about two a.m. There were things that we wanted to get out of the house before that next wall of water took the house. We went to the central office and found, to our joy, that no more water was coming. It was another false alarm. One of those reasons why people on the bottoms do not know what to believe when reports do come and of course the water had never been so high by eight feet or more.

The water had receded enough that Walter and I walked home at daylight at four in the morning. It was still as high as old timers had ever seen it even after all that time. This sight was our second great shock. We were to be alone and have our cry out by ourselves. Everything was gone but the house, barn and upright silo; and what a condition it left them in.

It was at this time that we realized that our dreams of a permanent home were washed up. Our remaining improvements were worth about $2,500. Both tile ends were out of the barn; all floor supports gone; looked as though the floor would fall any minute. About 150 young chickens were saved; the rest had flown down in the water to their grave. The crop loss was total; killed all the 50 acres of alfalfa. The machinery loss heavy. The land was not washed badly. Perhaps the alfalfa roots and hay helped hold it. Our total loss was estimated at $5,000. The house didn't look as though we could ever live in it again. The water had been 40 inches deep and the mud was 12 inches deep. All windows broken, porches washed off. Even one interior wall moved. A bouquet of pansies sat on top of a built-in cabinet, so fresh and pretty. How out of place it seemed, and how clean the sink looked, where the mud hadn't been.

Sight seers came by the hundreds Sunday, from miles north, to view the wreckage. Our place was the only one assessable to cars on that day. We didn't stay but a little while, but drove to Republican City and spent the day with my uncle, Rev. William Haskins and my mother. Mother had stayed all night after the banquet or she would have been on the south side of the river. We were very anxious to get word from my sister, two uncles and friends south of the river. Frank Peterson had a short wave radio which he used night and day during the flood, sending and receiving messages. We sent a message to friends at Agra, Kansas, about thirty miles away, telling them to tell Rebmans that the men and boys were saved, also to have someone milk our cows that were south of the river. We also got a message that our folks south of the river were all right but loss heavy.

Well, we started cleaning in earnest. We washed clothing and bedding with two washing machines for three days. Town friends helped in every way they could. They invited us out to meals and even sent in cooked things. The Red Cross was set up at Franklin, where clothing, furniture and grocery slips were given away. The American Legion and the Star Auxiliary sent clothes. The Federal relief gave feed for livestock; so no one suffered. The goodness and generosity of people was overwhelming; how humble and grateful we felt. There was much red tape to some of the agencies; some people receiving much more than others; but no one suffered. This helped and uplifted more than anything else, gave the people courage to go ahead and try again. Seed corn was given people and the Red Cross helped with machinery to put the cop in again. During the first week, we lost track of time. It seemed that the world had stopped to clean up the mess. It seemed impossible that anyone could enjoy a movie or all game after such tragedy; but how fine that the whole world doesn't have to suffer at the same time, though it does sympathize. We would get up before daylight and work until dark, and then couldn't sleep. At night I would cry; Walter would laugh at me until we would both soon be laughing. On Wednesday occurred the funeral of an old family friend who had lived on the river bottom south of Republican. Relay of men carried the casket two miles over washed out bridge approaches. It was here that I first saw my sister and uncles after the flood. My sister and I went to the parsonage to weep on each others shoulders.

The C.C.C. boys did much to make our place livable after the flood. The men were busy putting in corn for a neighbor. The men and boys of the C.C.C. straightened up the trees in the orchard and took out the dead ones. Cleaned cement and tile and machinery off the fields, and worked days cleaning out the barn and silo. Took trash out of the yard fence wire and built the back, cleaned the yard of trash and straightened up the shrubbery. My rose blossomed lovely lying flat on the ground in a bunch of trash. That gave courage. The boys hoed and fenced the little garden that was left. The P.W. men cleaned out the cellar. It took them three days to get all the mud out. The Red Cross gave us funds for the material to repair our house, so Mr. Benedict repaired the house and furniture. We moved back on Friday. That was nearly two weeks later. On the following Sunday night, again in the night and during a rain, warnings came to move out. We worked all night and all the next day to take every little thing out. The water came and was high but didn't come anywhere near our buildings.

We had been the first in our community to move back. Four of our close neighbors never moved back. We felt sort of alone without our old neighbors. Much of our machinery and building wreckage washed from our place to four miles east of us. Our neighbors east of us didn't allow strangers to steal any of the things, as did happen in so many cases. Things are never as dark as they seem at first. We thought we would have to borrow until another cop time then we were well paid for putting our crops right back in. Grain and pigs were cheap, so Walter made a nice profit buying and selling small grain and feeding pigs. We were able to make a living and make a down payment on a flood farm we purchased last fall, the place we had been renting. We are still here, the land is fine, but no more improvements; and five of us living in a three room house with hired men much of the time. No place to build or money to build with. Will we ever change our minds and decide to stay here permenantly? I hardly think so, though it is out choice of all places. However, we have built back our irrigation system, which we thought would never be done.

Just to show you how people won't believe this story; an insurance man from Omaha was here in December looking around. He saw the remains of the irrigation system laying around, the flumes etc. and said, That's quite a wreck, did you ever use it? Walter answered, Yes, before the flood. He asked, where did the water come from to get here, those hills to the north ? He couldn't believe that the river had reached out its crushing force that far.

A government survey man was here this spring. He said, the current was very strong here was it? How many trees did it wash out along the river? Well, it seemed a little out of place to us to be asking things of this nature as though that was the greatest damage done, the trees washed out. Besides we had seven acres of young cottonwoods left that we had not been able to rid of yet, besides thousands scattered over the fields.

Our irrigation system is not as extensive as it was formerly, but we are able to water 50 acres of corn now and it looks very promising at present.

This next March we will move to my mother's well improved farm seven miles west, on the Republican River bottom. In a few years we hope to be back to Naponee and find that location where we may have a permanent home that won't be washed away in five minutes. Here is a quotation I found written in Walter's account book, January 15, 1936. He may not let me use it, but here it is: "Let us hope that the future will bring us a greater spread between total valuation and total indebtedness as well as a greater sense of security and peace."

Bernice Haskins Post

Naponee, Nebraska

July 31, 1936

 


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