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Active Weather Pattern Continues for the Northwestern U.S.

A series of Pacific storm systems will bring periods of locally heavy rain, gusty winds, and mountain snow to portions of Washington and Oregon for the next couple days. In addition, much of the northwestern U.S. and Intermountain West will experience strong winds from these storm systems, particularly in Sierra Nevada, Great Basin, and the northern Rockies/High Plains. Read More >

 

 

Republican River Flood of 1935

A Closer Look at

Culbertson, Nebraska

 

Back To Map Personal Stories Newspapers Accounts Photos Weather Data

Amount of Rain Measured - 4.6 inches

Time Flood Impacted Culbertson- 11 am

River Depth at Culbertson- 11.4 feet

River Width at Culbertson- 1.50 miles

Normal / Flood Width of River- 100 / 1400 feet

 

 Personal Stories from Culbertson

From Swept Away page 94,

from an account by Nina Berger Fuller,

“The Driftwood Creek Flood of 1935”:

We lived in Culbertson. Fred drove a tank wagon for Standard Oil Company. Memorial Day we visited the cemetery in McCook, then decided to drive out to see my folks, who lived on the Miner Ranch on the Driftwood in the Cornell neighborhood 15 miles southwest of Culbertson. About four o’clock in the afternoon black angry-looking clouds began to rollup in the west. We had been having many bad storms recently and we thought we should start for home. My father said we should stay for supper, said the cloud looked bad, we’d better not start out. Fred remarked, “If I though I might see some high water, I’d stay.” Little did he know what he might see! High water was not uncommon on the Driftwood. All the ranch buildings were close to the creek. We had seen it out of its banks many times, but it had never come into the house.

The storm came fast with severe thunder and lightning. The men put the baby calves and pigs in the barn so they’d be safe. It started raining very hard. The men came in for supper. The rain poured down. By the time we finished eating, we knew for sure we were in for something bad. The neighbors, the Nealeaghs who lived about four miles up the creek called. “The water is out of the creek banks and read to come into our house.” It had never been that high before.

The men rushed outside to get what possessions they could to higher ground. They drove the tank wagon, the tractor, two cars to a horse corral which was the high spot. Soon the water was rising so rapidly they could no longer work, so they came in the house soaking wet. The water poured in after them and raised about a foot inside the house, then started to recede.

“The worst is over,” we thought. But no such luck. It started rising suddenly again so fast. Soon it was waist deep and we knew we were in real trouble. I will never know why we didn’t go for higher ground while we could, but it was pitch dark and storming viciously. The upstairs was an attic room that had been made into sleeping quarters for the hired men. There were eleven of us in this attic room…We had left a kerosene lamp burning on the warming oven of the kitchen range. When the light went out we knew the water was over the range and not far from us. We could feel and hear the furniture bumping on the ceiling below us, as we sat, too terrified to talk or utter a word. Sonny cried for a drink, and with water everywhere we had not one drop to drink. My mother had baked bread that afternoon, it was cooling on the cabinet, be we hadn’t picked it up, we were so terrified. My father kept a vigil at the west window. He could see only when it would lightning. All night long we heard calves, pigs, and chickens going by the house in the main current. They had floated out of the barn as the water rose over the bottom half of the two piece doors.

Just west of the house was a large granary and between this and the house was a pit-scale. The water had taken the platform from the scales downstream. As lightning lighted things up, my father exclaimed, “Oh my God! Here comes the granary!” Being in a direct line, we knew it would hit us and that would be it.

By some stroke of fate, the corner of the granary dropped into the scale-pit and there it lodged. What we thought was going to be our doom turned out to be our salvation as the granary split the main current and turned it around the sides of the house. Two wagons had also dropped into the scale-pit and they stuck out and helped hold the granary. About this time we felt a terrific jar and saw the walls pull apart in the corners. Looking out of the east window we saw the entire east side of the house lying out flat on the water, still attached at the top. This released the pressure inside, another think in our favor. At daylight the water was at its highest. The storm was letting up. This gave us some encouragement. Mother stood at the window and saw all her treasured possessions go down stream one by one. The only things enjoying this whole horrifying experience were a flock of ducks. They were having a ball. About nine o’clock (a.m.) the water started receding slowly. Now we knew that all we had to do was thank God and wait it out. About this time we could faintly hear a voice calling from the other side of the creek.

It was a neighbor, Virgil Hay, trying to find out if we were still alive. The men were able to call back to him, so he knew we were still in the house.

About four p.m. we were able to wade out in waist deep water, watching that we didn’t drop into a hole. We all made it to higher ground. We found the cars had all gone down stream, but the gasoline truck was still in the corral. The engine was undamaged, as the loaded truck was heavier than the cab portion, so the cab rose with the water and at one time the truck looked like it was standing on end. As the water went down, the truck settled back down. There was only one place we could go, that was to the Cornell schoolhouse. We would have had to cross creeks to get anywhere else. All the bridges were gone. Creeks were still running bank full.

By that time another storm was coming from the west and north. The clouds were black and vicious looking. We were terrified again. We sat in the basement the remainder of the day, or I might say several days. There were no telephone lines left. We presumed we were the only ones in this predicament. Later we learned that when we saw that terrible cloud, a tornado was passing over Trenton and down the Republican river, which was flooding at its peak at that time taking hundreds of lives.

Swept Away page 99:

Twenty Trapped at Depot:

The water charging down upon the railroad tracks at the bridge was unable to escape. It continued down the north side of the tracks, cutting out deep holes in the street leading to the depot and the elevator. It went out through the fairgrounds which were completely covered by water. One building was demolished there. A scale office of the Shannon Grain Company was moved to within a few feet of the depot. There were people in the depot. They stayed until the following morning. The water failed to get inside the building. Because telephone and telegraph lines were washed out and highways blocked by washed out bridges, no word got out to the outside world about the dangerous situation. An amateur radio station was set up at McCook Friday and that night outside stations picked up the calls for help. Airplanes then flew over and by Saturday the valley swarmed with rescue parties.

Before striking the Perry district, the storm struck the O.T. Confer farm southwest of Culbertson and demolished farm buildings. The Confers had gone to the farm cave when they saw the approaching storm. The twister then jumped to the north side of the Republican valley, striking farm buildings at the Alex Lebsack place four miles east of Culbertson. A large barn was demolished and the house was moved off its foundation breaking window panes and shaking the building.

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 Newspaper Articles from Culbertson

From the McCook Tribune, June 3, 1935

Roy Anspall of near Culbertson tried to ride horseback to the neighboring place to warn them about the coming flood. That neighborly act cost him his life. The horse was found dead later with the saddle still on, mute evidence of what probably happened to the rider. His body has not yet been found.

The Progress, June 6, 1935

No report yet of the Bernard J. Wallace family which were swept away on the roof other their home south of Culbertson last Friday, in what was said to be the worst flood ever to hit the Republican Valley…It is believed the family were all drowned and the bodies carried down stream or buried underneath a pile of debris, as persons standing on the bank of the river a half a mile away watched the house float down stream, finally crashing into a tree, where all trace of the family was lost.

Here at Culbertson the peaceful valley was turned into a river two miles wide. The water rose until it covered the flooring of the Frenchman river bridge. The railroad tracks were completely submerged and out in the middle of the valley was a raging torrent of what was the Republican river.

While people stood on the bank of the river and watched both the river bridges over the Republican folded up and float away, they saw homes come tearing down stream, strike a tree and crumble; they saw homes of their friends move about, some being destroyed completely and float away; they saw livestock swept away from the highest points in the valley where they had gone to seek safety; they saw buildings of every sort, bridges, fences, telegraph and telephone lines destroyed; and what a sight it was when the watchers who lined the river bank, when they saw the little Wallace home picked up from its cement floor, carrying that family of six on down the stream. They watched the frame building travel as far as the view permitted, but it finally went out of view. Watchers on the bank of the river near the Blackwood later reported the house crashed into a tree near that point and none of the family were seen thereafter.

The people of Culbertson witnessed another sight that will long be remembered, and that was when the home of Tom Moore and family, south and east of the river bridge here, started down stream with the family all inside. Mr. and Mrs. Moore and daughter Mary Ellen, and son, Thomas, were inside the house when the high water struck. Water stood in the house about four feet deep. Suddenly it gave a lurch and started down stream. It had gone perhaps forty rods when it suddenly stopped, being caught on higher ground. It withstood the assault of the waves, even through the tornado period, and next morning searchers saw the family outside the home, drying clothing and cleaning mud from their home.

While onlookers from the river bank saw the Moore and Wallace homes leave their foundations, two railroad men, who had been on duty since early morning, were trapped by the water near the railroad bridge, west of the depot. They climbed out of the water onto the semaphores where they clung until just before the tornado cloud came up about two o’clock in the afternoon. Evidently, the men felt the semaphores shake as the water charged against them, for they climbed into about four feet of water and waded, step by step, up the track to a group of boxcars on a sidetrack near the sale pavilion.

The men in making their way to the cars crossed a washout under the track at one point that was about 50 yards wide with water underneath about 15 feet deep. One misstep and they were gone. Some of the ties, too, had been washed away, but the men were successful in feeling their way over the ties and not dropping into any holes.

Monday afternoon two bodies were found at points near Culbertson. One of the bodies was that of George Culver of Trenton, found almost buried in sand on the Henry Kautz farm, one mile east of Culbertson on the south side of the river.

The other body was that of Miss Ethel Black of between Trenton and Stratton, found on the John Hein farm, west of the city on the north side of the river. The bodies were taken to Trenton immediately upon recovery.

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 Photos from the Area

 

 

 

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 Cooperative Weather Data

May 1935 - pdf

June 1935 - pdf

River Flow Graphs

From the Republican River near Culbertson:

From the Frenchman Creek near Culbertson:

 

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