National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce



Republican River Flood of 1935

A Closer Look at

Benkelman, Nebraska

Back To Map Personal Stories Newspapers Accounts Photos Weather Data


Amount of Rain Measured - 5.9 inches

Time Flood Impacted Benkelman - 9:00 am 1st crest; 3:30 pm 2nd crest

River Depth at Benkelman - 10 feet

River Width at Benkelman - 1.03 miles

Normal / Flood Width of River- 210/ 2730 feet

"At Benkelman a heavy rain began about 9 p.m., and by 11 p.m. torrents of water from nearby hillsides were flowing over the highway at the lower edge of town to a depth of 18 inches. At 3 a.m. the flood advance reached Benkelman, and by 5 a.m. the river bottoms were covered. The water continued to rise gradually until 9 a.m., when the crest stage of 10 feet was attained and the water almost reached the tracks of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad station. At this time the flood crest from the South Fork reached Benkelman and was the chief factor in flooding this vicinity during the time of the first crest from the Republican River above Benkelman. The flood from both streams remained at the crest stage about 4 hours and then started to fall. Within an hour, however, the second crest from the Republican River arrived, and the water rose to a new crest about 3:30 p.m., which was maintained until 5 p.m., when the river started to fall and receded slowly until the next morning it was back in its banks.

The Aristocrat, the fast train of the Burlington Route from Denver to Chicago, reached Benkelman just ahead of the flood and was marooned there for several weeks. Two days later, as soon as the highway was passable, the passengers were taken by motor cars to the Union Pacific Railroad at Ogallala and send on their eastward journey."  From Follensbee and Spiegel, 1937, pg. 33. 

Personal Stories from Benkelman

More to come soon about -

The Aristocrat Train marooned in Benkelman.

back to top


Newspaper Articles from Benkelman



Click on the links below to view the full editions of the Benkelman Post Newspapers.

Benkelman Post Souvenir Flood Edition (pdf - 81 Mb file)

Benkelman Post from June 7, 1935 (pdf - 13.5 Mb file)


From The Benkelman Post and News-Chronicle, Benkelman, NE, Friday, June 7, 1935.

Trapped in Attic of House Family of Eight Drown as Building Sinks into Hole

Local Men Had Discovered Their Plight Friday Morning and were Almost Ready to Attempt Rescue When Flood’s Second Crest Hit

Funeral Held Monday at the Lyric Building

When all reports are compiles and the real facts known, we believe that the Benkelman community will have suffered a greater death total than any section in the entire flood area and one of saddest and most pitiful of all will be the tragedy of the passing of Mr. and Mrs. James Robbin Pettit and their six children who were trapped in the attic of a small house on the river bottom on the Caster farm and who went to their death, the eight as one, without the least shadow of a chance to save their lives. And there was heroism there too, and plenty of it, because Mr. Pettit and his eldest son Edward, 18 years of age, could no doubt had a good change to leave the family and perhaps get to high land before the flood reached its crest. When Heine Frenzen and Arthur Shaver swam out to their little home, Mr. Pettit said he didn’t want to leave his family-“that they were so badly scared and afraid.” He said they had tried to get out when the water was first discovered around their house but that the waves were so high that he feared that most of the younger children at least would drown. He said that they had been in the attic all night and that it was only three feet high and they were badly cramped and were very uncomfortable. The fact that they were both wet and hungry added greatly to their discomfort.

Surveying the situation, Shaver and Frenzen realized that it was impossible for them to effect a rescue as it was only thru holding hands and using every physical resource that they were able to get out to the house. They decided to go to town or seek help from whatever source possible. When they reached high ground again, about twelve men had gathered but there was nothing in the way of equipment with which to do anything. Rescue plans were under discussion when a three-foot raise in the crest of the flood struck the house it appeared to either collapse or disappear. This happened no longer than fifteen minutes after they had left the house.

A rescue squad had previously been organized in town and a raft and a rescue devise of oil barrels had been formulated and cable and rope had been secured and loaded into a truck and near thirty men who are rated as good swimmers assembled but the flood’s progress had been too rapid and the relief crew arrived on the scene about fifteen minutes too late.

The building had completely disappeared from view in a hole that the water washed near it and it was not known until the next morning what had really become of it. As dawn the next morning Frank Walsh organized a crew that removed the bodies. They were brought to town and placed in the Lyric theatre building just as the seven o’clock whistle blew.

Heinie Frenzen, Arthur Shaver and Joe Owens started to Parks at near five o’clock Friday morning upon receipt of news that the town was in distress. At the Pringle ranch they learned that the road was out. Joe walked on into Parks and Heinie and Art remained at the Pringle ranch where they were told of the possibility of the Pettit family being marooned. Mr. Pringle had sent his been down to the house earlier in the morning to find out if they were there. The water was rising rapidly and they did not quite get to the hose. They shouted several times and not being able to get a response, concluded that the family had vacated before the flood waters reached them. The same theory was held at the Caster ranch. But after getting to the house and talking to the family Frenzen and Shaver found that because of the fact that they were lodged in the attic, it was impossible to hear or be heard at any distance.

Funeral services were held at the Lyric building by Rec. Frank Woodward Monday afternoon, at the conclusion of which the eight caskets were all loaded into J. M. DeWester’s large truck and taken to the Benkelman cemetery for burial.

It was one of those pitiful, sorrowful occasions that challenges the power of words to describe. They James Robbin Pettit family were good people, they lived unpretentious but useful lives. Both Mr. and Mrs. Pettit were reared here and their children were born here. A large family in the midst of the country’s greatest depression had tried their very souls but the same courage sustained them as it did in the last tragic minutes of their lives when the father said, “I can not leave my family. They are so afraid.”

Headstone in Benkelman, NE of those lost in flood

back to top



Photos from the Area


Flood in Benkelman, NE from the roof of the Depot

 To the left is a photo of Benkelman on the top of the Depot roof looking toward the river that has flooded.

Famous uprooted tree near South Fork of the Republican River south of Benkelman, NE.

To the left is the remains of a cottonwood tree that was turned upside down and left by the raging waters. This was located near the South Fork of the Republican River to the south of Benkelman. Click here for a newspaper article about the upside down tree.

From the Souvenir Flood Edition Benkelman Post and News-Chronicle


back to top


Cooperative Weather Data

 May 1935 - pdf

June 1935 - pdf

River Flow Graphs

back to top