National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce



Republican River Flood of 1935

A Closer Look at

Saint Francis, Kansas


Back To Map Personal Stories Newspapers Accounts Photos Weather Data

Amount of Rain Measured - 1.88 inches

Time Flood Impacted Saint Francis -3 a.m.

River Depth at Saint Francis - 15 feet

River Width at Saint Francis - 1.5 miles



 Personal Stories from Saint Francis

From Bluff to Bluff

Alta Harding suffered a similar fate 20 miles west of St. Francis. According to the St. Francis Herald her house had started to move shortly after midnight. The entire family was caught unaware, and they were trapped in the boiling waters. One mile down the river the house began to break apart. Alta found a plank to cling to. She saw her mother, her sister Myrtle, and her brothers Rodney and Alfred clinging to other pieces of the house. Her father managed to climb onto the roof of the house. The water flung her down the river where she became stuck in a tree two miles from the foundations of the house. The water was filled with huge trees which were a trap for anything which caught in their branches or roots. Terrified livestock, including horses and cattle were also struggling to survive in the watery hell. Animals were clawing to survive, attempting to climb on anything to get out of the water, be it another living being, debris or dead bodies. The cattle could be heard screaming and bawling over the roaring water. Wildlife caught in the raging waters included opossum, rabbits, skunks, coyote, and deer also struggled to survive straining to hold their heads above the water. Snakes that had made their homes along the river banks were also washed into the writhing waters. They too were crawling onto anything that would float, and were trapped in the debris that dashed against anyone or anything caught in the muddy waters.   It was even reported that a bobcat took refuge with one family on the roof of the house they were riding on. Another danger was quick sands which developed along the shore lines in the tangled debris . It formed in holes where trees had been uprooted and at points where the water had swirled allowing the sand to collect. It was necessary to walk with a long stick, so the ground could be tested for holes where the sand collected, waiting to suck in any unwary man or beast. Horses and men who ventured out to attempt to rescue stranded victims could become trapped before they knew what was happening. The water was also filled with the belongings of those caught in the deluge. Furniture, barrels, bottles, jars, telephone and fencing wire, clothing and even light bulbs could be seen bobbing in the churning water.

Alta clung there until daylight when she was rescued. Her sister was found 3 ½ miles down stream. Alfred was found four miles from home. He had clung to a tree for some time, and then was washed further downstream where he caught hold of a piece of machinery stuck in the mud. He was rescued by raft. The remaining family members were lost, victims of the raging water and the crushing debris.

Even after being rescued, victims of the raging waters often became ill because of the water they had swallowed during their ordeal. After rescue they were often given a potion with a base of cream or milk to make them vomit up the foul river water.

The St. Francis Herald reported that the flood swept past St. Francis, Kansas dumping as much as 24 inches of rain in only minutes. The waters, over a mile and a half wide, swept past the city at about 3 a.m. Friday morning with no warning. People, livestock, buildings, machinery, trees, bridges, fences, and highways were swept into a new channel cut through the county.   They reported that Ben Parks was the first to see the wall of water approaching St. Francis. He was awakened by the noise of the livestock driven into town by the rising waters. He could see in the flash from the lightning that there was water all over the valley. He reported that the flood water was 15 feet above the normal flow of the river. The water would strike a high place on the bank of the river, throwing waves and additional 12 or more feet in to the air. The water was thick with mud and rocks as large as pumpkins.

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 Newspaper Articles from Saint Francis


From the Benkelman Post Souvenir Edition


Peter Courtright Is Missing After South Fork Destroys Kansas Line Gas Station

At the Kansas filling station on the St. Francis road, Chris Courtright and sone Pete were trapped in the station and Eli Courtright, brother of Chris Courtright, met a similar fate in a shack close by. All of the men were asleep. Eli was the first fo discover the flood condition but had scarcely gotten dressed before the station building left its foundation and then collapsed. Eli waded, swam and plunged for some distance before he was caught in a current and after a terrific effort was carried near enough to the base of the hills that he could walk. He started back up the stream when Chris suddenly appeared from the torrents, directly in front of him. Chris said that pete, who is 15 years old, first left the building after they had succeded in battering a hole thru. He started to batter the wall again when it suddenly collapsed and he was thrown into the torrent. Like Eli, he plnged, swam and waded for some distance until a giant wave picked him up and when he landed, the ground was high enough to walk on. He never saw his son after he succeded in getting out and he had not been seen nor heard of since and like the rest of those reported missing, the likelihood of his body being recovered lessens each day.


From  High Water Mark - Unknown newspaper clipping


River Has Fall of Between Seven to Twelve Feet Thru Cheyenne County

Ater the first flood crest had passon Friday, May 31st, people began to breathe a sigh of relief but it was only for a short time before the second and highest flood crest appeared. The South Fork river was terrific in both volume and power. Ir was almost unbelievable. It rolled and tossed and roared and boiled, it appearing that each oncoming wave was more vicious than the one that had just passed. Although the North Fork was at the highest flood stage perhaps ever known, and its flood waves were crowding its north shore wieth terrific force, the side-sweeping effect of the South Fork flood waters swept it to the northwst and seemed to assume the power of mastership, adding to its plunging, rasping, wierd, roaring, never-to-be-forgotten cyclonic like speed as it covered the river bottom and fought defiantly the obstruction that higher ground placed in its path. That water had a deep, yellow liquid appearance. It carried a most repulsice stench with it. It writhed and surged and twisted like a giant serpant, bent on the double purpose of destruction and then escape to lower ground to continue its withering train of disaster and death.

The South Fork is without doubt the most destructive river entering Nebraska territory. It drains more than eighty miles of land from the Kansas line into Colorado. Accoring to the St. Francis Herald cloudbusts at Seibert and Flagler, Colorado, sent the South Fork on its debauch when between 18 and 20 inches of rain fell in a few minues. Harry Scoby, Cheyenne county engineer, was in the section at that time and gave the Herald the information. According to The Herald the flood waters move thru Cheyenne county at the rate of from eight to nine miles per house. The crest of the waters at their highest stage going past St Francis Friday was fifteen feet above the water when the Republican is at its normal, placid flow. The water was five feet above the surface of the new concrete highway bridge washed out at the middle of the valley on Highway 36 near St. Francis. Regerring to the bridge situation there the Herald said: "Strong concrete bridges seemed to suffer the same fate as the wooden structures. The concrete bridge on highway 36 just west of here and about the middle of the valley is washed away completely. There is no sign of it on the spot. The water either dug a grave for it and buried it or washed it far down stream from the original site. And buildings that started flosting into the current were smashed to simthereens in no time."

The South Fork is nor without reason for being the wild, unwielding, treacherous stream it is. The Heald quotes engineers who have surveyed the valley as stating that the South Fork averages a fall of seven feet to the mile though Cheyeene county and that there are some places where the fall is as much as twelve feet to the mile.

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 Photos from the Area


St Francis Light and Power Plant

Saint Francis Light and Power Plant


Webb Scheller Farm - west of St. Francis
May 31, 1935

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 Cooperative Weather Data

Monthly Weather form from Haigler - May 1935 (pdf)

River Flow Graphs

Daily mean discharge of the Arikaree River at Haigler, NE.

Daily mean discharge of the the North Fork of the Republican River near the Colorado-Nebraska border.

Annual peak streamflow of the Arikaree River at Haigler, NE.

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