The 1935 Republican River Flood

From the April 2010 Stereoscope

The 1935 Republican Flood Written by Sandra Salter

Plans are being made to honor those who lost their life in the Republican Valley Flood by marking each known person’s grave with a special marker on Memorial Day 2010. It is believed that 113 people lost their lives and some family members were never found.The Story of the Flood The Terrible Loss of Life, The Bravery of the Volunteers and the Families That Survived After years of drought in Nebraska, rain was a welcome site in May of 1935. It started raining in eastern Colorado on May 30 and continued for two days dumping 15 inches of rain. The Arikaree River and South Fork of the Republican River poured out of their banks, releasing flood waters on the 100-mile rampage of death and destruction. In South Central Nebraska, news came to the Republican Valley families that there might be flooding. Few took it seriously as there had been such warnings in 1905, 1915 and 1923 with little to moderate flooding happening. However, this time the heavy rains came and on May 31st news came that Cambridge, Nebraska was already under five feet of water. Then, at 1:00 a.m. on June 1st literally, a wall of water came into Oxford cresting at sixteen feet high. The Oxford Standard story said, “When the houses began to fill up, and were finally toppled over by the force of the swift current, shrieks for help could be heard, but shrouded in darkness, nothing could be seen.” It was reported later that in Oxford 20 houses were demolished and that loss of farmlands and property would be at least a half million dollars. Death was everywhere along the valley from the Nebraska-Colorado border and as far down stream to Franklin, Nebraska. On Saturday, June 1st, Holdrege National guards headed by Ed Gillette and Second Lieutenant Bernard Dahlstedt and Sergeant Levi Londborg set up camp in Oxford. The Holdrege fireman also rushed to help with the rescue. That same day, World War I veteran and Holdrege fireman, Glen M. Anderson, lost his life when the boat he was on overturned as he sought to pull a stranded person to safety. Anderson was sited as he was swept beneath two different bridges downstream. The Kearney Hub reporter said he was yelling for help both times, but couldn’t be reached. His companion was also missing and it is unknown what happened to him. Mr. Anderson left a wife Elnora and children, Wanda, age 10; Lorraine, age 8 and G. M., age 6. A huge crowd attended Anderson’s funeral at the St. Elizabeth Episcopal Church. He is buried at Prairie Home Cemetery near Holdrege. Hundreds of stories have been written by the families that survived. Here is a newspaper story found in our library:The Fuchs Family of OxfordAs told by Howard Fuchs who was 2 ½ years old at the timeBy Ann Brown Regional Correspondent(Undated article probably written in 1985) Probably no one suffered more loss then the Fuchs family. Out of 11 family members only four survived. The Fuchs family lived a quarter of a mile from the river and although the family had been warned of rising water they were not fearful and decided to stay. Another reason for staying was that Howard’s sister had chicken pox. It was about midnight when Howard’s dad saw the wall of water coming when a flash of lighting lit up the night sky. The family went to the upstairs of the two story house, a hole was made in the roof and they climbed a ladder to the roof of the house. “A friend, Ralph Blauvelt and Howard’s sister, Willis Lu were on the north side of the roof. Howard and his parents were on the other. It was ‘Kind of thrilling’ when the house began to float. Fuchs said it drifted several miles, hit a tree and broke apart. The north half, along with Blauvelt and his sister, fell into the water. They were lost immediately in the swirling waters.” “We were also in the water, but Dad was a strong swimmer. Fuchs was being pulled by his dad, while his mother held on to the back of dad’s overalls. His mother let go after Willis Lu was drowned. His sister’s body was found months later. His mother’s body was never found.” Fuchs and his dad made their way to an island where the water had receded. His dad retrieved Fuchs’s baby bed, bedding and the family dog, Jack, as they floated by. “He slit the mattress with his pocketknife and put me and the dog in it and we went to sleep.” Fuchs said, “When the sun came out, he took a good look at me. I had chicken pox, as if he didn’t have enough on his mind.” They were on the island for three days and most of the four nights, until being rescued by the National Guard and three Oxford men. They ate canned food his dad had retrieved by swimming to a damaged house on the south side of the river and drank river water. Fuchs said he cried for his mother. “He (Dad) finally explained that mom was gone and we would probably never see her again and I guess I never asked anymore.” At a first aid station in Oxford, they found his maternal grandparents, who had spent the night of the flood on a windmill tower, and his dad’s father and brother, Charles and Herman. Fuchs and his father stayed with family in Oxford for six months until his maternal grandparents’ house was cleaned. They learned his paternal grandparent’s house had filled with water and exploded. Hermie and Granddad got to a tree and the rest were lost; Fuchs said “Out of a family of eleven, there were four of us left.” The seven who died were his mother, sister, grandmother, two aunts and two cousins. “I do get a kind of funny feeling about this time of the year,” he said about the anniversary of the flood, “Particularly this year with all the rain, since it’s very similar to what it was in ‘35.” The tragedy produced many heroes. The late W. C. Bartlett of Alma wrote, “Those who did not see this terrifying flood cannot realize the courage it took to venture into its swirling torrents in hastily constructed boats, especially by men unused to boats and unfamiliar to high waters.” —END

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