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MAY 2014 • NEBRASKAland 13 12 NEBRASKAland • APRIL 2014 A Brief History The Republican River Flood of 1935 By David Bristow, Nebraska State Historical Society Flood waters rushed down the Republican River Valley on the morning of May 31, 1935, after a day of torrential rains. Eyewitnesses described a wall of water three to eight feet tall, moving 10 miles per hour when it passed Trenton. Soon the river was running bluff-to-bluff. More than a hundred people died before the waters subsided two days later. It remains one of the worst natural disasters in Nebraska history. Some of the most dramatic photos of the flood come from the Nebraska Power & Light Company plant in McCook, where forty men were trapped on the roof. The first warning came at 4 a.m., when workers were called in to fill sandbags to protect the power plant. As the hours passed, the men couldn't keep up with the rising water. "Word was received from the chief dispatcher's office that the water had risen at a rate of two feet in 10 minutes in Culbertson," plant worker Louis B. Wolf recalled. Even so, local businessmen pleaded for the men "not to let the plant go down regardless of what happens." So the men stayed. They shut down power to the city at 10:50 a.m. As the water rose, some men climbed to the roof, but others were trapped inside. The men on top tore a hole in the roof so everyone could climb up. "We saw a crowd of people on the banks some 400 feet away, our wives, mothers, fathers and friends," Wolf writes. "Under normal conditions, we could have conversed, but the loud roar of the water made it impossible." The swift current prevented anyone from swimming to shore. But how long would the building withstand the torrent of water? Someone came up with a plan to use the power lines that connected the plant to dry land. First, someone shot the insulators off one of the wires. "To this, a large rope was attached and we on the roof pulled it to the power plant," Wolf writes. "A telephone cable car and land-line were brought over on the rope so that we could pull the cart to and from the land." "Two men were thus transferred from the roof to the land. As we were about to start the third man the water washed out the poles and the employee [Robert French] on the H frame near the plant dived into the flood. By his skillful swimming, he succeeded in reaching a point near land about one-fourth of a mile below, where he was thrown a rope and rescued." There were no more rescue attempts that day. The men waited on the roof until the water receded the following day. Then they "waded out to a sandbar near the cooling tower, a large boat was brought to us and from then on, trips were made taking seven or eight men each time until we were all landed safely on land." Many other flood stories don't have such a happy ending. Marlene Wilmot's two-volume history, Bluff-to-Bluff: The 1935 Republican Valley Flood, is full of eyewitness accounts of homes and lives lost, close calls and daring rescues. To prevent another such flood, the federal government built six dams (five in Nebraska) on the Republican and its tributaries to provide flood control, irrigation and recreation. It's something to think about next time you're boating or fishing at one of southwestern Nebraska's reservoirs. ■ RG1992AM-7 NEBRASKA STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY Employee Paul Wilson pulls himself hand over hand to the power plant, bringing a hand line for a telephone cable car to rescue the men. Southern Flying Squirrel By Tim Riley The southern flying squirrel is found in the eastern deciduous forest along the Missouri River from the far southeastern corner of the state north to Nebraska City (see range map on right). Although considered endangered and protected in Nebraska, their populations are considered healthy in many eastern states. Nebraska is considered to be on the periphery of the range of this species. "This fact combined with their need for mature mast producing woodlands means that Nebraska has probably never been critical for the species's overall population," said Sam Wilson, furbearer and carnivore program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. "What decline there has been is likely due to deforestation for conversion to agriculture, firewood, building materials, etc. But again, this is not likely a species that had a historically large presence in our mostly prairie state." Research that has been conducted has been limited due to the fact that the overall population is secure and a few of the larger habitats they likely depend on are mostly stable, including the western edge of several species of oaks and hickories in eastern Nebraska at Indian Cave State Park and the Missouri River bluffs near Rulo. Nebraska can never expect large populations of flying squirrels unless the loss of habitat is dramatically reversed and forested areas are expanded. ■