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Flood Recollections

This article first appeared in issue 14, and was written by Bertha Shirley Montgomery.

(Account written in the '70's )

At the time Virge and I, with our three small daughters, were living on Mr. Alba Todd's farm near Columbia. We heard nothing about the flood till late Saturday afternoon when Mr. Todd rode out to the farm to tell us. We had been raised near Gradyville and had many friends and relatives there. I cannot describe the shock and grief we felt, but I still remember it.

Early Sunday morning, as soon as he could cross the creeks, Virge went to help in the search for those who were drowned. There were 21, mostly women and children. A number of the men had been away from home that Friday night, June 7, 1907.

Dr. Nell called away from home on a labor case

Dr. Lawrence Nell had gone back into the hills on a "labor case." When he came home almost exhausted, just before daylight, he put his horse in the barn and did not realize that the whole front part of his house was gone.

When he went to put his foot on the front doorstep and found no step there, he looked up and there was only emptiness where the main part of the house had been. The back part of the house was still there.

Had his wife and four small sons stayed in the kitchen that night, they would not have drowned. His daughter Christine was saved because she was visiting a neighbor.

Mrs. Strong Hill waded waist deep water

to save her children

Strong Hill had gone to Louisville, buying goods for his store. When the water had surrounded the house and kept rising, Mrs. Hill took the children and waded through water that was almost waist deep, and reached safety with neighbors who lived on higher ground.

The house was moved from its foundation but did not break up.

Lum Hill survived only

because he went to see about chickens

Lum (Columbus) Hill and his wife and baby were spending the evening with Mrs. Cal Wilmore and her daughter Ada and baby, who lived next door.

When they heard a disturbance among the chickens, Mr. Hill went back home to investigate. He found that water running through the coops was disturbing the mother hens. By the time he had moved the coops to higher ground, the water had become so deep and swift between the houses that he, being unable to swim, could not get back to his wife and baby.

Mrs. Wilmore's house was not destroyed.

The women and babies would most likely have lived if they had stayed inside the house, but when the water started coming into the house, they ran out onto the porch.

Clarence Hindman told how he saw them washed away. He and some friends were in a store up on a hill playing cards to while away a stormy night. When they detected a difference in the roar of the storm, they went outside to look. They saw swift water everywhere below.

The whole scene was lit up by the constant flashing of the lightening all across the sky. He saw the women running up and down the length of the porch with their arms reaching out, and though he couldn't hear them, he could see they were screaming for help. It was impossible to reach them-her knew no voice could reach them over the roar of water and thunder-but he kept screaming at them to go back into the house.

Then he saw a large wave sweep across the porch, and they were gone. Mrs. Wilmore was Mr. Hindman's mother-in-law.

Mrs. Nell's body

not found for two weeks

Most of the dead were found during the first week of searching. The weather was hot. As soon as they were found, funeral services were held, and they were buried. Then the search went on for the others. At the end of the second week, all had been found except Mrs. Lula Nell, the doctor's wife.

People were giving up, thinking she had been carried away. Then in the sand at the bottom of a huge drift down near Portland on Russell Creek, they found her.

Ribbons of calico and gingham

decorated trees along the creek

People came from miles around to see the havoc which had been created by the flood. There were drifts as large as houses, and in addition to the regular debris found in drifts, there were tables and chairs and bed-steads-there were canned stuff and middlings of meat and all the different things that would come from the two stores that were washed away. The trees along the creek were hung with streamers of calico and gingham-ribbons of lace. When I recall it, I can still see it.

One thing stays with me always

One thing which stays in my mind is what my father, Johnny Bob Shirley, told me about how he learned of the flood.

When he got up that Saturday morning he found that the storm had blown down trees onto fences, the water had washed deep gullies in the fresh-plowed fields, and a water gate had been washed away and let his hogs and cows out. He was worrying with this problem, when he saw Mr. Will Hindman riding over the hill toward him.

Mr. Hindman was a close neighbor and a good friend so when he got close enough my father began telling him all his troubles. Mr. Hindman said, "Yes, Johnny, it's bad, but things like that don't matter."

Father couldn't understand his seeming lack of concern for a friend's troubles. When he started to protest, Mr. Hindman said, "I know, Johnny, I know, but," then his voice broke, "Johnny, there's been lives lost!"

These are some of the things I remember as they were told to me more than 60 years ago. If there was error in the telling or defect in the remembering it couldn't make much difference to anyone now. And maybe it will help someone recall those long-ago times.

This story was posted on 1997-06-15 12:01:01
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