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Rollin Keltner Survived The Night To Tell About It

This article first appeared in issue 14, and was written by Rollin Keltner.

Story of the late Rollin Keltner, James Howard Keltner's father:

I was nine years old at the time of the Gradyville flood, and those scenes are as vivid to me today as they were the night of June 7, 1907.

John Will and Sally Moss Keltner were my grandparents. They were feeling poorly and my brother, Marvin and I were taking night about staying with them to do the milking and other chores. This Friday was my time to stay. There were in the house that night my grandparents; Venie Moss, who was staying there to help my grandmother; Jake and Elnora Nelson and their two sons from Green County on a visit; and me.

There were two distinct periods of rain during the storm. It started raining just about good dusk - rained really hard - slackened, and then came again. The lightning was a constant flash. We had all gone to bed and about 11 p.m. something woke up my grandfather. When he put his foot on the floor, the carpet was wet. By the time he wakened the rest of us, the water was four feet in the house.

The water came in abreast and came up fast. It broke open the doors and knocked out the windows. Grandmother was standing between two doors with a lit lamp in her hand. I was standing close to her when she was pulled out the open door, but the wall protected me.

Venie decided to go to the well house, about 20 feet from the kitchen and connected by a platform three or four feet high. She thought if she got up on the shelf she would be safer. She was warned she couldn't make it, but went anyway, and the current swept her off the walkway.

There was no upstairs to the house, but Jake grabbed a stick of wood and broke a hole in the ceiling, and we all climbed up in the attic.

The house broke in two, and we could see up and down the creek because of the constant lightening. We saw Hartfield Moss' house coming toward us. It was a big old house with 10 or 12 rooms. It missed us about 10 feet when it suddenly swapped ends. Hartfield's wife and five children and his mother, who was sister of my grandmother, were all in the house and all drowned.

You couldn't hear anything for the rain and the roar of the creek. The water didn't look like water, there was too much dirt in it. Farmers had just planted corn, and the rain took the soil as deep as the plow loom. Trees were coming down the creek, some with their roots foremost, others, their tops, some rolling and changing ends. There were rocks, also, as large as 15 tons, by the dozens, and dead stock and other debris coming down. A dead cow lodged on the part of our house where we were and where it had come to rest in a ditch after breaking up.

We stayed up in the loft about five hours. It wasn't daylight but not far from it, when we saw the tip of the peach tree in the yard begin to appear. Then Uncle Jake looked up the creek and saw a lit lantern bobbing. He called and W.L. Grady, Mitchell Dennry, Garfield Coomer, Logan Hagan and Jim and Austin Wilmore came to help us. We waded water as deep as we could to get out.

Grandpa Keltner's house was the last one down the creek. The first house was that of Dr. L.C. Nell. I sold the land that the house sat on not long ago. Mrs. Nell - Lula and her children, Jim Weeden, Allen, George, and the baby were all drowned. Doc was out on a call and Christine was right across the creek at Clayton Bell's house.

Lum Hill's house was next, but they were not at home. They had stepped down about 40 yards to Mrs. Wilmore's house Melissa Hill and her baby drowned there.

Mrs. Cal Wilmore, her daughter, Ada Williams, and baby, also drowned there with Mrs. Hill and Henry. The house didn't move. It was torn down some time ago.

The Methodist parsonage was next. Preacher Wilson and his wife were away from home. Their son, Paul, who was about 20 years old, was asleep. He drowned and washed out, and the house was washed about 12 to 15 feet.

Alex Estes' house was washed about thirty yards and lodged against W.L. Grady's barn.

Next was Hartfield Moss' house and then Grandpa's. Between the Wilmore Store and the mill was an office or small building. Charlie Sexton had a shoe shop there but had been gone for about five years. It was then used for various things. It was found bottom side up in the same ditch as our house about 75 yards from its original site.

Grandmother was the first found at the mouth of Sherrill's Branch about a half mile away. Venie was found at the lower end of Governor Hindman's bottom, balanced in the top of a tall, slim elm about 20 feet from the ground. The water had bent the tree, but it sprung back up when the water went down.

Melissa Hill was the last one recovered. She was found by Mr. Willis about two weeks later in the Cheatham Bottom on Russell Creek. The body was covered by a few corn stalks.

A lot of livestock was lost, but Luther Grady was able to get his horses out except two or three colts who rode the flood out on bales of hay. Grandpa's barn was washed away and all the dirt - just bare rock left where it had stood. Their two horses were in the barn, and a cow in the lot that night. The horses were found later about three miles down the creek grazing in a bottom. The cow came home, striking the creek where she went out on that Friday night. Not a scratch on any of them. These were the only stock to survive.

After the flood had passed, the creek and the valley were clogged with debris. It took 132 men almost all day to tear down one of these drifts.

Above the highway bridge over Big Creek on Highway 80, three creeks come together, draining about 25 miles. This is where the flood at Gradyville struck that night. Today the washes and scars are still very visible on many of the steep hillsides of the creek.

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