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Past and Present of Livingston County
Volume 1. History
by Major A. J. Roof. 1913
It is not deemed good policy to advertise great calamities and dire disasters, but the historian who neglects to record the mysteries of creative forces' would be remiss in the performance of his duty. History, past and present, includes all things miraculous and considered worthy of compilation. The historian is a chronicler of events. Holmes says history without chronology is dark and confused and chronology without history is dry and insipid. The grandest history ever written tells us in the sixth, seventh and eighth chapters of Genesis of a great flood, the rain falling forty days and forty nights, and in which "every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth, and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days."
Not so serious by far and not so destructive and far-reaching, was the great local flood that visited North Missouri and many other sections of the country in July, 1909.
The author is indebted to Col. Harry W. Graham, Live stock editor of the Missouri Ruralist, for the following report of the great flood that visited North Missouri and other sections of the country in July, 1909:
To a progressive, in matters of occurrences that pertain to state, home and the church, it is not a pleasant task to talk or write about things destructive. Such things, we try to forget, and yet I am requested to write something historical of the damage and destruction of the great flood of 1909 in Livingston county. I do not remember much about it. I have tried to forget it and therefore my mind does not bring much to me in detail of that great overflow in our Grand river valley lands.
I remember being called at 2 o'clock in the morning from my slumbers, by our city marshal, Maurice Dorney, over the telephone, requesting that I get word to every person in my immediate vicinity who had interests in the bottom lands, that a great cloud burst had broken over the country in the northwest between here and the Iowa line. That a bank of water several feet high was tearing its way down through the country, traversed by Grand river, carrying everything before it. It was on the morning of July 6, 1909, and I remember I stood at the telephone for over an hour sending out the word of warning. It was a difficult task to get people at that hour in the morning awakened and a more difficult problem to make them understand that you were telling them the truth, and there was a tendency on the part of some to argue the matter. The news was so sudden, they could not realize the danger.
Knowing those who had relatives or friends living in the low lands, I first gave the warning to them to rush to the assistance. Then I took up those I knew who had live stock grazing on the lowland pastures. When I had finished, I hastily dressed and started for the river but immediately I got out on the sidewalk, I heard a great roaring noise, as a long freight train crossing a trestle work on a frosty morning. My first thought was a railroad train. The distance was perhaps a mile or a little over. I rushed forward and the terrible noise increased with a fierceness and velocity that foretold of something terrible to happen. I shall never forget that sound on that dark early morning. It was the sound of many mighty waters, six miles in breadth, with a crest nine feet high, trying to force its way through the Wabash, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy and the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railways' big steel bridges and iron and cement culverts that were erected in conjunction with the high embankments that stretched for miles across the lowlands of this great valley.
Many a person and many an animal may feel grateful for these three lines of railroad grades, for they served to check the mighty force of the mad rush of waters that were described by persons who first saw their approach, "as a bank of water six feet high coming overland, through the pastures and woods." Otherwise many lives of persons and entire families would have been swept down with the flood.
This checking of the waters and the timely action of citizens all along the river for many miles, afforded time and opportunity to rescue them in hurriedly made boats before the embankments gave way to the greater force of waters that followed on the heels of the first deluge.
It was fortunate indeed that the telephone existed, for towns up and down the river valley got word of alarm to each community in time to save the lives of the thousands that inhabited the lowlands. And each neighborhood passed the word along to others, by their use and the faithful telephone operators who were on duty that dreadful night.
In Chillicothe the streets in the business part of town took on an activity, never witnessed here before. Before there was light enough to see to mark a line with square and pencil, carpenters and many who were unused to using carpenter tools, were busy making boats from lumber that had been hauled from the lumber yards by transfer companies and individual drays. These and all available boats were put into immediate commission early in the day, and by night-fall every family and its members had been accounted for who resided in the lowland district of the county.
For six days this flood lasted without loss of life, except one, that of a telephone repair man, who in some way fell from the top of a pole where he was repairing the line, into the water below, being unable to swim and to be reached by his fellow workmen in time, he was drowned.
The damage done was great, coming as it did, just before the farmers had threshed and hauled their wheat to market. Whole fields of wheat were carried away in the shock. Meadows and corn fields were ruined, the loose dirt of recent cultivation, washed away, leaving the earth smooth, as though skinned with a sharp edged tool. Poultry and all kinds of live stock was swept away. Railroads, like the individual, suffered great loss. Miles of embankment with ties, heavy steel rails and bridges were carried away like paper toys in a gale.
From statistics furnished by conservative men in the various counties of the state for that year or for the July flood in counties north of the Missouri river and ten counties south, 1,485,290 acres were overflowed and the crops destroyed in these counties amounted to $18,896,340. The destruction in many counties was extremely heavy, while in others it amounted to only a few dollars. This was due to these counties being out of range of the valleys through which the cloud burst water would naturally drain. The heaviest loss fell in Howard, Livingston, Carroll, Daviess, Atchison, Charition, Grundy and Holt counties, ranging from $500,000 to $1,500,000. Howard county headed the list at $1,500,000, while Livingston came second with a loss of $1,200,000. Grundy was third with $1,059, 840. Daviess lost a round million dollars, Carroll, $960,000 and Holt, $825,000.
These figures represent only the loss of crops that were destroyed and not the loss to soil, fences and other farm property. A conservative estimate of the entire loss to Livingston county from that flood, including crops, live stock and other property, would be around two million five hundred thousand dollars.
While outside aid was proffered, it was not accepted. Livingston county took care of its loss. Funds were raised to give relief and tide over sufferers until they could get started again. Seed corn and seed potatoes were purchased and distributed to the farmers to replant their land and at the close of the year there remained in this relief fund nearly two hundred dollars surplus.
The territory embraced by this great flood was between one-fourth and one-third of the acreage of the county. It was a phenomenal flood, not due to natural conditions but to a series of cloud bursts in Southwestern Iowa and Northwestern Missouri, the natural course of drainage in this territory, being the Grand river valley and that of Medicine creek. This accounts for the great loss. It probably will not happen again in a thousand years or more.