Down On Mainstreet

By Lester Clark
© by Lester Clark - You are welcome to post a link to this page.


The Flood of 1943

The big news in May of 1943 was the lack of moisture which the farmers badly needed, My cousin " Thomas and I had just finished cultivating the new corn crop which was about knee high. The next day was cloudy and looked like rain, so my Uncle Tom, my cousin and I decided to get in the truck and go to town.

That evening coming home we were almost there when we met a neighbor, Ewell Vallines driving his cattle, we stopped and ask Ewell were you going with your cattle. He said, I am bringing them up from out of the bottom land because the weather man on the radio says the river may flood. Uncle Tom said, we do need the rain, but I wouldn't worry about it Ewell, I have lived here for thirty years and it has never flooded on this side of the river yet. Ewel said " just to be safe, I am going to keep them up here on high ground.

In my mind, what ever my Uncle Tom said was gospel. So we drove on home, not giving it much thought. That night it began to rain and it rained all night and was still raining the next day when Uncle Tom said, you boys get on your horses and drive the cattle up out of the bottom.

It rained steady day and night for another three days before it let up at all. The Grand river and Verdigris Rivers flowed into the Arkansas River a short distance up river from our farm, and therefore the rain swollen Arkansas River kept rising.

Also other streams were rising throughout north-eastern Oklahoma, Making it impossible to travel the high-ways or roads from one town to another. Soldiers who had spent the weekend away from Camp Gruber couldn't get back.

More heavy rained caused new flooding and on May 22, the Arkansas River crested at 48.28 feet, where the food stage was 28 feet and 2 inches.

Sometime during that period the Arkansas River came over the west bank of the river for the first time the old timers could remember. It continued to rise until it was ten miles wide across the water from our dry land to the west edge of Fort Gibson, Okla.

All we could do was stand there and watch our crop wash away plus the top soil under the crop. One field was left with a layer of river sand three foot deep. Most of the fencing and gates were washed away. There was holes washed out thirty feet deep and fifty feet in diameter.

A little bit of every thing that could float came floating down the river. Old buildings with chickens on top, flat bottom river boats, farm equipment, animals trying to make it to shore and more.

When the water finally begin to recede it left a wide stretch of mud between the solid ground and the waters edge. Many of the animals were trapped in this mud after escaping from the water, especially the hogs. My cousin and I decided we would save these hogs and have a good start of a hog farm. They gave us very little resistance, due to them being completely worn out, and in the mud up to their belly` s. They were so slick and muddy and we were so slick and muddy and in the mud up to our knees, it was hard to get them to dry land out of this mud and water.

Now you have to picture us, we were a sight to behold. Muddy from top to bottom from wrestling these muddy slick hogs to dry ground. All told we rescued over a hundred head of hogs, nurtured them back to health and all for naught, because later we gave them back to the people who came to our place and identified them, and claimed to be the owners.

Uncle Tom said boys, it is only right, give the hogs to them. Later it was learned one of the men had been going up and down the river claiming to be the owner of these lost hogs and he was prosecuted.

Most all of the bottom land was flooded up the Arkansas River, by the towns of Haskell, Leonard, Bixby, Jenks, Tulsa, and down the river for miles. One town down river in particular was Webber Falls were Camp Gruber soldiers manned pontoon boats powered by out-board motors to evacuate all residents of the area.

The telephone office in Webber Falls, was located in one room of a house that was built on a very high foundation just for such events. My Grandparents " Lloyd Thomas & Roxie Duncan " lived in this house and my grandmother operated the switch-board.

The Army ask her to stay by the switch board until they could rescue every body, and she did. The Army rescued more than 100 flood victims marooned in treetops and on roofs of houses. My Grandparents were later rescued and taken to high ground by the Army in military boats.

In Haskell County, seven soldiers and five civilians in one of the rescue boats were washed away after the strong flood current dashed the boat against a bridge near Keota, dumping its occupants into the torrent. Three soldiers and three civilians survived the boat crash.

One of the survivors, Stigler newspaper editor Roy Curtis, who was in the boat covering the flood, told a Tulsa World reporter that he and one of the soldiers were able to grab a life-preserver and two oars that kept them afloat until they were able to grab the limbs of a tree. They were rescued near Keota by two farmers in a rowboat.

Another soldier was rescued near Keota and a third was washed to Fort Smith, Ark. about 40 miles downstream, before being rescued. Fourteen residents of the area were missing and presumed drowned.

This flood was a record breaker, it ruined many farms, it broke many a farmer financially and physically and others moved away because of it. As time goes by, the flood will be forgotten, others will build and settle by the same old ARKANSAS RIVER.

Return to Myths, Legends and Stories Index

Return to Muskogee Home Page

"This Page Was Last Updated Sunday, 09-Feb-2014 09:45:07 EST"

© Sue Tolbert