Guthrie, OK Flood, Apr 1897
GUTHRIE, Oklahoma (Special)–At sunrise Wednesday a wall of water eight feet high and a mile wide broke upon West Guthrie without warning, drowning scores of people and carrying away scores of houses. Every movable thing was swept before the wave which passed on into the Canadian River Valley, wreaking destruction to life and property wherever it reached. Just how many lives were lost may not be known for weeks, but the list is almost certain to exceed a hundred.
Hundreds of houses were wrecked; for many miles, many farmers were completely ruined. Bridges and tracks were washed out and railway traffic in every direction is at a standstill. More than a million dollars' damage was done to property. The efforts of rescuing parties have in many cases proved in vain; many persons floated down stream before they could be reached.
Business was wholly suspended all day in Guthrie, the stores and banks being closed. As thorough an organization for relief as is possible has been made, but all aid has been necessarily retarded by the confused condition of things.
It has been impossible to explore the houses until the water subsides, as many of them are submerged. As darkness gathered over the scene many overturned houses were seen far out in the flood, but it could not be learned whether their occupants escaped. The river was thirty feet above its ordinary level.
The flood is supposed to have been caused by a cloudburst, supplemented by heavy rains. The Cottonwood River, ordinarily a small stream that winds between steep banks in West Guthrie, was bank full from a heavy rain, but no alarm was felt.
Early in the morning water from a cloudburst above had added to the already high stream, and a flood began sweeping through West Guthrie, a section of the city populated mostly by colored people.
Those who saw the first wall of water said it was eighteen feet high, spreading entirely across the valley. This was followed by others in quick succession, until the whole settled into a bank of water six to eight feet high. Many persons had already begun carrying their household goods to places of safety, but few had made more than one trip when they were forced to flee for their lives before the raging torrent.
Some thought the roar was that of a tornado and sought their caves only to perish a few moments later. Others stopped to save things until it was too late.
The railroad tracks are on the east bank of the river. For three-quarters of a mile across is the valley running through the western part of the city, and in it are many of the finest residents, and a small business section where are about twenty stores and several mills, warehouses, etc. In less than twenty minutes from the time the flood struck the city this entire section was inundated and within an hour the water was ten feet deep and hundreds of building were floating away.
Not only the meaner structures, but fine residences, store buildings, a cotton gin and other large structures went into ruins and floated away down the stream.
On many buildings were men, women and children. From hundreds of trees came piteous calls for help, and the air was hideous with the struggles and screams of domestic animals. Most of the boats were crushed or carried away, and little could be done to help many who fell or were swept from places of refuge and were drowned before the eyes of helpless spectators.
A colored woman with a baby in her arms desperately tried to steady herself in a tree top, calling the while for help. She grew weak, and the baby slipped into the water and was drowned. She was finally rescued and said her family of six had been lost.
A woman wading from home, with her baby on her head, was seen to go under, and a man swimming the channel to reach four women and a baby in a tree was carried down stream.
Two women and a child were carried away on a bridge further down stream, and one man and two women in plain sight of shore were on a house roof when it went to pieces. They all perished.
The County Record, Kingstree, SC
May 6, 1897, page 2