Floods.A petition to the King of France in 1725 mentioned a disastrous flood in the Mississippi and some of its tributaries the preceding yearthe first reference to floods in America recorded in history. When the first white men visited the Indians in the Missouri valley, they heard traditions of floods in the years 1740 and 1750, and in 1772 a great flood did so much damage at old Fort Chartres that the troops there were sent up the river to Kaskaskia. Brackenridge's journal tells of a great flood in 1785, and there are accounts of another flood in 1823, but the first authentic account of a destructive flood in what is now the State of Kansas was that of 1844. The spring of that year was warm and dry until May, when the rain began to fall and continued every day for six weeks. Jotham Meeker, in charge of the Baptist Shawnee mission, kept a diary, from which the following extracts are taken:
"May 30. Never saw such a time of rain. It has fallen almost every day for the last three weeks. The river has overflown its banks, and the bottoms in many places have been inundated more or less for three weeks, and continues all of today within our dooryard. Many of the Indians fear that they will have no crops at all this year.
"June 17. All my outbuildings and all that was within them are swept away. Nothing left but the dwelling house and office.
"June 21. Shut up our house and crossed the big creek, which is nearly full, in a piece of bark of a tree six or seven feet long with Brother Pratt and my family. We traveled 35 miles and encamp in the prairies."
In this flood the Missouri river rose 7 feet in 24 hours at St. Joseph, Mo., June 13, and the entire river valley was under water. A flood is recorded for the year 1851, but it was not nearly so disastrous as the big flood of 1844. The Neosho valley was completely inundated in 1858, and there was another flood in 1881. In 1873 the government established, through the weather bureau, at St. Louis and Kansas City the present system of water measurement, and in 1888 "standard high and low water marks" were established in the Missouri river from Sioux City to the mouth. These marks are based on the highest and lowest stages of water prior to the year 1888, and the system has been of great benefit to the people along the lower river by giving them warning of the conditions prevailing farther up the stream. A similar system of measurement has been introduced at various points along the Kansas river.
The most destructive flood in the history of Kansas was that of 1903. Most of the water on this occasion came from the Kansas river, which drains an area of over 50,000 square miles. Heavy rains fell in western Kansas early in May, followed by a steady rainfall of several days' duration, and on May 26 the river overflowed its banks at Lawrence. On June 7 the water was 14 feet above the danger line at Kansas City. At Topeka all the lower portion of the city was inundated. It was in this flood that Edward Grafstrom (q. v.) lost his life while trying to rescue the inhabitants of the flooded district. The damage done by this flood in the Kansas valley has been estimated all the way from $10,000,000 to $25,000,000. So great was the destruction that Gov. Bailey (See Bailey's Administration) called a special session of the legislature to provide relief.
A year later another flood swept down the Kansas, starting with the Blue river. On June 6 the government gauge at Topeka showed 19.7 feet of water, less than 2 feet below the danger line. In the Union Pacific passenger station there were 18 inches of water, and again North Topeka, North Lawrence and Armourdale, a suburb of Kansas City, Kan., were inundated.
The flood of 1908 broke all records for duration. In 1903 the Missouri river was out of its banks at Kansas City from May 28 to June 10. In 1908 the water stood above the danger line (21 feet) from June 8 to July 3. Then came a slight fall, but on July 10 the water again rose above the danger line, and as late as the 16th there was still 18 feet above the normal low water mark. North Topeka, North Lawrence and Armourdale were under water for the third time in five years, and again great damage was done in the Kansas valley by the high waters. As an example of the damage done by the flood of 1903, the Union Pacific company spent over $2,000,000 in raising the grade and repairing the road between Kansas City and Topeka. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe company also rebuilt several miles of track, placing it on a grade above high flood marks. To avert similar calamities, the authorities of Kansas City, Topeka, and other places along the Kansas river, have expended large sums in building dikes to protect the low lands along the river, and at Topeka the channel of the river has been widened by adding two spans to the Kansas avenue bridge, thus giving the waters a better opportunity to escape instead of flooding the lower portions of the city.Pages 648-649 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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