The Saline river has become a lake with farms and gardens at the bottom. The most appalling sight met the gaze of early risers last Saturday morning as they looked on the beautiful valley west of Lincoln and saw a lake two miles wide with islands of trees and the housetops. While most of the inhabitants of Lincoln had slept, it had been a wild night in the valley where many had moved out of their homes at midnight and others had watched the rapidly rising water all night, when daylight showed the prairie covered with water many feet deep. The river had been steadily rising for many hours, and those who lived here 17 years ago and saw the flood at that time were beginning to feat the outcome, but it seemed that nobody was really prepared for the worst.
On Friday evening, Mr. and Mrs. J.F. Gallagher, living a few rods south of the depot, became alarmed at the rapid rise of the river and went up town to stay with friends and were spared the wild flight at midnight. Saturday morning Mr. Gallagher returned with a boat and carried his portable livestock to the second story of the barn, where they still lodge. The water had crept into the house and their fine carpets and furniture are soaked with mud and water.
Early Saturday morning a signal of distress was seen waving from the home of John Downs living one-half mile northwest of the depot. Luther Knoby saw the signal and made ready for the perilous trip in a light skiff. He set out alone and reached the house about 7:30. There were four water soaked people: Mr. and Mrs. Downs, Miss Minnie and little Mabel Anderson, from Beverly, who had come to grandma’s to spend Decoration Day. The sailor’s rule at sea when the life boats come out is "The Women and Children First," and a truehearted seaman will stick to his ship and drown or burn before he would set foot in a lifeboat until all the women and children had been taken off the ship. So the mother and granddaughter were taken from the house first and landed on the railroad track and then to the home of Tont Lyon at the Lincoln House. And again Mr. Knoby’s little boat made the journey to the Downs cottage and Mr. Downs and Miss Minnie, who were perched on the table with the water over their shoulders, were taken out and also landed on the railroad track terribly chilled and exhausted from the long exposure and suspense. They also were taken to Mr. Lyon’s home at the Lincoln House. Five horses with other stock were in the water at the Downs home and a rescuing trip was planned to save them. Again Mr. Knoby was ready to go and volunteers to accompany him were numerous. He would have nobody go who could not swim and a stranger who said he was a good long distance swimmer was allowed to accompany him. Together they made the trip and started back, with Mr. Knoby leading three horses and the stranger riding one horse to help drive the others along. Pretty soon the poor horses tried to get in the boat and came near capsizing it. They had to be slapped on the head to keep them out of the boat and then they all started to swim back again. In keeping clear of a barbed wire fence the stranger suddenly disappeared. Mr. Knoby, with his hands full to guide the boat and watch the horses, did not see the man go under the water, but from the housetops uptown where many were watching with field glasses several saw him go down. Mr. Knoby then let the horses go and come to find help to look for the man who had given up his life to help strangers.
It was soon ascertained that the drowned man was Jacob A. Rutledge, of Vernon, Kan. He was a student at College View, Neb., and was spending his vacation in Lincoln County selling bibles and other books. He had been boarding for the past two months with Mrs. J.R. Hill and was a most exemplary young man. He was 21 years old and was fitting himself to be an Adventist missionary, and remarked to Mr. Knoby, in the boat, that it was his Sunday that day. He had recovered from the measles only two weeks ago and possibly had not fully regained his strength. In an unfinished letter written to a friend at Fort Scott, Kan., he said,
"As to myself, I have not fully decided yet what I will be, for I am not my own, but my Lord’s, and he will use me to his best glory. I would like to go to Africa as a missionary some day. I often wish I could be a half a dozen Jacobs, so I could do more lines of work than one. Oh, how I wish I could go from place to place and work with the backsliders and churches. Then I think of the heathens in foreign lands, who ‘bow down to wood and stone.’ When I stop to think, where does the Lord want me, I say here am I, Lord, Take me and use me to thy glory. Then the little song comes to me: ‘Anything for Jesus only let me do.’"
And thus the kind hearted boy died, in trying the save the property of strangers, who knew nothing of his attempt until word came that he was drowned.
W.F. Ziegler and family recovered everything they could to the upper story of their house and then moved out at midnight. Saturday noon the water had risen to the middle sash of their windows. On the same street, on a little higher ground, Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Bears live and they also took the midnight flight saving only clothing and some bed clothing. They are staying at the Lincoln House for the present.
Mrs. Gladys Matthews and her five children were taken from their house in the night and found refuge at the home of Mr. Bush. Frank Hill, with his brave little mules, swooped down on the Beach family and carried them over to the home of P.E. Moss.
The next afternoon two pigs belonging to Mr. Beach were found on the top of a coal house. Whether they crawled up the side of the house or flew up there is matter of conjecture.
The families of Garfield Pontius, John Hinkson and Pete Garrity moved out with their belongings, but the water finally receded before it reached the level of their floors. At Mrs. Rathbun’s house the water came up to the house and everything was made ready for flight, which did not have to be made however, as the house was built a little too high for the lake to reach. James Marshall and family were obliged to abandon their home in the night and they took refuge at Luther Knoby’s.
Ed Elrod and wife left their home southwest of town on horseback. The horses gave them trouble and they were obliged to look for other means of escape. There seemed to be nothing better than the galvanized iron watering tank and this they speedily emptied and boarded. With that strange craft they made their way to the home of Mr. Weigert. It was a tub race which they do not care to repeat. They suffered no loss of stock or furniture.
George Veitengruber and T. Garrity made a trip on the river and lake with a little boat to find how their neighbors were getting on. They found everybody alive and above water.
Eli Baker had a serious time while looking after his father’ stock. In trying to ford the deep places he fell off his horse and came near drowning, being too heavily dressed to swim well. James Haley helped him out and carried him to his home, and he seems none the worse for his long exposure.
Dr. Songer made a professional trip to the country northwest of Lincoln and when he reached Lost Creek his horse became frightened at some driftwood and jumped off, and horse, rider and all went under the bridge when Dr. Songer stuck on the barbed wire fence. Mr. Crawford cut the fence and rescued the unhappy doctor.
From Simpson’s hill to William Smith’s residence a distance of nearly two miles the river spread over the bottoms. Clumps of trees lifting up their heads formed little green islands, varied by an occasional roof or the top half of a house. It will be a long time before Decoration Day of 1903 will be forgotten in Lincoln County.
At the foot of Court street the water came up into the yard of T.V. Malone and farther up the bank C.C. Strawn’s house came to the water’s edge.
David Miller and family were obliged to leave their home and they have moved to a house on Second street. They will lose much of their household goods.
At the depot the water came into the freight room and spoiled about $450 worth of goods consigned to Lincoln merchants.
At the mill bridge the water was 35 feet deep, and the average depth of the lake was from four to 10 feet. At 3 o’clock Sunday morning, to the great relief of everybody, the waters began to recede and the worst was over.
C.B. Jones had a car load of fat hogs at the stock yards. It happened that he removed them to a better ground for feeding on Friday and by that lucky stroke saved 70 head of porkers.
The Tescott people lived in their upper stories till the water subsided. Over at Barnard nearly the entire population took to the hills, temporarily. The water was six feet deep in many places.
Vesper was deep under water and considerable loss of stock is reported from there. Mrs. Lillie White-Reed lost over 200 hogs and many smaller losses are reported.
Sylvan has lifted her heard and feet from the water and rejoiced. We hear that Beverly is crowing because they have remained high and dry. We long to turn the hose on Beverly.
The eastern part of the state is mostly a lake from Salina to Kansas City. On Monday the water was eight feet deep in the Union Depot in the last named place and it is reported that a thousand lives are lost and a thousand people are on the roofs and tops of cars, where they fled for safety. ...
As far as heard from only one bridge has washed away, and that is near Barnard on Salt Creek. The Spillman bridge, four miles due west of Lincoln, is moved on its foundation and is impassable. The bridge at Rees’ mill is in bad shape with the east approach damaged. It can be easily repaired in a day or two.
On Thursday evening the water on the flats had nearly all gone again and it may be that the injury to the crops covered will not be very great. Our sympathy is with our neighbors who have had their homes thrown into confusion and who have suffered from fear and suspense.
The body of Mr. Rutledge was found on Tuesday afternoon and removed to the undertaker, and it will be kept in a vault until his friends are heard from.
The day will be a long, cold one when the Downs family or Lincoln people in general forget Luther Knoby’s kindness and courage in the Decoration Day flood.