The Flood of 1955
By Frances Elffner (copyright)
Crooked Creek comes into Meade County and wanders around for about 270 miles before exiting and emptying into the Cimarron River. My great-grandfather, John Conrad, was a Meade County Commissioner and when he saw a piece of property that was near his “79 Ranch” come up for a tax sale he purchased it. My grandparents, Henry and Lucy (Conrad) Salmon were married in 1900, and he sold the property to them. There was a small house on it from when it was proved up by a homesteader, John W. Farley, in 1890. My grandparents added a living room, and bedroom on the ground floor and put a second story on the house. They lived there until 1915, when they moved to town.
In 1940, my parents, Ira and Agnes (Golliher) Salmon, married and moved into the home place. The house sits on the highest point between Crooked Creek and a draw, northwest of Fowler. In 1946, the creek rose high enough to break over into the draw and the house was surrounded by water. This was the first time that it had happened and Henry Salmon would not believe it, until dad took him out to show him. Dad happened to be in town when the water filled the draw south of the house. When he came home and saw the situation, he drove to Frank Chipman’s about a half mile upstream, left his car there, walked up to the draw and swam across. That was also the first time water went over the bridge on Highway 23 and that became a warning system. Helen Merkle would call and tell us the water was over the bridge and we knew we had about 2 hours before it would get to our house.
The water surrounded our house several times between 1946 and 1955. We had a pasture north of the creek. I have seen my father swim out in the main creek many times to help cattle that were caught in the trees find their way across flood waters. In May of 1955, we had a lot of rain and the creek was running most of the time. On the afternoon of May 16, 14 inches of rain plus large hail fell 6 miles south of Montezuma. The storm seemed to follow the creek as it came on eastward. About 9 o’clock that evening Fred Beckerman called to tell us that Joe Wetmore had called to tell him that the creek was up and that it was higher that he had ever seen it. He said that is wasn’t a steady stream. It was damming up and breaking out as a wall of water. We learned later that when it hit Jack Boyd’s house below Merkle’s there was a wall of water 12 feet high. The creek bed begins to flatten out about 2 miles east of Merkle’s, so by the time it got to our house, another 2 miles downstream, it had subsided some. Richard Lee, 3 miles downstream from us, said that the flood waters were a mile wide at their house.
When we got the call, Dad called Dick Bradley to see if he could come help get the machinery up to higher ground. Dick said he would be there as soon as possible. My parents gave me instructions to carry everything upstairs that I could handle and they took off to prepare for the flood waters. They only had about an hour, but with Dick’s help they were able to get most of the machinery out of the flood area. Dick said that was “the fastest he ever shoveled grain.” There was wheat on the floor of the round top barn and they shoveled it into the 1941 GMC truck. The water marks went over the wheels, but the grain stayed dry.
Dick said “We heard the branches on the cottonwood trees at the creek snapping like gunfire before the wall of water. That is how we knew it was time to get back to the house.” They grabbed hands, with my mother in the middle and headed for the house. They were about halfway when the wall of water hit them hard enough that they lost their grip on each other and mother went down. Dick said, “When Agnes went down, I thought she was a goner.” He managed to grab her and she came up soaked and spitting flood water. To the day he died, Dad credited Dick with saving her life.
Upon arriving at the house, they quickly rolled a new 12x12 piece of carpet and picked up some other choice pieces of furniture and took them upstairs. They left my piano until last. Water was coming across the floor when they decided to try to do something with it. It was one of the heavy upright pianos. Dick and Dad picked up one end and mother pushed a walnut chair under it. Then they picked up the other end and she pushed a matching chair under that end. As they came up with the second end the seat on the first chair cracked, but it held. My eight year old brother, David, had slept through all the excitement but finally woke up when we all moved upstairs.
As was true with many of the older homes, our house was not bolted to the foundation, so they came up with an evacuation plan. If the house started moving, Dick was to grab me and head for the trees south of the house and Dad would follow with mom and David. Later, they decided that the flood didn't move the house, because of the weight of the second story and my piano.
The water eventually rose to 5 feet around the house, but never got more than a foot deep inside. None of the doors gave and none of the windows broke so we were very lucky. We stood in an upstairs door and watched the flood waters, chunks of hail, and trash float by.
Morning came and the water had gone down to below the house. The flood waters had gone over the top of our water well and sealed it. Dick and dad had to remove debris from all around it, but it was sound and not contaminated. We still had electricity, so we started shoveling the mud out of the house, along with the wet furniture and an old carpet. Then we washed it out with a hose and fresh water. There was a huge log lying at the corner of our yard. We were glad that it hadn’t come on across and hit the house.
The first day was spent cleaning around the house, and the second checking out of the condition of the out buildings. One shed was missing and another was smashed in on the side. A couple of old Model A car bodies near the creek bank were gone and are probably buried in the dirt along Crooked Creek someplace. Two metal grain bins that were near the car bodies were last seen east of Fred Beckerman's house, which was a half mile east. A 55-gallon drum full of Skelly tagalene tractor oil was found ¾ of a mile east of Fred's house a week later. The silt from the flood filled in our fishing hole that was north of the house. We had two pet dogs. My dog “Bingo” died when trash trapped him between the top of a wheel and a truck bed and the other must have gone down stream with the water. He came home about 2 weeks later, dirty, hungry and full of fleas.
The second afternoon, I walked into the old garage and for some reason looked up. There were balls of snakes on a ledge between the walls and the roof. I didn’t spend much time in there, but dad said not to worry, “they were just trying to get out of the water and will leave on their own.”
The afternoon of the first day, Dick put my brother on his shoulders and waded through chest deep water to get out. Dave stayed at Dick's parents, Louis and Nell Bradley’s house until our folks were able to get him.
My eighth grade graduation was supposed to have been the evening of the second day after the flood. They postponed it until the following afternoon, thinking that I would be able to be there. The morning of the third day, Dave Goloby and Duke Dewell came in with a small boat to get us. By the time they got us across the water, loaded their boat, and we went by Meade and Highway 160 to get to Fowler, I was still too late for graduation. They were leaving the school house as we drove up. I missed graduation but had my first boat ride.
We spent nearly a month in town at Grandma Salmon’s house as things dried out and tried to get back to normal. When we finally went home, we had peeling wallpaper and water marks on the dining room table legs. There were 6 men helping when they took my piano down off of the chairs and they nearly dropped it. Shows what adrenaline will do for you.
The cattle that dad had in the pasture north of the creek became a problem. The night of the flood something scared them and dad found them south of Montezuma. As summer went on, every time they heard lightning and thunder, they jumped the fence and took off. Dad eventually sold the whole herd.
Today, it is hard to believe that Crooked Creek could ever go on such a rampage. There is very little water to be found in it, until you get south of Meade. Some said it was the "hundred year flood," but I don't know. I just know that we survived “the flood of '55 and that it left quite an impression on our family.
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