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Great Flood of 1896 - at least 18 Lives Lost


Posted By: Reid R. Johnson
Date: 7/6/2014 at 15:54:19

From the Clayton County Register, Centennial Edition, July 1936.

18 Human Lives Lost In Great Flood of 1896.

Storm Left Trail Of Destruction in Northeast Part of Clayton County.

Perhaps the most damaging storm of any in this section of the country swept across the northeastern section of Clayton county from Monona through Giard to McGregor and Marquette, then North McGregor.

There was at least a $600,000 loss to the railway company besides a vast damage to other property, crops, etc. Eighteen lives were known to be lost in the terrors of the rushing waters. Only eight of these bodies had been recovered at the time the following article was published in the Monona Leader of May 28, 1896.

A terrific storm swept across the northeastern corner of the county Sunday night, May 24, 1896, between 7:00 and 10:00 o'clock leaving death and destruction in its trail. At this writing eighteen human lives are known to be lost, eight of which had been recovered up to Thursday night. In all probability this does not cover the actual death roll, and very likely many who are now known to be missing will never be found.

The path covered by the cloudburst cyclonish storm, struck the C.M. & St. P. track this side of Beulah. Numerous remarkable feats were perpetrated, as is witnessed by a walk over the line from Beulah to North McGregor. Tearing up track and swinging it around in every imaginable shape, cutting out yards of road bed and solid masonry abutments and carrying the dirt and rock many rods away, spreading it out over fields and into nooks and corners, ripping and tearing to pieces heavy wooden bridges, and taking up bodily great heavy iron bridges and setting them down several rods away intact, and here and there piling up timbers, trees, remnants of houses and barns, household furniture, and the accumulated debris, in every place where a lodgment could be secured, seemed to be the freak of the power that held sway for ten miles through the Bloody Run Valley and for better than two hours Sunday night. No one can adequately describe the horrible scene of destruction. To be understood it must be seen, a remarkable scene witnessed only in a life time.

The massive iron bridges, great rocks, eight and ten feet square; monster timbers, the heavy long steel linked together, were as toys in the grasp of this powerful agency. The steel rails at several points were snapped in two, squarely broken; great timbers were wrenched and splintered; locomotives were whirled about and more or less injured; freight cars were toppled over and carried away to higher land; refrigerator cars were stripped of their running gears and landed many rods away, upside down, toppled over on end, and in every conceivable condition, while the debris was visible everywhere and on everything. The telegraph lines and barbed-wires were mingled together, and intertwined in a most wreckless manner.

What was Beulah is Beulah no more. With the exception of a few timbers laying here and there one would not recognize that a building had ever been planted at the forks of the main line and the branch road to Elkader. This station was occupied by Will Lord, agent, and his family in the second story of the station house. Hearing the heavy storm, torrents of rain and heavy wind, Will got up to let his cow out of the yard, that she might be free to go to the side hill. When he got out the fury of the storm alarmed him and he went back and without waiting on ceremony got his family together and they sought safety at the house on the hill north of the station. And they got out in the nick of time. Before they had reached the house on the hill, they saw the depot with all their belongings swept down with the raging waters. Not a thing was saved, not even proper clothing to cover their backs. It was a close call. The depot went to pieces and is scattered all along between Beulah and Northtown, as is also the furniture, bedding, etc.

There were seventeen bridges between Beulah and North McGregor. All of these are swept out except two of the flat iron trussel bridges which hold fast to the massive stone abutments. Three of the massive iron bridges are carried bodily and landed many hundred feet distant from the road bed. The heavy timbered bridges and short crossings were swept out and totally wrecked, the remnants scattered hither and thither. In most places the abutments stand, but in two or three places the masonry work has been wrecked and the great large blocks of stone are carried far away.

Over one half of the road bed extending from Beulah to North McGregor is washed out and the thousands of carloads of stone and gravel brought in to strengthen the bed, and rip-rap in the most dangerous places, is carried away and spread out over a vast territory. In very many places where the road bed is not wholly carried out it is undermined or broken into, forming deep gullies that will necessitate almost as much labor as the rebuilding of the bed.

At Giard the flat looks rugged and ugly, as if all the rubbish and filth within reach for miles above, had been forced down into this basin. The picture is one that would fit the artist to a nicety. The marks of ruin and devastation are everywhere in view. The new station house stands alone, undisturbed, though the waters raged about it in great force, and time and again, during the two hours of incessant rain and wind, it was threatened and in imminent peril.

Here for the past twenty years or more has resided John Moloney and his family, his home only a few rods below the station house. John has been the faithful section boss and knew every inch of the road between Beulah and North McGregor. John and his wife and a nephew, Mike Moloney, were the occupants of the home Sunday. When the storm came up three Bohemian boys came along and stopped in at Moloney's to await its abatement. Suddenly, and with out warning, great boulders, sticks of timber and railroad ties and steel rail came crashing up against the house, and before the astonished group could gather themselves and seek safety the building was moved from its foundation and sent down stream towards the great river. It is supposed John and his wife and nephew and the Bohemians rushed out when the house was struck and were carried away in the rolling waves and floating debris.

The body of John Moloney was found next day in the meadow, not far away. The body of Mike Moloney was recovered also; that of Mrs. Moloney up to the latest advices had not been recovered. The bodies of John Levaache and John Hublejeck, two of the Bohemian boys who had stopped at the Moloney house at the commencement of the storm, were found in the debris some miles below the station. The Moloney house went to the Mississippi and is now at the landing at Pictured Rocks, two miles below McGregor.

John Burke and wife and three children also resided in the vicinity of the station, and are numbered among the missing. Their house which was in the track of the rushing water and debris, and forced from its underpinning in the same manner as the Moloney house. The bodies Mrs. Burke and Willie Burke were recovered; the rest of the family have not as yet been found.

All the way along the railway line from Giard to North McGregor it is one vast sea of wreckage. The narrow valley is a sad sight indeed. The garden patches, the little fields of grain and corn are things of the past. Wrecked bridges, great stretches of steel rail, many times bent and twisted into all manner of shapes, three or four places where the rail is so twisted about that it forms a complete letter "S", and oft times buried beneath tons of rubbish. Great gaps are formed in the roadbed and huge and monster piles of rubbish encircle trees, or are heaped up on rocks, sand and broken timbers and the litter of a dozen houses, barns and sheds, in every little bayou or at the forks of streams and along both sides to the bluffs. The old Ruble fishpond, years ago washed out, has remaining the little hatch-house, a silent watcher over the remnant of a once resort for hundreds that visited the pleasant locality.

The Troutdale mills just below escaped the fury, except the injury to the dam and sluice which are left in a bad way. Here you will see sad havoc, in this bayou that circles from the mill around to the opening that guides you to the west yards; another of the mammoth steel bridges carried around-about and lodged upon its huge sides, the picture of a monster which the flood has wrecked and rocked about as if it were a toy. The field was deluged in stone, sand and debris from far above, a perfect avalanche of every conceivable thing washed down into this basin to lodge or pass through on its way to the great river.

The west yards, here you will see it, not in a more forcible manner, but bad enough. This stretch of open ground, a wide open space, encircled by great bluffs, on the east side the flowing stream. The main track and the side tracks are ripped up and carried afar; the official headquarters lies far away over against another house at the base of the bluff; freight cars, refrigerator cars and passenger cars are laid topsy-turvy, swung around, dragged away, and far off against the bluff. A good piece of track on which was one of the yard engines is swung about and lies crosswise. Loaded freight cars, coupled, are turned over and lie in a heap. Cars loaded with cinders lie crashing against the coal house. The engine house with its ten or twelve iron horses is floored with debris several feet thick, it is piled high at the entrance to each stall and the marks on the engines show that the water was up even with the cab seats about half way up on the boilers, compelling night watchmen and night workers in the round house to seek safety on the tops of the cabs. Engineers and firemen who were in the yards during the storm sought safety in their engines, it was their only hope.

The ice house marks a good ten to fifteen feet of water rushing down through the yards, and with the on-coming timbers, debris of one kind or another, trees, logs, ties, rails and stone nothing could withstand the force. A good sized corner of the round house is knocked out, a hole through corner-wise. The machinery, tools, etc., are sunk deep down under a deluge of mud, rock and sand. The old round house is a sorry sight indeed. The stock yards, which were gotten up on a grand scale, are a thing of the past, swept out bodily by the rolling waves, knocked gala-west, pens, fencing and shedding all gone, the ice house and round house and coal shed alone remaining.

North McGregor, here the storm held forth in great fury and the effects are seen in many places. The track of the river road was torn up, and a deep channel was cut through east of the mill. This fact alone undoubtedly saved the eating house and Keen's restaurant and the great body of the platform and perhaps the iron bridge spanning east of the eating house. It was reported that two of the houses were tumbled into the river, and it was reported that a refrigerator with a dozen or more tramps who were inside taking a snooze was dumped into the river, but these stories need confirmation. There is considerable damage in town and a heap of repairing and rebuilding by the railway, ere things are got back to their former shape and condition.

Thus far eight bodies have been recovered out of eighteen drowned. As a number are missing the loss by drowning will not be known for some time. Indeed we doubt if the number of human lives lost is ever found out. There are reports giving the number from 18 to 28, but there does not appear to be anything positive on which to base the latter figure. The number reported is made up as follows:

Moloney family...........3.
Meyer family...............7
Burke family................7.

Recovered bodies........8.

At the Shallhamer mill the overflow was astonishing. The family was forced to seek refuge in the second story. The water came in and rose to a depth of about four feet on the first floor. Bedding, furniture and carpets were literally drenched by the muddy waters. In the barn it was considerably higher.


Clayton Documents maintained by Sharyl Ferrall.
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