Fremont County, Iowa

The Flood of 1881
by Lynn Handy

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of August 22, 2011

From the Nebraska City News-Press:

April 4, 1881: The river at this point has been steadily, but slowly rising for the past 24 hours. The ice is running today, but it is light mush ice so the boats manage to cross (between Nebraska and Iowa) without a great deal of trouble.

April 7, 1881: The river is coming up...over 100 men and boys were along the banks catching driftwood...people on the east bank moved to the bluffs.

April 8, 1881: The bottoms on both sides of the river were under water. The steamer C.K. Peck that had departed for Fort Benton, MT, was unreported. Farms owned by Daniel Gregg were fast being washed away.

April 9, 1881: Passengers brought to Nebraska City by the steamboat Lizzie Campbell were unloaded only by cart as the water ran deep on the landing. Fifty men worked at M. U. Paynes farm on the Iowa bottom to repair a broken dyke. The brickyard of Prue, Driscoll and Co. was entirely submerged.

April 11, 1881: A news reporter took a trip on a skiff and reported the lowlands inundated.

April 20, 1881: Fears were held for the residents of Eastport (the small Iowa town on the east side of the river just across from Nebraska City).

April 21, 1881: Percival was an island. The News reporter stationed in the courthouse belfry said he could see nothing but a waste of water.

April 22, 1881: Russell Vaughn, Iowan, came to Nebraska City to get help for his family and livestock who were stranded on the highest ground near their house, which was flooded. The lower portion of Hamburg was under water. East Nebraska citizens moved into the second stories of their houses.

April 25, 1881: Nate Pile, who rowed the bottoms in a boat reported seeing 40 families marooned in their houses. They had moved to the second floor and taken their livestock with them. Persons had climbed trees to escape the rushing water. Many were stranded.

April 26, 1881: East Nebraska City was deserted. Twenty families were in danger in Otoe Bottom on the east side of the river 8 miles south of Nebraska City. Peter Freeze came to Nebraska City from Hamburg to report a foot of water in front of Hamburg's Opera House Hotel. The bell in City Hall rang out an alarm that they had a call for help from Percival. People were stranded without food or basic needs and needed rescuing.

May 14, 1881: The final flood report was in the paper and from then on the river began receding.

The article concluded: Possibly the loss in the flood never will be written. The river raised to the highest point in the history of Nebraska City and Fremont County and its course was changed considerably when the waters finally fell to normal. The flood dropped out of the news quickly, but never has the Missouri been as high as it as in April of 1881.


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Page updated on June 22, 2023 by Karyn Techau