Larry Toft of Bennett, Colo., will never forget the terrifying sound of fast-moving flood waters crashing into the side of his folks’ small farm house in 1935. The flood came without warning and threatened to take away his family’s lives and their livelihood in an instant.
Though he was only 3-years-old on Memorial Day of 1935, Larry remembers that night like it was yesterday. It was after dark and the family — his folks and five siblings — had finished supper and were relaxing in their home less than 1/4 mile from Kiowa Creek. Seemingly out of nowhere, a loud roar shook the house, interrupting the quiet evening. Water hurtled into the house’s foundation with incredible force. Larry’s folks quickly realized what was happening and swiftly gathered the children and headed outside to higher ground.
Somehow, Larry’s father and mother safely pulled all the children (and the family dog) to the north side of their house and all 8 of them clambered into their old pickup. They wouldn’t all fit in the cab, so a few of the older ones and the dog were forced to wait out the storm in the bed of the pickup.
Flood waters continued to rage through the night, and soon the pickup was no longer safe. The family risked a short walk to the granary. Thankfully they all made it safely inside and spent the night sitting on bags of feed while water swirled around the granary’s foundation.
Larry and his family anxiously waited in the darkness while the storm wreaked havoc on their land.
Morning revealed a total loss — all of their personal belongings, livestock, and machinery were washed away in the flood.
After viewing the destruction, the Tofts walked to a neighbor’s house to plan their next move.
Larry and his family stayed at a few neighbor’s houses and a home north of Strasburg, Colo., for a while after the flood, but times were hard for nearly everyone in 1935, so no one could take in eight more people for very long.
Larry’s father and mother were tough, proud people and were eager to rebuild their life. Their first glimmer of hope came when someone recognized one of their horses a mile or so away from their house and returned it to them a week or two after the flood.
Larry’s folks found an old sheepherder’s cook shack and set up camp on a hill about ½ a mile from the creek and their old house. They spent the long, hot summer sleeping in a tent while they rebuilt their home as quickly and as cheaply as they could.
The flood taught Larry a multitude of life lessons, including the importance of family and how to never give up, no matter how hard life gets.
Today, Toft is 81 and still lives in the family farmhouse on the hill. He’s been married to his wife Helen for 60 years and has three grown kids. He has spent his whole life farming and ranching on Kiowa creek and doesn’t ever plan on retiring. He’s not afraid of the creek like he used to be — he lets his cattle graze there now — but he doesn’t park his machinery there over night. Larry also vows to never go camping in tent – a promise he’s kept for over 70 years. One hot summer in one was enough to last him a lifetime. ❖