Mader: Kiowa Creek Flood of 1935
April 20, 2018
Both of my great-grandparents were born on farms in the early 1900s shortly after their parents immigrated to the United States from Germany. They met north of Bennett, Colo., and married in the 1920s. Like most families during that time, they were very poor. My great-grandpa Johnny was a farmer and my great-grandmother Emma helped him on the farm and took care of their six children. They raised beans, corn, pigs and cattle.
My great-grandparents lived in a shack along the banks of Kiowa Creek north of Bennett. My cantankerous great-great-grandpa Johann "Old Man Schroth" lived with them there and kept everyone on their toes with his angry antics. (In his defense, Old Man Schroth lost his wife in birth shortly after he moved from America. Apparently, he never recovered.)
Despite their challenging live-in relative, my great-grandparents had a fulfilling life. In the early 1930s, not long before the flood, they upgraded their farming operation to include a tractor. Johnny had been doing all of his farming with horses, so the used tractor was an exciting addition.
Unfortunately, the tractor was one of the few things that survived the flood of 1935.
I grew up hearing about the flood and always figured that it was an event that was expected — like a slow build up from days of rainy weather. But it wasn't like that at all. It was a complete surprise to everyone.
The Kiowa and Elbert area got a torrential downpour of rain in May of 1935. There was so much rain that it flooded the Kiowa Creek and sent the water rushing towards Bennett. Officials in Kiowa sent a frantic telegraph to Bennett, warning them of the coming water. The Bennett Depot received the telegraph quickly and sent anyone they could find to go warn the folks living along Kiowa Creek.
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Local restaurant owner Les Chrisweiser was one of the men who volunteered to warn people (Side story: In later years my grandma worked for Les. She said he made the best ham sandwiches. His secret was to cook ham on a wooden stove and iron it with an old-fashioned iron to seal in the juices.) Les drove out to the Schroth farm told them to get out. At first Johnny didn't believe a flood was coming. Then he heard the noise — he said it sounded like a freight train roaring down the tracks. He yelled for Emma to load the kids in the car and head to the hilltop. She complied and he started the tractor and yelled for Old Man Schroth to climb on. True to his character, Old Man Schroth refused to listen. He told Johnny, "If the house goes down, I'm going down with it!" Johnny begged him to come, but he staunchly refused. The water was coming with incredible force by then and Johnny had to leave Old Man Schroth in the house. Johnny, Emma and the kids watched the flood from the hilltop. In the next few hours they saw nearly everything they owned washed away. The cattle sheds, granaries, corrals, and the chicken coop were all ripped from their foundations and taken down the river. All of the chickens and most of the horses and cows were drowned.
Surprisingly, the house stayed standing. And, on top of it, Old Man Schorth sat unharmed. He rode out the entire storm on the roof.
Though Johnny and Emma lost nearly everything they owned (the house made it through the flood but it was filled with mud and most of the items inside were destroyed) they felt fortunate to have lived through it. Several of their neighbors lost their lives.
In the years following the flood, Johnny and Emma rebuilt their farm. They moved the house up to the hill and lived out most of their lives there. In fact, the house is still standing on the hilltop. ❖
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