Official Nebraska Government Website Nebraska State Historical Society

 Nebraska History
  Spring 2016 Issue Excerpts

Here's a bit of what you'll find in the Spring 2016 issue.
Call us toll-free at 1-800-833-6747 to become a member or to order just this issue.

Republican River flood opening layout

 “Gentle River Goes Mad”: The Republican River Flood of 1935 and its New Deal Legacy  Stacey Stubbs

After years of drought, the arrival of rain at the end of May 1935 at first seemed a blessing to the residents of the Republican River Valley. Years of poor farming methods followed by severe drought resulted in a period known as the Dust Bowl, marked by crop failures and massive dust storms from Nebraska to Texas during the first half of the 1930s. While conditions in the Republican Valley were not as severe as in some areas to the south, farmers struggled nonetheless. Rain signaled the valley’s revitalization. However, it also marked a new era for the region, one in which the federal government and its “New Deal” programs played a significant role in the aftermath of natural disaster. 

The change to the usually gentle Republican River came with little warning. In their survey for the Department of the Interior, Robert Follansbee and J. B. Spiegel stated that the Dust Bowl, ironically, created conditions ripe for flooding. The dry ground proved incapable of absorbing large amounts of precipitation. Several days of rain, along with a cloudburst over Colorado, quickly saturated the ground. The runoff rolled into the Republican River and its tributaries, all of which overtopped their banks. The result was “the greatest flood of record.” Normally 300 to 400 feet wide, the river spread a mile wide in most places, and up to four miles wide in several areas of Nebraska and Kansas. The Omaha World-Herald described the resulting trail of disaster under the headline, “Gentle River Goes Mad.”

The Republican River’s drainage basin covers 22,400 square miles and stretches across Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska. Its flooding, therefore, affected a wide area. Although reports vary, an estimated 113 people perished in the flooding. Most families recovered the bodies of their lost loved ones, but the remains of several victims eluded search efforts. Most of the flooded ground was farmland, and property losses, including livestock and machinery, came to approximately $26 million. An estimated 341 miles of highway, 307 bridges, and 74,500 acres of farmland were damaged, along with the many homes and buildings of those living near the river.

As the waters receded, residents across the valley began the recovery process. “But it has been a hard fight,” wrote H. H. McCoy, publisher for the Orleans Chronicle, “and however brave these men may be, they alone cannot forever play the role of Hercules.” Many disaster victims relied on the assistance of family and friends, but residents needed outside help in their rebuilding efforts. Private organizations such as the American Red Cross aided the valley’s recovery. But just as important, the federal government began taking a larger role, and like other regions of the country, the Republican River Valley would benefit from the work of government officials, the armed forces, and federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). 

The entire essay appears in the Spring 2016 issue.



1875 Black Hills Council opening layout


NSHS Home  |  Search  |  Index  |  Top
Last updated 13 April 2016

For questions or comments on the website itself, email
Nebraska State Historical Society - P.O. Box 82554, 1500 R Street, Lincoln, NE 68501
Nebraska State Government Homepage
 |  Website Policies  |  © 2013 All Rights Reserved