THE FLOOD & STORM of 1884
by Lenora Peva McCutchan
Transcribed by Barbara DeMarco
The format has been slightly changed for your ease of reading.
The year of 1884 had been a prosperous year for the farmers of Union Twp., Vand Co.Ind. Everyone had fine crops and the harvest was over.
My people lived right across from Henderson on the Ind. side. My father had a 4 A. corn farm. In those days they did not have much modern machinery. Everything was done by man power. Some times my father would have as many as six darkies working for him, hoeing and plowing corn.
When the corn was all harvested in that year, we had 13 large rail pens,- each holding 1000 bu. The pens were built on high mounds. At that time corn was worth 75c per bu.-good price. Father was holding it till he could get barges to ship it away. Sometimes the barges would come right up to the bank & load.
Then the Ohio River began to rise. It came rapidly until the ground was covered. He decided that he had better send the horses and mules over to Kentucky. We had around 16 head. I'm not sure - but I think they were sent to Diamond Island.
As we lived in a long, low ranch type house, the next thing was to get the family out. My mother's family had a large two story house not far from us - located where Ronald Mc Dowal now lives. (The house has been torn down long ago). He wanted us to come live with them, which we did - and as that wasn't far from our place, father could still watch after things.
In those days people rarely left their homes till forced out. But, my people could see that the river was rising rapidly and that something had to be done. So all the furniture in the house was stacked on high wooden trestles; and we vacated.
My mother's cousin's house had 4 large rooms across the front & 2 below and 2 above, with a huge chimney at each end. A one story ell attached on the west side with 2 rooms & porch.
My father after getting us located, started barging his corn which was a great undertaking. He was gong to send it across the Henderson, and then it would be shipped to various places.
On the day the storm began my mother noticed huge, black clouds rising in the west, about 3 P.M., and knowing that my father, who was working down at the Pens, probably needed dry clothing, got one of the men at the home to row her down to the pens in a skiff. They just got back when the storm broke in all its fury. My father had succeeded in getting all the barges across, but during the night, they all sank. The storm raged on; father walked the Kentucky bank all night not knowing how his family was on the Indiana side, and no way to help out.
I was a very small child, just tall enough to see over the low window sill, at the huge waves & white caps. My brother & I watched houses floating by and saw the Church go down the river.
Some of these things I remember vividly. Some from hearing my people tell it over & over.
The ell & porth attached to the house we were in, tore away from the main part of the house. The roof of the porch had all of the fire wood on it. It was a bitterly cold night, as all of the wood was gone, they kept the fire going by burning bed slats & breaking up chairs.
The men had one skiff left, and had a rope tied to it, which was brought in through the upstairs windows. They did their best to keep it bailed out as much as possible, so when the storm would cease they would go to Henderson for help. No boats could weather the storm at this time.
The storm raged on all night, but about 3 A.M. the next morning it began to cease, and so as soon as it was daylight, the men got in the skiff and went to Henderson for the Ferry boat which was owned by my Uncle.
The water in the house was up to within 1 ft. of the second floor. At daybreak the boat came right up along side of the house, a ladder was placed from the deck of the boat to the upstairs window. Everyone climbed out of the window & down the ladder to the deck.
When we reached the cabins, I remember very distinctly seeing a lot of men sitting around the stove, with their feet in pans of water, having been partly frozen during the night. Many had hung in trees when they thought their houses were going.
The people in the house just north of the one we were in seeing the boat waved a red tablecloth for help.
*Another relative of my mother's, who also had a 2 story house, was afraid it was going - jumped to a cherry tree just outside the upstairs window, lashed the rope of his skiff around the tree and around his body and hung there until help came.
That morning when the boat landed at Henderson, the bank was black with hundreds of people watching the refugees coming out of the flooded areas. The people were wonderful, and so kind. The owner of the "Fendricks Hotel", had my father take us to his hotel - no charge.
After such a catastrophe, my father was terribly discouraged & financially broke. Our home had gone off the foundation - all our furniture was gone, crops gone, but he was so thanful his family was safe. All he had left for farming were his teams and a few implements.
Many in that community had a terrible experience but I don't recall my people saying any lives were lost.
The following Spring, the Henderson bridge was built (not the one that is there now, the the one before that). When that bridge was built, they had a long wooden trestle span reaching through the lowlands on the Indiana side.
My father had many wonderful friends and was a 32nd degree Mason. The Masons came to him, & backed him financially.
That Spring he put his teams on the levee work, and pulled out of debt the first year.
The above account was witten by Lenora Peva McCutchan
on February 23, 1956 when she was 77 years of age.
Daughter of George and Susan (McDowell) Peva
Wife of Thomas W. McCutchan
Mother of Kenneth P. McCutchan
*Note: The men who tied themselves in the tree were Philip Cheaney (a cousin of grandmother's) and Harvey Wheeler.
P. 389 Gilberts History Vand. Co.
P. 641 Brandt & Fuller
It was during this 1884 flood that Clara Barton came to Evansville, hired the steamboat, Josh Throop, begged food, blankets and fuel, and set off down the river to dispense relief to the marooned flood victims. in her memoirs she described this as the very first disaster relief ever underrtaken by the American Red Cross.
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