1951: It rained and rained

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

By Pat Stockman Hammer

The flood of 1951 occurred the year I was 16 years old, in fact, the day we, my father Joe Stockmann, my mother Lona Stockmann, and my brother "Skip" Stockmann had to leave our home for a dryer location was my 16th birthday, July 13. My mother made a notation in her diary on that day "no birthday for Patty".

The spring of 1951 was very wet with two and three inches of rain, and sometimes more, almost daily. There had been a record snow in the mountains the past winter and this melting snow was coming downstream. Because my father kept a daily record, a documentation of that year's devastating weather, I am able to tell how it unfolded day-by-day. The first notation in my father's diary that the river was high was June 23 through June 25 and on June 26 it fell about three inches; June 27 it was on stand, then on the 28th it rose five inches. June 28 my father, brother, and Cousin Roy Joe Shoemaker, went to Grand Pass to check on the levee and father determined that we needed to move up and out. The three men moved two loads of cattle and five loads of hogs to the Tom Castle farm. From this time on, with few exceptions, my father was on the levee all day and my brother all night. They were looking for ground hog dens and sand boils. If either of these were not taken care of it would weaken the levee, and it would not hold. On June 29 the river rose another three inches. That day the levee was not expected to hold so we, my dad, mother, and I loaded up the last sow with small pigs (my mother and I crawled around catching the pigs) and hauled them to another piece of land which was the second highest spot in the bottoms where my father had already put up a temporary holding area for this sow and pigs. The milk cow and calf were taken to Russ Weavers. Brownie Brown came at noon and helped us. My father wrote in his diary, "a very bad anxious time". My mother's dairy said "a very anxious time."

July 1 the river started to fall, about one inch, another three inches on July 2 and continued falling until July 6 when it started rising again. In the meantime they had brought the cow and calf home on the 3rd. During all this time the livestock that were at Castle's had to be fed, meaning the corn had to be hauled from here to there.

We did go to Marshall on the fourth of July to the park to watch the fireworks.

On July 5, 50 hogs were shipped by R. E. McCallister to the St. Louis market as the Kansas City Stockyards were under water. The cow and calf were taken back to Russ Weavers the 6th as the river was rising again. From my mother's dairy of July 6, "the river rose two feet at Waverly." On July 7 my father and brother hauled out corn as well as Buck Little and many others who were living in the bottoms. My mother and I emptied the deep freeze and took the food to the locker in Marshall. She cooked food and took it to Jack and Merle Little's farm to help feed the many people who came and worked on the levee. The Little School building, which adjoined the Jack Little place, was used as a headquarters. The river fell three and one-fourth inches the 7th, two and one-half inches the 8th then rose again two more inches. The Grand Pass levee broke July 9, my father, mother, and I put the chickens in the loft of the barn and took the corn picker and disc to Russ Weavers. When the Grand Pass levee broke on July 9, it relieved the pressure a little on this one. Bull dozers, six of them, were brought in to build up an extra levee. The river fell more after July 9, 10, and 11 but on the 12th the sky opened to a torrential downpour and the river started rising again. We brought stuff up from the basement, put things in the smoke house up as high as we could. We canned or froze vegetables and fruit, dressed chickens, and took them to the locker. My mother and I dug up her favorite roses, potted them in buckets, and put them on the front porch. The night of July 12 the lower levee broke. July 13 we took my chickens (4H project) to Ray and Viola Wansing's and we left home. My mother and father stayed with Don and Lone Smith, my brother stayed with Harry and Jessie Plattner, and I stayed with Ben and Alice Ann Shelnutt whose daughter Lois was in my class in Malta Bend High School. took my cat. The comment was, "Pat and the cat came to stay." My parents took our German Sheppard Bingo with them.

The next morning, July 14, my father and mother went to Castle's to feed the livestock, came home, fed and watered the chickens, and had breakfast, not knowing when that would happen again. The Van Meter levee broke that day, and by evening the water was deep enough for a boat at the bluff. July 15 the entire bottoms were a sea of water.

Everyone was concerned about our German shepherd who had decided to go home. He had traveled from the Smith's, where my parents were staying, to the bluff. He was last seen jumping into the water and the swift current carried him out of sight. The current was swift enough to cut off the corn in that field like it had been mowed. It was the general opinion that our dog had probably drowned.

Earl Stockmann took Jack Little and my father to their houses every day in a boat to check on things. By July 17 our German shepherd had made it home. He was sprawled on the front porch totally exhausted. The decision was made to just leave him on the porch as he would probably try to come home again if they took him, and he might not make it a second time.

Ben and Alice Ann Shelnutt took me to Marshall the 15th to get my driver's license. We returned to their house by way of the bluff to see the flood water. Our house looked like it was floating in a sea of water. This was the first time in my life that I experienced fear.

By July 15 the basement of our house was full of water, so most of the main floor furniture was moved upstairs and the remainder put on barrels in the event the water continued to rise. We were fortunate as Jack Little and Albert Mitchell had two feet of water in their houses. Pete Weaver's house was the only other one that did not have water in it.

July 17 the river began falling and by the 23rd we were able to go home. Everything was covered with mud laced with animal fat from all the dead animals in the stockyard in Kansas City. We boiled water to start the cleanup. On the 24th, my mother's brother Edwin Shoemaker, who worked for the Sedalia water company, brought a pump to pump out the basement and cistern plus 50 gallon of soft water for us to use. Alva Gauldin connected the water heater on the 27th and my mother and I brought my chickens (4H project) home from the Wansing's and repaired the chicken house. The Missouri Department of Health provided inoculations for everyone by Dr. E. C. Macey which we received on July 31. My mother and I brought the food home from the locker in Marshall. From this point on it was a matter of cleaning, repairs to out buildings/fences, and enduring the terrible odor of rancid animal fat. My father now had to buy a lot of the food he fed the livestock which were on a rented pasture as there wasn't anything green left. I remember my father saying, "It will get better".