“River Rising”: The Washita Flood of 1934

Seventeen lives were lost in the Washita Flood of 1934, that brought about the
  flood prevention system for the surrounding area.
Little known is this flood with its impact and death toll. Less known than that is the Cheyenne Arapaho band that escaped that flood and why they survived. Nearly completely unknown is the short conversation my grandfather had with their Chief as he led his people to higher ground…

The Cheyenne Arapaho had not completely conceded their nomadic ways to the policy of extermination that had preceded them. Nor, had they totally surrendered returning to their old ways in the devastating midst of Indian Boarding Schools.They still rode on horses for transportation at this general time. Teepees were less commonly used, yet their nomadic lifestyle was yet being preserved up to a much lesser point by the use of tar paper on poles as substitutes. The justification for using tar paper over another material like canvas, was that tar paper was superior in its water repelling capabilities.  Ceremonial teepees were still used then, and are  still used today at certain times. Although they had no need for money prior to the invasions, white encroachment, and Manifest Destiny; they were having to bend to a “new way of life.”

The Cheyenne Arapaho had two primary sources of income there that I’m aware of. One was government subsidies, while the other was farm work. My grandfather, a poor farmer, hired a couple as farmhands. One happened to have been a Chief at that time.
That relationship combined with some cultural misunderstanding led to a short talk with enormous implications then and now.

My grandfather had been traveling near the Washita, when he observed that Chief with his people moving to an unknown destination. They had been camped right by the river, yet all their things were loaded into the moving wagons being drawn by horses. “What the hell is this?” he probably thought to himself. It must have been quite a scene to witness that whole band moving themselves for no apparent reason. My grandfather walked up to him and met him. Curious and bewildered, he asked the Chief by his first name, “What are you doing?” Getting straight to the point and in haste, the Chief answered, “River rising.” “‘River rising,’ what do you mean? There’s not a cloud in the sky.” The Chief simply gave the same answer as before, “River rising.” My grandfather’s curiosity peaked, “River rising, how the hell do you know that?” “Owl hoot in daytime,” the Chief said (the owl is believed to be a messenger of death by the plains tribes that I’m aware of).

My grandfather was most confused now and reacted, “What the hell do you mean `Owl hoot in daytime’?” That’s where the conversation ended. They parted ways and continued towards their original destinations with “no cloud in the sky.”


Source (for historical verification only)
Washington, D.C.- The Hammon Flood of 1934 hasn’t been forgotten by those old enough to have lived through it.  What started as a stormy spring night in Roger Mills County 70 years ago ended up killing 17 Oklahomans, causing massive crop and property damage, and prompting survivors to keep it from ever happening again…

It was in response to disaster like this that the government decided to take on the role of creating a system of dams and watersheds, to keep Mother Nature in check.  Today, these watershed dams protect lives and property, yet few people even know they exist. That’s probably because the only time people notice a dam is when it fails.  Because they don’t fail, the possibility today of a disaster like that of the Hammon flood seems more like a movie storyline than something that could actually happen.



Source
Flood Control

The Washita River Basin is long and narrow. The river flows generally from northwest to a southeast, perpendicular to the axis of the major frontal storms. This basin shape and orientation results in the generation of damaging floodflows. It is not unusual for several consecutive flood crests to follow within comparatively short periods.

Personal Conclusion

“River rising” then meant one of the worst flooding tragedies many might face in their appropriate regions; however, it is now true that enormous amounts of ice are melting, thus making seas and oceans rise.
The Chief listened to the owl and heeded its warning. I sure as hell hope that everyone is listening to all the scientists’ warnings…


‘Doomsday Clock’ moved forward
POSTED: 10:16 p.m. EST, January 17, 2007



Source
LONDON, England (AP) — The world has nudged closer to a nuclear apocalypse and environmental disaster, a trans-Atlantic group of prominent scientists warned Wednesday, pushing the hand of its symbolic Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to midnight.

It was the fourth time since the end of the Cold War that the clock has ticked forward, this time from 11:53 to 11:55, amid fears over what the scientists are describing as “a second nuclear age” prompted largely by atomic standoffs with Iran and North Korea.

But the organization added that the “dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons.”
(Watch as the hands of time are moved closer to global disaster)

7 comments

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    • Robyn on September 29, 2007 at 12:40 am

    In Arkansas the name is spelled Ouachita.  I’ve wondered about the connection.

  1. Thank you for sharing your grandfather’s recollections. Everything in this story is true Americana, both the shameful and the good. It’s important to understand that we have a long tradition in America of ignoring and steamrolling the wisdom of those who live closer to the land and hear the earth differently.

    I don’t know that change can come fast enough, and I don’t think there’s any real higher ground we can escape to. I hope I’m wrong. That owl’s been hooting in daylight for quite some time now.

  2. Your note about owls being the messenger of death by the plains tribes reminded me of something from a radio drama I heard on the radio along time ago called Moon Over Morocco. Moroccans have similar beliefs about owls. This note is from the author of that story:

    “At night, as the moon became full, it seemed as though all the dogs of Tangier were out whooping it up. Once, around 3:00 a.m., an owl landed in a tree outside my room and started hooting. I set up the mikes, turned on the machine and went back to sleep. Later when I told Paul [Bowles] about recording an owl, he was surprised. He said Moroccans believe owls are messengers of evil and they will kill them if they can. This was written into the story. Whenever Jack hears an owl outside his window, something is about to happen.”

    Myself, I love owls. I went camping last weekend and we heard lovely sounds of owls hooting near dawn.

  3. but all the Smithsonian had was a diplodocus.  Sure are an awful lot of those “failed experiments.” 

    The brontosaurus might have loved what’s coming.  Paleontologists usually show brontosaurus in a swamp.  With its huge size and weight, it wouldn’t seem brontosaurus would move around very well on dry land. 

    Owls must have a lot to hoot about today with owlhoots running things.

    Best,  Terry

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