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Sunday, August 4, 2019


Post by Doris McCraw
writing as Angela Raines

Fountain Creek after flood stage 2015
photo property of the author
Colorado has had its share of disasters during its history from fires, avalanches, and floods. In 1885 floods struck across the state. Below is a brief overview of some of the areas affected. I've chosen to just offer snippets from the various articles. If anyone wants research more, most of the complete articles can be found on the Colorado Historic Newspaper site: Colorado Historic Newspapers.


From the Carbonite Chronicle, the following was reported on August 1, 1885:
The magnificent splurge made by Cherry Creek on Sunday — bridges washed away and property destroyed.

Denver had a flood. Not a flood of knowledge or a flood of light, but a genuine wet watery flood. It came down Cherry Creek on Sunday night about dusk and made things home, in that staid and quiet old watercourse, for a time. During the afternoon there had been premonitions of the storm and according to arrivals on the Denver and Rio Grande train, which got in yesterday afternoon, and the Denver papers of yesterday, the oldest inhabitants had predicted "a flood." For once "the oldest," etc., was not mistaken.
The flood came, and it came numerously. It brought a great many things besides water with it. There were trees and timber, and sand and chicken coupes, a dead cow, and many other articles of virtu and bric-a-brac. The flood came suddenly. At half past 5 o'clock in the evening there was a little turgid stream, tortuously forcing its way through sand in the bottom of the creek. A minute later two feet of water was rolling over the sand, and 10 minutes later, a majestic touring, that seized and hissed and roared, and mock the efforts of humanity, put forth to stop its destructive force. Onward it came, growing fiercer, and louder, and more resistlist. Thousands of people hurried to the scene and gazed with all and terror at the raging element. On its seething breast, it bore debris of all kinds, which in its mad fury it had torn from its resting places. The wooden bridges, which spanned the creek, were torn away like cobwebs, and the heavy timbers were tossed about like eggshells on the ocean. Huge masses of earth and immense sections of piling were carried out onto the seething vortex, the earth coloring the water, and the timbers adding to its fury.

Image result for historic images of Denver colorado 1885
Denver 1881 USGenWeb Archives  

The Pueblo daily chieftain of June 26, 1885, had the following article;

After the Flood.
With bright weather yesterday, trains running regularly in all directions, and the Arkansas River meandering peaceably within its banks, there was but little to remind the public of the great flood which took place the day before. There are still, however, several sizable and unsightly ponds in the lower parts of the city, and bayous of still water stand in central Pueblo. From all these ponds come the loud voices of innumerable frogs. The city authorities have had the broken streets partially repaired, where most in need of it. The "flood sufferers" were engaged yesterday in exposing their soaked clothing and carpets to the sun, washing out their crusts of mud which had settle upon the floors, and preparing to spend the night in a more comfortable manner than was possible the previous night.

Colorado Springs

From the Colorado Springs Gazette of July 26, 1885, we have the following:

While witnessing the performance at the opera house last night a reporter who was much interested in the antics of Muldoon and Mulcahey was notified that a water spout had broken in the northern part of the city and Shook's run flood was on a tear. Floods of this nature being frequent in Colorado reporter paid but little attention to what was said. Later, however, and man road up to the office and intimated that the flood was exceptional and that the lives had been lost. Immediately representatives were dispatched in every direction. It was reported that the house of Mr. B. A. P. Eaten in the northern part of the city had been washed away and his wife drown. Upon investigation, the report was found only to true.

In every respect, it was one of the most disastrous storms that has ever visited this section of Colorado. On either side of Shook's run hailstones as large as hens eggs and 18 inches deep were still laying at 4 o'clock. Not until today will we be enabled to make anyway near an estimate of the destruction. That it will amount to thousands of dollars there is no doubt.
Mr. Eaton's house was located on high ground on Wasatch Street between San Rafael and Yampa. It was substantially built on a stone foundation. When the Gazette reporter visited the grounds at 3 o'clock the property look as if it had been traversed by a cyclone. There was nothing left but the stone foundation. At the time water was flowing through the street to the depth of the foot or more.

Almost simultaneously with the flood in Shook's run, and before the rise of the Fountain, the water and Cheyenne began to rise rapidly and soon overflowed its banks. No estimate can be made of the amount of damage done on Cheyenne, and it is feared that much livestock has perished, and a large amount of hay, lately cut, is, without doubt, carried away.
Every wagon bridge on Shook's run was carried away, foundations and all. The Rio Grande railway bridge over that stream was lifted bodily and born on the flood down to destruction. 

Although we find floods and disasters sad and sometimes overwhelming, they can and are used when telling the history and the fiction that comes from history. I myself have experienced flooding both where I live in Colorado and growing up in the mid-west and the Mighty Mississippi's floods. They are terrifying and awe-inspiring at the same time. I hope most never have to experience their power, but they were and are part of the lives of people. I still remember Louis L'Amour's story "Matagorda" and his use of the hurricane that hit that area as the 'character' that overarched the whole story.

The USGS had a publication from 1948 that talks about early floods that had been reported in this state. USGS publication

If you haven't picked up your copy of the latest collection "Hot Western Nights" from Prairie Rose Publications, don't delay.

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Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 
Photo and Poem: Click Here 


  1. Thanks for the informative post. I love reading old newspaper articles. The wording is often as interesting as the subject the reporter was writing about.

    1. I agree with you on old newspaper language. It can be so 'descriptive to say the least.

      I am glad you enjoyed the post Ann. Doris

  2. The wording is even more interesting, unfortunately, because apparently the author of this article READ ALOUD the parts of the old newspaper articles she wanted, producing some really bad mistakes on the part of her speech recognition software, and then no one proofread it. Two examples: Onward it came, growing fiercer, and louder, and more resist lust. Thousands of people hurried to the scene and gazed with all and terror at the raging element.

    1. Most of it was proofread, and some of the language was strange. Mistakes happen and thank you for taking the time to respond.

  3. We had a massive flooding here, I think in 1995, with astronomical losses in the millions. Since then some barriers have been erected, but so far have not had to be tested. Our river curves right through the city and when there's flooding, the old parts of the city get soaked. Luckily, our house is up on the bluffs and far enough from the edge not to be in danger from flooding. I just have to watch the sky when the wind whips up and starts churning those clouds. I enjoyed this post, including all newspaper excerpts which makes reading old newspapers so interesting. You always post interesting articles, Doris.

    1. Thank you again for your kind words Elizabeth. Floods and water in general can be so destructive, yet calming and beautiful. I sincerely hope your area never has to test those barriers. Doris

  4. Doris,

    Floods are fearsome forces for sure. In June of 1965, the South Platte River in Colorado flooded. I was ten years old. We lived in the country on the opposite side of the river from Fort Morgan. We were cut off for what seemed like months in my kid's viewpoint, but it was really only a couple of weeks. Plus, we weren't actually stranded as we could make the 60 miles and more trip to towns on our side of the river for supplies. (Greeley, New Raymer, Sterling) Our ranch land on the south reached the railroad tracks which ran along the river. My grandpa had a fresh water spring with a Ram pump on it. This supplied many of our neighbors with water while the electricity was out. My most vivid memory was how dirty the the flood water was--brown foam, snakes, debris... Such awful devastation. The historic Rainbow Bridge in Ft. Morgan survived without too much damage.

    It's been a long time since I've read Matagorda...will revisit. Thanks for the memory-jog. :-)

    1. Kaye, floods are fearsome, I agree. What memories you have of that time. Thank goodness your grandfather had water for others. That is always one problem with floods, all that water and nothing to drink.

      Hope you enjoy Matagorda again. I remember thinking how the weather played such a part in that story. *smile* Doris

  5. Thanks for sharing this. All these stories help me build up visions of local events, and of the strength and determination of the people who built their lives in such unforgiving territory.

    1. You are welcome. Like you, I use events from the past to help inform the stories I tell. I am constantly amazed at the human spirit. Doris

  6. Another brick in the wall.

  7. Yikes, I'm really late! When I read these actual news reports of floods and how some of them grew from tiny trickles to mammoth roaring terror I was shocked. I didn't consider the loss of hay or animals some farmers suffered. How do people manage to make it after all these floods?
    While some areas of Charlotte are more prone to flooding than others, it's not on the scale of floods in the Midwest. Most floods in North and South Carolina occur with hurricanes in more costal areas. But Midwest floods as noted in these articles takes away livelihoods along with people.
    "Where Love and History Meet" is going to be a wonderful story to read. I have this anthology, but I haven't begun reading it yet. I'm glad to know this history behind the story before I do read it.
    All the best to you, Doris. I wish you and all the authors in this anthology the very best.

    1. Sarah, Colorado has always been prone to flash floods, and growing up along the Mississippi didn't prepare me for what can happen here. It makes for fodder for future stories.

      Hope you enjoy the anthology. Doris