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Monday, June 1, 2015

Rain Tales

A scene from the Kerr County flood of 1932 -- "The Big One."
When the rains intensified this past weekend, with such disastrous results in nearby Wimberly, and causing losses all over the state, Ms. Carolyn and I were at home, listening to the heavy drops hit our roof.
"Should we be worried?" she asked. "No," I replied. "Our floods always happen in July."
I was wrong, of course. I was relying on a random pattern in the past, thinking it was an unbreakable pattern for the future. People who like history fall for this trap quite often.
Deborah Gaudier, who often writes on local historical subjects, noticed the July flooding pattern and sent me an email about it earlier this year.
The big flood of 1932, the flood which was "The Big One," was in July. But so were big floods of 1889, 1900, 1901, 1978, 1987, and 2002 -- all in July, though the 1978 flood was just barely in July. Of the big recorded floods in our area, only one -- the flood of 1870 -- was not in July, it was in June.
So this recent flood does not fit the historical pattern, though it made history.
The big flood of 1932 was likely the most devastating flood here. July 2, 1932 was to become an important day in the lives of all who remember it.
Most of the following stories come from the Kerr County Album, a great book published several years ago by the Kerr County Historical Commission.
A lot of folks talk about the rain first. One written report, by Roxey McGrew Alexander, said that "when the rain began, it rained all night and all day. The thunder and lightning were fierce, and Cypress Creek, which normally ankle deep, was water from bluff to bluff." Bobby Cannon remembered that light rains had "been falling for about three days and nights," and that the ground was "saturated." Tommie Lee Burnett Gardner recalled that it had been "raining for two weeks, a slow soaking rain," and that this was followed by a "cloudburst above the head of the Guadalupe River and also on the head of Johnson Creek." For our purposes, it's safe to say that a big rain followed some slow steady rain. The result was disaster.
The late Bobby Cannon was Athletic Director at Camp Stewart back then, and when the flood hit, camp was in session.
"By mid-morning, alarms were sounded by every means possible for all to move to high ground as a possible record rise in the river was headed our way. We began immediately to move all boys and much of their belongings to high ground as many of our cabins were on high banks of the river. By the time the boys were safe the river was up to the top of the banks and rising fast."
Les Cobb, ranch foreman who had lived in the area for 50 years told Cannon he'd never seen water that high on the banks.
But that wasn't all.
"It was only a matter of a few more minutes," Cannon continues, "before the real big rise hit. It looked like a tidal wave as it broke across our playgrounds with a wall of water about 4' to 6' high -- dumping trees, animals, cabins from old Camp Lone Star. It was a frightening sight that I never shall forget and hope to never see again. A number of our cabins were completely destroyed. We were able to salvage several cabins which floated against the big trees. The mess hall and gym [both of which are still in use] escaped the main force of the flood. The river receded to below bank level almost as rapidly as it came up."
Picture in your mind beautiful Camp Stewart, with its wide playing fields outlined by the river, the dining hall and gym, and then on the other side of the fields, the line of cabins that form a long line there next to the road. Now just imagine that the Guadalupe River had marched right through the middle of it. Now imagine you're Bobby Cannon and you've got several hundred boys around you looking it all over. What happened next might surprise you.
"The boys whose cabins were destroyed had the time of their lives. We could crowd a few in the cabins on the hill-side, but the rest had to sleep in a big hay loft in the barn. They were so thrilled at a chance to "rough it" like real cowboys that some of them didn't want to go back to their new and rebuilt cabins."
And the dining hall? "Believe it or not, all available hands joined in cleaning up the Mess Hall before dark, and we had supper in it."
More on the big flood of '32 next week. Until then, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who knows the Guadalupe floods quite regularly.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 30, 2015.

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