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Wyandotte County, Kansas

1844
2012

 

 

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1903 Flood

Star History:
Calamities and Crime  

10,000 ARE HOMELESS

Flood Situation in the Kaw Valley Hourly Becomes Worse.
FLEE FROM HOMES TO HIGH GROUND
School Houses Opened to Receive Refugees
Missouri and Kaw Still Rising.

The flood of 1903 inundated the West Bottoms. This view shows the waterworks and pumping station, bridge and packing houses under water near the mouth of the Kaw River.
Star file photo
The flood of 1903 inundated the West Bottoms. This view shows the waterworks and pumping station, bridge and packing houses under water near the mouth of the Kaw River.

DATE OF EVENT: Saturday, May 30, 1903

DATE PUBLISHED: Saturday, May 30, 1903, in The Kansas City Star

Editor’s note: The Kansas River flood in 1903 killed 20 persons and left tens of thousands homeless, most of whom were already poor. Hoping to prevent future disasters, the city constructed levees in the West Bottoms, but another flood in 1908 showed that high water would remain a problem.

The official reading of the government gauge at the Missouri river at 10 a.m. to-day was 26.3 feet above low water mark, against 23.3 at the same hour yesterday. …

The city of Armourdale, that had yesterday a population of 16,000 people, is to-day overflowed and almost depopulated. Its houses stand in a lake. Its streets are rivers upon which boats ply. Ten thousand people there and in Argentine and vicinity are homeless to-day. Nearly 10,000 men, many of whom live in Missouri, are thrown out of work by the flooding of all the packing houses and factories in Armourdale and the railroad yards and shops in Argentine. The schoolhouses of Armstrong, Riverview and Wyandotte are full of refugees in pitiful condition. All this forenoon a steady stream of flood stricken men, women and children tramped across the Seventh street viaduct and along Fifth street, leaving behind their homes and household goods, going toward high ground that no flood could touch. It was a pathetic procession of saddened, drawn and tear-stained faces. Some even were barefooted.

The inrush of water was so sudden that they barely escaped alive. Some did not escape. One man, it is known, was drowned. There were rumors of other deaths, all of them unconfirmed. But it must be that lives were lost in this flood that overswept a city in a night. It came unexpectedly and at a dark hour when the skies were black with thunder clouds and rain was falling. Many a family awoke in the black night to hear the current lapping at the door, and leaped from bed into a pool of water. Many a mother awoke to find her baby’s crib awash. Hundreds of families in the night were taken out of upstairs windows. Everywhere they turned was the black water flowing swiftly, creeping steadily up.

Thousands knew not which way to turn. They run aimlessly, filled with fright, seeking only a dry spot and safety. Women with babies crouched under wagons and in old sheds, in empty box cars and under the railroad coal chutes, shivering, listening to the pattering rain and the cold, cruel wash of the rising waters, waiting for morning and daylight.

When daylight came it was worse than even they expected. And the water was yet rising. It rose steadily all to-day and will continue to rise. No one knows when it will stop. The weather man predicts more rain and a yet higher flood in the Kaw and the Missouri rivers. His forecast is that the Missouri river will exceed the flood of 1881, when it arose 26.3 above low water mark.

The water from the Missouri river is running through the streets of Harlem like a mill race. Every house in the town is flooded. All of the 600 inhabitants are practically homeless. The woman and children were removed in boats during the night and to-day, and the men, such of them as could spare the time from their work, remained to protect their property. Removing the furniture is out of the question, as the only access to the houses is by skiff.

Viewed from the bluffs on the south side of the river, or from the Clay county end of the Hannibal bridge the Missouri river presents a spectacle that has not been witnessed in Kansas City for twenty-two years. The “great bend” is like an inland sea. It extends practically from bluff to bluff. Over the Clay county bottom lands there is a broad sheet of water frescoed with tree tops and half submerged houses …

The observer is impressed with the philosophical bearing of the Harlemites in their disagreeable plight. …

Crowds of spectators lined the south bank of the Missouri and many crossed the bridge to Harlem, where they watched the owners of submerged stables swimming their horses and cattle to places of safety, and the removal of women and children from the houses in skiffs.

A Chapter in Working Class History by Bill Onasch

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Contact the History Webmaster - Patricia Adams

History Site created on December 02, 2002
Page last updated: 23-Apr-2014

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