Head-rises wiped out frontier townsby
recent column about the treacherous Canadian River quicksands brought responses
of similar experiences along with suggestions that I tell of "head-rises." |
head-rise is a wall of water, either small or large, brought on by a heavy downpour
of rain upstream. A head-rise may occur on a down-sloping cow trail, ranch road,
arroyo, canyon, creek or river. A head-rise can even occur down a wide flat draw
if enough rain falls quickly.
The steeper the terrain the more dangerous
the head-rise. Even in the barren desert, a brief downpour can set off a dangerous
flood. History tells of many mining towns located along creeks or rivers that
were totally wiped out by floods.
Silver City, N.M., is located
in an area subject to flooding under the right conditions.
One of their
early head-rises split the town in half, leaving a deep canyon almost down main
street, after a vicious flood.
Bridges had to be built to get from one
side of town to the other. A city park has been established in the crevice left
by the water.
On Aug. 28, 1908, east of Raton, N.M., near the famous
TO Ranch, cloudbursts sent a head-rise of unknown height down the Cimarron
River through Folsom, N.M. Arriving at 3 a.m. residents were unaware
of the danger.
Nineteen people died and 16 dwellings and businesses were
destroyed as well as damaging miles of railroad track and bridges.
of the dead was Mrs. S.J. Rook, a local telephone exchange operator who
tended the local exchange from her home. A friend of Mrs. Rook who lived in the
mountains above Folsom alerted her to the cloudburst and flood of water approaching
Though facing certain death unless she escaped immediately,
Mrs. Rook chose to remain at work warning more than 40 citizens of the upcoming
disaster allowing them to escape to high ground and safety.
Her body was
recovered 12 miles downstream in the wreckage of her home, still wearing the headpiece
worn by telephone operators of the time.
At the same time during the disaster
and Mrs. Rook's famous stand, a local saloon holding several migrant hay-haulers
sleeping off a long night of drinking was washed off its foundations and carried
downstream a mile before lodging in the river banks. The men were found OK and
still sleeping soundly.
the 1940s, while recovering from the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, the weather
reversed its dry cycle and brought several years of plentiful rains.
ranch bordering the Canadian
River continually suffered from erosion and damage caused by head-rises and
Miles of fences were destroyed and acres of riverbanks lands
were washed away down the river.
We prowled the river banks after each
flooding looking for posts, telephone and REA poles washed down by the water.
we found a nice wooden bridge which we took apart and used to build new corals.
Always, we had to watch for tangles of barbed wire, mad, wet rattlesnakes
and quicksand in the bayous.
Almost overnight after a head-rise, the wet
muddy river bottoms became dry again and the red sands began sifting with the
It was a never-changing pattern.
© Delbert Trew
All Trew" September 30, 2008 Column
See Texas Rivers
| Features | Columns