With the potential for spring flooding on the minds of many, today Back in the Day recaps the Souris River flood of 1927, when the efforts of hundreds of men, women and children saved much of the Magic City from likely ruin, devastation that perhaps could have exceeded that of the historic flood of 1969, which many Minoters are old enough to recall.
According to editions of The Minot Daily News in mid-April 1927, the potential for flooding was being watched closely because of lesser floods, in 1923 and 1925, when the Souris topped its banks in Minot swamping "scores" of neighborhoods.
"The rise in Minot is averaging about 5 1/2 inches per day, ... and at noon today (April 17) stood at 13.6, considered 3.4 feet below flood mark.
The fact that the river is still rising in Canada indicates to City Engineer W.W. Peterson that the advance will continue for at least 10 days."
While the prediction was not a dire one, The Minot Daily News noted that residents upstream were already moving furniture and other belongings from homes and reporting higher river levels than seen in 1925. There was a degree of optimism in Minot since the various upstream reports did not agree, but on April 18, much of Saskatchewan was buried in a blizzard that ultimately would increase runoff in the Souris River Basin.
April 23 edition: "His Majesty, the Mouse, today settled all arguments regarding the probability of a 1927 inundation of the Minot lowlands by advancing to a reading on the city gauge at noon of 17 feet, the accepted flood mark in this city. The rise measured an even 13 inches in the past 24 hours, with the stream still climbing slowly."
It had begun.
"Residents in areas of the city which are being threatened with inundation worked until a late hour last night, and continued their task today (April 23), of constructing dikes to hold back the overflow waters.
That the erection of these dikes will materially aid in keeping the river within its banks is the declaration of both Street Superintendent John A. Wagner and Victor A. Corbett, commissioner of streets and public improvements, who are aiding in the work.
Trucks owned by the city are being placed at the disposal of residents who are constructing their own dikes, due to a shortage of city laborers. ... A large number of basements are already flooded, and in a couple of instances families have been compelled to leave small residences when the water reached the first floor line."
By that point the water was reaching the top of bridges throughout the city, including on Eighth Street east of Eastwood Park, where dikes were erected to save that portion of the town.
"Dikes which have been constructed by corps of volunteer workers, aided by city employees, are saving large areas in the city from being inundated.
At the east end of Second avenue northeast, where the river has backed up the street several rods, a boat has been put in operation to transport residents in the overflow area to dry land.
A few other boats have also been put in operation, but the need for them has not been urgent."
Minot's Roosevelt Park was also an early victim of the flooding.
"Water has backed into the bear den in the park, almost completely filling it, and a wooden platform has been constructed for the bruins to perch upon, high and dry. A wire screen has been built around the platform to prevent the bears from swimming away. Occasionally the bears slide off the platform and take a dip in the water."
By April 26, the general population including residents of South Hill, far from any flood waters, had joined in the fight.
"Hundreds of Minot men, women, boys and girls today (April 26) continued loyal cooperative efforts to prevent the stream from leaving improved earthen banks and spreading over the lower portions of the city. Business men, students and others have joined in the greatest effort ever put forth in Minot to prevent the stream from overflowing the dikes which have been constructed, and which thus far have proven effective in keeping the river from leaving its channel. ...Business men donned overalls, students dropped their books, and all grabbed shovels or took their places in the driver's cabs of trucks and hurried the transportation of dirt from pits north of the city to strategic points."
It was reported that the Souris River in Canada was dropping, but the battle raged on in Minot.
"Oak park women organized an efficient "commissary" department to feed the men working on the dikes in that section of the city, and under the general chairmanship of Mrs. W.L. Faris are working night and day shifts. Each block has a chairman, and in turn each block has been furnishing food and workers for designated shifts. Officials of the Oak Park Improvement association said today (April 26) that the cooperation of men, women and boys in the entire project has been notably fine."
With the Souris yet to crest in Minot, The Minot Daily News essentially declared victory in its April 27 edition, but noted some friction between different neighborhoods within the city.
"Thousands of loads of dirt have been hauled from the two large pits, a short distance north of the city, where hundreds of men, boys, women and girls have labored night and day in the greatest effort ever undertaken in the Magic city to stem the overflow of the stream.
Northside residents and those in Eastwood park and in other sections where the river had previously done the most damage have been joined by volunteers from other parts of the city in the diking works.
Special policemen and volunteer guards pace back and forth over all of the dikes during the night hours, watchful for attempts to destroy any of the embankments and closely inspecting the retaining walls for evidences of weakness. Some of the largest dikes have been built as high as 10 and 11 feet, while others are only a foot high.
Residents of Elmwood addition, adjoining Minot on the east, furnished firearms to some of their guards last night when a rumor was received that residents in another section planned to destroy the dikes. Members of the sheriff's force investigated the affair, and found the rumor to be baseless."
Among the close calls in the flood of 1927 was one that came in the early morning hours of April 28 when one of the hastily built dikes weakened.
"Three hundred citizens hurriedly answered an emergency call at 4 a.m. today, when a dike in the northwest part of the city was threatened with destruction. A large whistle at the plant of the Northern States Power company was used to arouse the residents, and within a short time sufficient earth had been hauled to save the bank from destruction. Volunteers who patrol the dikes during the night hours had discovered the threatened break."
The city undoubtedly remained on alert but the May 2 edition of The Minot Daily News summed up the situation this way: "A heavy rainstorm is considered the only weapon in nature's arsenal which might swing the tide of battle in the river's favor."
In terms of history, the flood of 1927 was the city's worst since 1904. The downtown gauge height was 20.17 feet. The estimated peak flow was 3,770 cubic feet per second.
But the miles of dikes did their job as had the "men, women, boys and girls" who built them.
(Kent Olson is managing editor of The Minot Daily?News)