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The Great Pinal Creek Flood Fall 2009

Floods, Fires, Flu – looks like all Globe needs now is a good famine and a plague of locusts to take its history to Biblical proportions. Of all of these, the floods seem to have hit the town the hardest, especially the big one in the summer of 1904. I’ve talked about this one with several longtime area citizens in the past few weeks, and only a few had ever heard of it. Many knew about the even bigger flood fifty years later, but the earlier one wreaked more havoc; the railroad was knocked out, buildings were washed away, and several people lost their lives to the raging wall of water.

It started as a gentle shower, the kind that might hit big, but then again might go around the town as many late summer thundershowers still do.  But in a few minutes it really began to come down, and in less than an hour six people were drowned and property damages amounted to half a million dollars. The out-of-town papers called it the “Globe Flood,” but the name on the official government reports was the Pinal Creek Flood, since it was the creek that did the flooding, not the town.

Locals agree that the rain began as a light sprinkle around 5:30 on Wednesday afternoon, the seventeenth of August. Twenty minutes later, Pinal Creek started to rise and continued to flood throughout the night.  By 6 o’clock that evening it reached cloudburst proportions; witnesses said it was accompanied by a “brilliant electrical display.”

According to O. T. Reedy, reporting to the United States Geographical Survey, the water only dumped heavily on about 30 square miles surrounding the town. Rain gauges registered a little more than two inches, but Reedy estimated that 80 million cubic feet of water moved through the area during the flood, moving at speeds of more than 14,500 feet per second! Reedy said he heard from Mr. Devore at his Wheatfields Ranch north of Globe that the water continued to flood all night and did not resume a normal flow until about eight the next morning.

Within minutes the wall of water engulfed the little adobe casita of Arizona pioneer Addison T. Epley and washed it away. He may have been asleep at the time; probably never knew what hit him.

4833029-wagon-in-Pinal-Creek-flood-perhaps-1904-1024x739According to an article that ran two days later in the Sunday, August 21 edition of the Phoenix Republican (before they dropped the “an” from the end of their name), “The other victims were all in the Mitchell Boarding House on low ground near the smelter and could have escaped had they heeded a warning.” One wonders if there had actually been a warning, and how it would have reached them in an era when most homes did not have a telephone.

Proprietor W.K. Mitchell, his wife Johanna, and three boarders – Ella Brashears Hurd, Josie Moody, and another person named Symes, were trapped in Mitchell’s boarding house. According to Reedy, there were eight people in the house when the flood began to rage but one got escaped onto higher ground.

Another, Mr. Mitchell’s son, got out of the house to get some rope to rescue the others, but by the time he got back the whole house, with its captives trapped inside, had been swept downstream. Reedy said that three of the victims were women, and another was a cripple.

Later that night, five of the flood victims’ drowned bodies were recovered from Pinal Creek several miles from Globe. The next day the sixth body was found six miles from town.

According to Reedy, the Gila Valley, Globe, and Northern Railway received the most property damages from the flood. The stockyards and cottages occupied by railroad workers were washed away, as well as about a mile of railroad track, five bridges, and all the culverts in the lower part of town.

The flood waters lifted several downtown buildings right off their foundations and waltzed them into the street. Several others were left with a foot and a half of muddy standing water in their first floor rooms. The Republican said a dozen small houses and twenty businesses washed away.

More specifically: “buildings occupied by H.H. Pratt, fruits and confectionary; Jenkins and Zellner, pianos; and W.A. Crawford, Barber; were moved into the middle of Broad Street.  The Pratt Building and stock is a total loss,” said the Republican reporter.

Although the total damages were estimated at only $20,000, you have to remember what the dollar was worth at the turn of the 20th century. Accounting for inflation, that would be about half a million dollars in today’s currency.

Exactly half a century later, on July 29, 1954, another big flood washed through downtown Globe. Bigger than one in 1904, that one dropped 3.5 inches of rain in 40 minutes. It did a great deal of damage, and water flowed over the roadway bridge at Broad and Yuma streets. Several telephone company trucks were scooted down stream as though some giant kid was playing with his Tonka toys. It seems as though people were more prepared for this one though, with concrete culverts that let the water run its course, and no one was living too close to the creek bed.

There were other floods before 1904, and in 1894 a big fire destroyed 39 buildings on north Broad Street, wiping out all the wood-framed buildings and leaving only concrete and adobe structures. They rebuilt in ’94, had the railroad running within a few days after the 1904 flood, took the 1954 flood in stride, and bounced back again after the Pioneer Hotel fire in July, 2005.

Just like that old World War II song, “We Did It Before and We Can Do It Again,” stalwart Globe citizens love their town and always manage to keep on going through fire, flood, all sorts of natural disasters – let’s just hope the locusts don’t learn about the town!

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