The Flood Of 1861

"THE FLOOD--GREAT LOSS OF LIFE AND PROPERTY--The flood reached its greatest height at Salem about six o'clock, p.m., Tuesday. It was five feet above the highest water that has been known since the settlement of the country; the freshet of 1844 being the next highest seen by Americans; although it is said that a similar one was witnessed by the Canadian trappers.

On Sunday the 1st the river was at a high stage, and rising rapidly. There had been very heavy rains, and a warm dull atmosphere for several days--doubtless rapidly melting the snow on the Cascade mountains. On Monday morning merchants began moving wheat from Matheny's warehouse. Before noon the water broke over at the upper wharf into the channel running near the foundry, and it was at noon too deep for teams to cross. The lumber road from Durelle's saw mill served as a bridge, and a great deal of wheat was taken over on that and a ferry boat. Near night the boat sank full of wheat, and carried off the roadway from the mill. During Monday night Matheny's warehouse, Durelle's sawmill, the cider manufactory, and all the houses on that bench of land were swept away. Even the great brick chimney, which it was thought would stand against any force of water, tumbled down during Monday night. A year and a half ago Durelle's establishment was destroyed by fire. The wharf built last summer was loaded with stone, and stood till the water reached the comb of the roof, when it rose, twisted around with a crash and went out into the current.

On Monday a raft came down the river with a party in distress, which proved to be Mr. Joseph Menoir, a Frenchman, and his family, consisting of his wife and two infant children. He was away from home when the river began to rise, and swam a considerable distance, to reach his house. He built the raft and set out with his family and some clothing, to voyage where the current pleased. They came down about eight miles, amid the greatest peril. The whirling, turbid stream was full of drift, and at many points breaking out into the timbered bottoms with such force that it would have been certain destruction to take one of these channels. At Salem, two men went to his relief in a small skiff--there were few good boats at this inland town--one of them giving room for the wife and children by remaining on the unwieldy raft himself. He was of course relieved, but a long way down stream.

On Tuesday morning a continual shouting was heard across the river from Salem. Two skiffs went across and twelve persons, living in that vicinity, were found on a barn which was likely to be floated off in a short time. The water had cut them off from the hills during the night, and left them in a most perilous situation. They were rescued and brought to Salem.

Two young men, Elias Presley and William Farrell, went from Salem to the relief of some of Mr. Chitwood's family, and by some means had their boat broken in two against a tree, and saved themselved by climbing up in the branches, where they remained till late in the afternoon, when the steamer Onward, with Capt. Pease, found them. Two sons of Mr. Chitwood, young men, were drowned, but we have not learned the particulars.

The Onward started from the [?] on Monday, and remained the night above the Yamhill. At daylight the great rise had reached there, but Capt. Pease kept on amidst a perfect wreck of property all day. He picked up about forty persons cut off from escape, some of them in extreme danger. Mr. Hillary and family, living near Wheatland were on their barn and as the boat unexpectedly came in sight signaled their distress. It was some time before a place fit to stop could be reached, at length, however, the steamer's boat took them off, and the barn went to pieces a few minutes afterward.

A house was seen with a number of women on the porch making signals; the steamer could not reach them, but a small boat was sent off and she continued up the river.

The passengers and those rescued accord the highest credit to Capt. Pease for his courage and determination, wherever any sufferers were found. His own family were at Canemah, and his solicitude for them was the occasion of his return on Wednesday. The warehouse at Wheatland, with 2,500 bushels of grain, was swept off, and it is presumed many others have gone in the same way. The loss at Salem, which is about the least exposed town on the river, is serious.

On Tuesday morning, Messrs. Chas. Crane, --- Hubbard and Thos. Smith, started down the river in a small boat to relieve persons living on the river in that direction. They found the water fifteen feet deep at John Ford's farm and everything a total wreck in that neighborhood. They succeeded in landing fifteen persons from situations where they would have perished. One young man had tied some article of clothing to the limb of a tree, where he had taken refuge, and cut his name on the bark as a notice of his exit. He was so benumbed with the cold as to be perfectly helpless. Mr. Horace Holden and wife, and Nimrod Ford and family were taken off by the boat.

A gentleman living near the north branch of the Santiam, says the river rose rapidly from Sunday morning till Monday noon, when it subsided somewhat, but by 9 a.m., on Tuesday it had reached fifteen inches higher than before, and two feet more than ever witnessed by residents there. The bottoms there are several miles wide, and a rise of a few inches greatly increases the volume of water.

The lower bridge on the Abiqua is carried away. The upper one is not injured. Silver creek has cut a channel across the flat near Silverton, and continues to discharge a portion into the Abiqua. A large heap of drift wood has stopped in the road near Silverton.

From 5 o'clock, a.m., till 5 p.m. on Monday the water rose twelve feet. At 9 o'clock, p.m., the increase was eight or ten inches per hour; it had then reached the windows of the basement story of the Woolen Factory. At 9 1/2 p.m., it was by accurate measurement two feet below a "bench mark" said to be the highest point reached in 1844. The water continued to rise at the rate of about six inches per hour till 8 o'clock on Tuesday morning. The water was then flowing through town in a channel three or four feet deep, and more than a quarter of a mile in breadth from the Post Office to the Beers House. At 11 a.m. a notche was made on the north side of the oak tree in front of the Holman House, and corresponding marks in different parts of Salem. By 4 o'clock, p.m. the water had risen pretty regularly five inches above these notches. The gravelly ridge extending from Commercial street, near the bridge northward nearly to the mouth of Mill Creek, was nowhere quite submerged, but 3 1/2 feet more water would have covered it all. We record these facts for reference in future building and for the comparison and for those who may have made similar observations and dates at other points. It was a matter of some scientific interest and perhaps of some future value, to ascertain the rate of such a freshet.

Mr. Jones, living on the island, below Independence, went down the river three miles with his family, on the roof of a log cabin. It ran into a drift and all were released. The Rickreall was very full, but the bridge two and a half miles from Eola is still standing. Two houses with lights burning in the windows were reported to have passed Independence on Monday night.

The Santiam ran out on the prairie below its mouth nearly a mile in breadth and too deep to be forded. Animals of all kinds, houses, barns and grainaries were destroyed in great quantity. No lives are known to be lost in that vicinity. In the neighborhood of Independence similar loss is stated to have occurred. About eight families took refuge in a barn of Mr. McKay's, and were obliged to remain there during Monday night.

At Jefferson and Santiam City, no great damage was done to houses. The ferry at the latter place is somewhat injured. At Albany a few houses were destroyed. The Santiam overflowed the prairie south of Knox's Butte and did considerable damage.

At Independence, the warehouse had in it 15,000 bushels of wheat. The house did not float off but settled down, and wheat mostly wet is not of much value.

Orleans, opposite Corvallis, is stated to be washed away entirely.

Report from Oregon City, to Wednesday morning, says all the mills at the falls are washed away. A foundry and several houses, among them the Oregon Hotel are gone. The village of Linn City is entirely destroyed.

At Portland, the water was very high but no great damage sustained at last accounts.

Some apprehension was felt for the safety of the mill at Milwaukie. No lives are lost on the lower river as far as learned.

All the houses at Champoeg are stated to be carried off, some of the merchants being unable to save their books.

At Albany, the sawmills are pretty destroyed, and part of Crawford's flouring mill is somewhat injured. The water rose around the warehouses, and wet a great quantity of wheat. The merchants there are said to have lost thirty thousand bushels.

At Corvallis, six persons are reported [?], four of them children of Mr. Abel Ge[?], living on the island. The other two were [?]--names not learned.

Mr. Moore, of Orleans, lost his safe. [?] State Company lost a coach and one horse.

At Lancaster, all but two houses are reportedly gone, and those about to go.

The DesChutes, on the east side of the Cascades, has also been very high and carried away the toll bridge, on the road from DesChutes to Walla Walla.

A report reached here that a man was drowned at Butteville.

A rumor prevails, that the steamer, Onward, was lost on her way down from here. It is stated that she was not seen to pass Champoeg, and that her pilot house was seen b[?] Oregon City. We incline to discredit the report.

We learned that the whole of the level county in the Forks of the Willamette [?]. The fences and stock are mostly gone. The houses were not generally washed away.

Mr. Maxwell, the ferryman, living near the Forks, lost his house and most of his belongings.

At Harrisburg, no houses were [?] and considerable damage occurred. [?] the mill was destroyed. The water [?] about half a mile in the prairie.

At Brownsville, the Calapooia carried off the houses. The apron of the bridge was carried away, and two milles above the [?] destroyed.

At Eugene City, the water ran through but we have learned few particulars [?] highest water in the neighborhood was [?] night. The water is said to have [?] from the Willamette to Long Tom [?] depth. No loss of life heard of above [?].

The prairie at Mr. Ford's, below [?] perfect scene of wreck. Houses, clothing, and all descriptions of utensils. Horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, chickens, lumber [?] now piled in heaps and scattered everywhere. It will be fortunate if their [?] does not breed pestilence." Weekly Oregon Statesman, December 1861.

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