Memories of Mississippi come flooding back

Published 10:09 pm Saturday, April 19, 2008

The waters of the Mississippi River are now higher than they were in the great flood of 1927.

But the story simply isn’t the same from there.

In 1927 the levee system we know today didn’t exist. The Army Corps of Engineers hadn’t re-routed the river. And the preventative measures weren’t the same.

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The result — tragedy.

Mary Louise Goodrich Shields, who is now 101 years old, remembers the 1927 flood.

“It was a terrible thing,” she said.

The ferry that would run across from Natchez to Vidalia stopped carrying people and started trying to save horses and cows, she said.

“The ferry would be filled with horses,” she said.

The people, for the most part, had already come across the higher ground.

Natchez resident Verna Fay Farr, though her memories are vague, still sees one image — tents in the current Duncan Park area. Residents from Vidalia with nowhere else to go pitched tents on the open park land to live in.

“Once we drove out there and saw a tremendous crowd of people,” Farr said.

But some Louisiana residents weren’t so quick to move, Natchez resident Duncan Morgan said.

Morgan, 90, was 7 when the flood occurred.

“I remember some of the older people talking about how men standing on the street would literally get arrested and be forced to go across the river for evacuation,” he said.

But the flood story in the Miss-Lou doesn’t end there.

Only years later the water reached an even higher crest — 58.04.

By then though, the levees were stronger and the damage was not as severe.

Morgan said it was the aftermath that was tragic in Natchez.

“The ’37 flood caused the erosion to be so bad down around Silver Street,” he said.

In 1973 the river reached it second highest crest ever — 56.70.

Larry Richardson’s family owned and leased land on Glasscock Island where they raised about 1,000 head of cattle and 50 horses.

“That was hard time,” he said.

Richardson said the rapidly rising river and swift current all made getting the cattle off the island an extremely difficult task.

“It was the biggest wreck you’ve ever seen,” he said.

Richardson said the rescue effort actually took a couple of days due to the sheer number of animals.

At one point Richardson flew around the island by plane in an effort to locate the scattered herds.

Using horses to track the cattle down, and portable corrals to put them in, most of the herd was loaded on to a gravel barge and taken to safety.

Sadly not all of the herd could be saved.

Richardson said as the cattle were gathered they were driven into water in order to get them on the barge.

“But the current was to swift,” he said. “It was so frustrating.”

Richardson said approximately 300 cows were swept away in the current.

“It was a terrible sight,” he said.

But Richardson lost more that his herd in the 1973 flood.

He lived on Glasscock Island for approximately 30 years, and like his cattle, eventually saw his house swept down river.

“We built it on the highest spot of the island,” he said. “Then we saw it float down river.”

Richardson said before the house was washed away he actually drove a boat through the front window into the house to load it with keepsakes not yet underwater.

Former Adams County Supervisor Sammy Cauthen had a similar cow rescue experience.

He helped friends to save 40 head trapped when the levee near Ivanhoe Plantation broke and flooded the area.

Cauthen said the herd was saved only after a homemade barge of 55-gallon drums was constructed to float them to safety.

Cauthen said the first trip on the barge almost ended badly when the cows, behaving skittishly, nearly tipped the barge.

“After that we had to throw them down and tie them up,” he said. “That was the only way to keep them still.”

And in 1997 the river saw it’s fourth highest crest ever — 56.30.

Former Natchez Mayor Larry L. “Butch” Brown was wrangling something other than cows during the flood of 1997.

Brown said in addition to having the safety of the city to consider his biggest challenge came in dealing with the operators of the Lady Luck Casino.

“They just did not want to close it,” he said.

Brown said he was greatly concerned with the force of the water against the boat and the impact it would have on the safety of the people visiting and working in the casino.

Brown said the city and casino had more that one heated meeting to discuss street closures that would in turn close the casino.

Then one night on an inspection of Silver Street Brown saw “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Brown said during the night the casino built a wooden pier, over the river, to allow passengers to access the boat.

“I could not believe it,” he said.

Brown closed the street.

“It got pretty testy,” he said.

That year was the first time the flooding river forced the casino’s closure. The boat was constructed in 1993.

Brown said the flood also led to the instillation of permanent checkpoint marker on Silver Street.

“When the river gets to the marker, the street closes,” he said.

With a predicted crest of 57 Monday, 2008 would become the second-highest Natchez crest ever. But the memories just won’t be the same.