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1937, January

Report on 1937 Flood
Dyess, Arkansas

Letter from E.S. Dudley, resident manager
to Colonel Lawrance Westbrook
Washington, D.C.

Dyess Colony (Now Dyess,  Mississippi co, Arkansas)

Board of Directors 

Operations Officer

Floyd Sharp, President                    

Dyess, Arkansas

H. C. Baker, Sec. Treas.

R. C. Limerick




March 19, 1937

Colonel Lawrance Westbrook

1357 National Press Building

Washington, D. C.

Dear Colonel Westbrook:

Complying with your request for a report on the high water which affected Dyess Colony during the month of January this year, I submit the following:

It rained almost daily during the early part of January, these rains becoming excessive about January 6, 1937, as will be shown from extracts from our Colony Diary:

Jan 6- Warm and cloudy all day, started raining at 3:30 P M and rained on into the night.

Jan 7- Warm and cloudy all day with little rain.

Jan 8- A Continues rain fell until middle of the afternoon, warm and cloudy the remainder of the day.

Jan 9- Cloudy and rained all day, turning much colder about noon.

Jan 10- Cloudy and cold and everything covered with ice.

Jan 11- Continued cold and a constant rain all during the day.

Jan 12- Warmer with continued rain.

Jan 13- Continued warm and rain all during the day.

Jan 14- Very warm with light rain in the morning, heavy rain all during the afternoon and evening.

Jan 15- Cold and fair in the afternoon.

Jan 16- Fair in the morning, turning warmer in the afternoon and heavy rain in the evening.

Jan 17- A continuous heavy rain all day and into the night.

During the night of Jan 16, the Tyronza River and Drainage Ditch 40-B overflowed their banks, water covering a small area in the vicinity of the Old Center and across the road just South of the Community Center. This water covered a number of yards but did not get into any of the houses and remained through the 17 and 18 but was practically all back into the river and ditches by the morning of the 19th. It started raining again on the morning of the 20th and continued through the day.

The water started to rise again during the night of Jan 20th and by 3:00 o’clock in the morning of Jan 21 was again out of the banks covering a greater area than the first rise. I was called out about that time and made a trip to the north end of the Colony and found practically the entire northeast corner of the Colony to be inundated in several houses. This made it necessary to immediately bring the families out of that section of the Colony to higher ground. The work of bringing the families out started before daylight and by night we had them established in the Community Center, however during the day the river and ditches continued to rise in other parts of the Colony and by night of the 21, it was necessary to evacuate other parts of the Colony and we had between 700 and 800 hundred people at the Community Center who were forced to leave their homes. On the 22, rain continued all day and through the night, and the water continued to rise making it necessary to bring out more families and by noon, the 22 we had approximately 1500 hundred people at the Community Center.

The weather had turned extremely cold covering the water with a sheet of ice and the rain freezing as it fell making the operation of trucks and tractors very difficult. Only this time the water had risen to a point which left the ground immediately around the Community Center about the only place on the Colony that was not covered with water. We continued to bring into the center and attempted to take care of them here but soon realized the crowded condition which they were forced to eat, sleep and live together with weather conditions, was developing into a very serious health problem. In order to relieve this condition, we supplied money to families who had relatives on higher ground to whom they might go and we had a train come into the Colony from Wilson, sending out approximately 1000 people during the night. However, it was necessary to continue bringing families in as the water reached a higher level. By Saturday morning, Jan 23, we still had more than 1000 people in the Community Center.          On Saturday, the water fell slightly in some parts of the Colony although it was still rising in the southernmost section as the worst of the overflow reached the lower parts of the river. On that day, we had hoped that the water was falling and it would be possible to relieve the congestion at the Community Center by sending some of the family back to their homes where the water was falling, so very few were sent out on that day. The water started rising during Saturday night more rapidly than before and by early Sunday morning it was apparent that almost a complete evacuation would be necessary in order to safeguard the health of the people, as the Colony had been without electric current for three days and there seamed to be no prospect of the repairing of the lines, which current is supplied the Colony. Due to the failure of the electricity we were unable to operate the water system and it was necessary to boil all of the water that was used or bring it from Osceola.

The telephone lines were down so we were without communication to the outside, except by messenger. And as the roads were covered with water, messenger service was too slow to be effective. The sewage system was out of commission, resulting in a serious problem in sanitation

Mr. Baker had been in the Colony the day before and knew conditions as they were, so word of the increased hazard was communicated to him and he Arranged for a  series of broadcasts from Memphis in order that we might keep in touch with the Colony for the purpose of giving instructions. He also arranged for buses to run between Memphis and Bassett, and a core of workers at Memphis and a special train to transport the Colony people to Little Rock. As soon as we were informed of these arrangements we started taking the people out, using the Colony trucks for this purpose. By this time the water had reached such a level on the Colony that it was impossible to reach a great number of the homes, except with tractors and boats, which were placed into service. We brought everyone to the Community Center, from which point they were placed on the trucks and sent to Bassett and to Memphis, where the handling was taken over by workers there. This evacuation continued throughout Sunday night and all of the people had been brought to the Community Center by midnight and all had left the Colony by 2:00 A M Monday morning, with the exception of approximately thirty men who volunteered to stay on the Colony and assist in taking care of the property.

When it became apparent the water would cover the farms, all the mules and cattle were brought to the Community Center and later driven to higher ground at Bassett, where a pasture had been arranged for and men were placed there to see that they were taken care of.  Just as soon as it was decided that evacuation would be necessary, word was sent to the people throughout the Colony asking them to scaffold or stack their belongings on tables or in their attics. This was done in most cases and there was very little loss of personal property as a result of the water.

It was impossible for us to take all of the hogs and chickens of the Colony, however they were in most cases put up in the barns and according to the best figures we have been able to obtain not more than 40 hogs were lost and very few chickens.

There were approximately 1000 people who did not have relatives throughout the state to whom they could go. These people were taken by special train from Memphis to Little Rock through the courtesy of the Arkansas National Guard. A tent city was erected at Camp Pike and use of the mess halls and equipment obtained. In this way, they were well cared for and medical services were provided by transferring the doctors and nurses from the Colony to Camp Pike.  A great many of the people suffered from colds and influenza as a result of the exposure. There were ten or twelve cases of pneumonia, In consideration that the people had been taken off the Colony through water covered with ice and under very hazardous conditions and suffered exposure to considerable extent we did not have a single injury and only two deaths that could in any way be attributed to the flood. One of these being Mr. David Hunter who died in the hospital in Little Rock from pneumonia and Mr. P A Barker, a man about sixty years of age, who had influenza and died in the hospital at Camp Pike. During the time the people were off the Colony we kept guards stationed over the area and as a result did not have any pilfering that we know of.

The Colony was overflowed because the Tyronza River and the National Drainage ditches were unable to carry the excessive rain off. The water started receding about January 30 and by February 3 the roads were all dry and water running off the farms through drainage ditches.  We started moving people back to their homes on February 8, returning seventy men on that day in order that they might began the cleanup work in getting the homes in shape. We continued returning approximately one hundred seventy people per day from that time on and notified the people who were scattered throughout the state that they might return and made arrangements for them to do so. Practically all of them had returned to their homes by February 24.

I had every opportunity to judge the effects of this overflow on the moral side of the people of the Colony, and it is my opinion the majority of them were not discouraged, were deeply appreciative of the way they had been cared for and were glad to be back in their homes. We have not lost more than twelve families who, in my opinion, are leaving because of the overflow.

I had a map of the Colony prepared showing the flooded areas and other information relative to the overflow. This map is attached for your further information. I am also attaching a few photographs, which will convey some ideas of the water. There is also enclosed a statement of expense in connection with the evacuation and care of the people which is broken down and will show for what purpose the money was spent.

At this writing, the people are back in their homes, their stock has been returned to them, clearing is progressing, the ground is being plowed and gardens planted and I am very glad to report that conditions are again normal on Dyess Colony.

Yours very truly,

Dyess Colony. Inc.


E S Dudley

Resident Manager

Submitted by Everett Henson

I was 10 years old and remember this very well. We ate in the Army mess hall and the family slept in tents. We spent the first night in the train station in Memphis, Tn. My mother who will be 98 on February 22, 02 and Remembers most every thing that has happened in her life says the Church or Red Cross came around and gave the people money ($13.00).   I asked her a few years ago what she did with hers.   She said she saved it and bought curtains for the house. Four men stayed at our home (one was my uncle) and took care of the Chickens, Hogs and livestock for Road 10 and 10A. One of the men had sticky fingers and stole from the houses and my uncle took it all back but one watch which he never found. Not all of it was left at the right house.

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