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The Great Flood in Denver.

The Flood in Denver.

    We devote the most of our space, to-day, to a detail of the great flood in Denver, taken from a COMMONWEALTH extra. There is little to add to the summary we gave Saturday night, in the way of results, the number lost not being known, nor the amount of property destroyed. The flood came about 9 o'clock, P. M. of Thursday last (19th,) and carried away nearly all the buildings in or lining the bed of Cherry Creek. True, the most of them were wooden buildings, of no great value, but several fine bricks were also out from their foundations and tumbled to the ground. Besides the damage to town, there are probably thousands of acres of improved land on Cherry Creek and Platte River as good as ruined. The loss cannot be estimated until the water has subsided some time.
    We publish, elsewhere, two or three cards from the Denver press, one from the NEWS stating that it would be published in connection with the COMMONWEALTH until its new office should arrive, which would be forthwith. Another, stating that the subscription books were lost, and requesting subscribers to send their addresses and to state the length of time for which they have paid. If the NEWS were in need, or would accept material aid, it would be quite easy to raise a handsome subscription for it in this county. It is the oldest Colorado paper. It is doing no discredit to the others to say that it is the best. Its proprietors have worked long and faithfully for what they deemed the good of the country, and that country has both sympathy for them in this their sudden misfortune, and something more useful--assistance --if required.
    Maj. Whitely, of the COMMONWEALTH, is acting the man in offering every facility at his command to Messrs. Byers & Dailey for the continuance of their paper.
    We wish to call attention, also, to the letter of Governor Evans, concerning emigrants. It will be seen he proposes a plan for raising a fund to encourage it. Those the most deeply interested should take the matter in hand in earnest. It seems the only feasible one whereby anything can be accomplished.


The Cherry Creek Flood.

The Cherry Creek Flood, Denver 1864,
Photo by George D. Wakely.

The Cherry Creek Flood Stereoview.

Stereoview of the Cherry Creek Flood, Denver 1864,
Photo by George D. Wakely.

From the Denver Commonwealth.

The Great Flood
I N   D E N V E R.

    At about thirty minutes past eleven o'clock on Thursday night the 18th inst., the inhabitants of West Denver, and those who have occupied with buildings, uninterruptedly for several years, the immediate bed of Cherry Creek, were roused by a most terrible roar, a rushing and crashing noise, as if some mighty hurricane, accompanied by torrents of rain, which soon developed itself to be a huge flood in Cherry Creek, caused by two or three day's heavy, consecutive rains at its head, on the great water-shed known as the Divide, where the water runs off as fast as from the roof of a house. When the flood was first discovered, it had entirely surrounded our building, and was washing with wildest fury on every side, carrying upon its uneven surface masses of floodwood, houses, fences, gigantic cottonwood trees, and driving before its irresisible current huge boulders, which created a dull rumbling sound, that rendered other sounds still more frightful. The first object selected by the element, was the Methodist Episcopal Church, at Larimer street bridge, which, together with the bridge, was hurled from its fastenings down the furious stream, with a velocity worthy of Niagara, either above or below the falls. The blacksmith shop near the church immediately followed, and then a succession of fearful noises, of buildings continually falling, waves surging high in air, the sight of which, by the pale clouded light of the moon, was so awfully grand that the imminent danger was forgotten for a moment, until some gigantic masses of wood, trees and stones, would come bounding against our office, causing the whole structure to tremble from its roof to its base, dispelling our previous admiration, and in its stead filling us with utmost fear for the safety of our situation. Long and anxiously did all in the Commonwealth building watch the News office, hoping even against hope that it might withstand the fury of the waters. Light gleamed from its windows, showing that all were astir within. Hardly had those in this office exchanged opinions as to whether the building would be able to hold out, when the light disappeared, and shortly afterward, and at a quarter to one, a loud crash came bounding over the water, and the Rocky Mountain News office was totally demolished, the occupants barely saving their lives.

    At 2 o'clock the water commenced to abate, and so low did it get we found but little difficulty in walking to the Tremont House and other places. This, however, did not last long. It was plainly evident that the Creek was again rising fast. Families in this vicinity, and indeed wherever the inundation had reached, availed themselves of this pause in the storm to move themselves and as much of their property as possible. Subsequent events proved how judicious was this step to many, for when they returned in the morning the waters had not only carried off their houses, fences, and other improvements, but the lots with the rest. One of the most distressing of all the scenes which transpired during the night was that of women wading waist deep in ice-cold water with children in their arms, in constant danger of being borne along with the rubbish, their screams and cries rendering the already dreadful night thrice more alarming. Many families were quartered in the upper room of this building, the compositors of this paper rendering them every assistance in their power. At half-past two A. M., nearly all who were in danger had been removed to high ground, and what few were left behind were soon sought after by the gallant soldiers of the first Colorado cavalry, on their horses, and many were the good deeds performed by them. One little boy was rescued by one of these brave fellows at the risk of his own life. We are indebted to a member of that regiment, whose name we do not know, for conveying us with our books and papers, to Ferry street, where we found comfortable quarters in Gen. Pierce's office.
    When day had dawned, many availed themselves of the liberty granted by Quartermaster Mullen to seek the roof of his building to behold the sight there spread out before them. It is beyond our capacity to describe what was there presented to our gaze. On every side, from the extreme bank of Cherry Creek on the east to the furthest bank of the Platte on the west, all was water. Front, Cherry, and Ferry streets had each a river of their own, aside from the one which followed the heretofore dry bed of Cherry Creek. Houses, trees, fences, cattle, hogs, chickens, wagons, barrels, boxes, tents, baggage, household furniture, wagon beds, and indeed property of almost every description was sailing at the rate of twenty miles or more an hour towards the Missouri River. We refer those who are curious to learn something of the picture, to the photographs taken by Wakely at the time.
    Early in the morning, the inhabitants of East Denver were gathered in great numbers on the east bank of Cherry Creek, on Larimer street, when they immediately opened communication with West Denver by means of paper upon which they had written, wrapped around a small sized stone, and then cast over by those who had the power of forcing them across. Many dispatches were sent and received in this way, some of which we copy elsewhere.
    About ten o'clock word was received that the Platte was rising rapidly, and it was essential to the safety of residents in the "Platte Bottom" that they should immediately move to higher ground. Here was another panic; nearly all the families being deserted by the men who, not suspecting any danger from that quarter, had gone to see how things were further up town. The report of this new disaster soon spread over town, when a great stampede of men was seen in that direction, and in a few minutes a general transportation business was carried on. Then came the alarming word that Wm. N. Byers and family were on an island in the Platte river, with the water rising fast and furious about them. No time was taken for comment on this latter sad report, but forthwith Colonel Chivington on his horse galloped to the place, where he had communication with Mr. B., who said he could hold out against a further rise of two feet. Upon this information Col. C. hastily returned to town, where, in the course of two hours he had a boat constructed, which was sent to the spot, and the whole family rescued.
    The whole number of lives lost, cannot, at this time, be accurately ascertained, but there is little doubt that many are lost. Mr. C. Bruce Haines, late Secretary of the Territorial Council, is among the drowned, his body having been found near the residence of James McNasser, some two miles down the Platte river.
    Other bodies we understand have been seen lodged in tree branches and drift wood which have not yet been brought off. Peter Fisher who lives one mile up Cherry Creek lost his boy, some two months over four years old. A negro named Smith, with his wife and five children, were carried away, but through the heroic management and cool courage of Mrs. Smith, the entire family were saved. All honor to the brave hearted woman! John Wall who belongs to the special police force, was carried away with the City Hall and succeeded in lodging in a tree on an Island some three miles from here. He has returned safe, but as to the number of prisoners who were confined there at the time, or of their fate, we are not at this writing advised. There is little doubt but that Mr. Rosebaum who, formerly occupied a front room of the old Commonwealth building as a clothing store, is also drowned. The young man Schell, who clerked for F. A. Clark, after meeting with innumerable adventures and hair-bredth escapes, was finally rescued, and is now in the city. J. M. Veasey was carried off in his house, which, strange to say, traveled a mile or more right side up, when he succeeded in gaining land. There are many other events of thrilling nature connected with this flood which will be duly recorded hereafter. The loss of property is almost impossible to arrive at, from the fact that hundreds of Ranches, for miles on Cherry Creek, as well as up and down the Platte, aside from all other property in the City being laid waste. We have heard of the loss of four thousand five hundred head of sheep and a large number of cattle. The loss of the News Company, Tilton, F. A. Clark, the City, in City Hall, bridges &c., Gen. Bowen, McKee, Metz, Hunt, Charles; M. E. Church, American House, (not total) all these are not a drop in the bucket to what will be shown in a few days. This flood has called to mind one fact which it is well enough for us to state here. In the summer of 1861 we were one of Lieut. Berthoud's exploring party to and from Salt Lake City. Major James Bridger, one of the most thorough practical explorers in the West, was guide on that trip. During a general conversation on the subject of property in and about Denver, of which he had some, he proposed selling very cheap for the reason that it was in the "bottom." The entire party thought him very foolish, whereupon the old man returned the compliment in no very mild terms to think that we should set up our opinion against his, and then proceeded to tell us that many years ago, (we forget how many) while on a journey from Ft. Laramie to some other point, he found the entire bottom of Cherry Creek and Platte River covered between the extreme bluffs of the two, which compelled him to remain on the opposite side of the Platte, from this City, nine days before he was able to effect a crossing. The respect the whole party entertained for the Major was not discredited to his face, but everyone had their own opinion, which was, that the old man was indulging in an "old mountaineer's" fib. We are, for our own part, willing to publicly acknowledge that the Major was telling the truth. Bijou, Kiowa, Plum and Sand Creeks are reported as being equally furious with Cherry Creek. If this is the fact, no one can imagine what the ultimate loss along the whole length of the Platte, and those tributaries may be.


Unknown, "The Great Flood in Denver," Daily Mining Journal, Black Hawk City, Gilpin County, Colorado, Monday, 23 May, 1864, page 2.

Created July 1, 2007; Revised August 4, 2007
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