The Flood of 1881

Flood of 1881

The Missouri river has flooded many times in recorded history. Floods levels this year may exceed even the record flood of 1952.  Although floodwaters were not that high in the flood of 1881, significant damage was done and lives were lost.   These two photos show floodwaters inundating the lumber yard and Union Pacific rail yard in Omaha in April 1881.

Missouri River Flood of 1881

According to this article  on the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources web site:
“The release of water, which was yellow with clay and debris from cornfields, trees, and houses, later flooded Omaha up to 9th Street. Several hundred yards of rip-rap “gave away like cheesecloth” before the floodwaters as they inundated the Union Pacific coal and lumber yards. The River reportedly remained high for several weeks and, during the height of flooding, was reported to have been five miles wide.”

This article from the April 11th 1881 Omaha Daily Bee Slowly Subsiding: The Demon of the Big Muddy Appeased records eyewitness accounts the morning of April 9th:
“At one o’clock this morning the water was rising gradually in the river and pouring into the basins surrounding the lumber and coal yards in overwhelming streams. The main current of the river seemed to diverge somewhat off its course ‘of the day before and to bear away toward the east shore. This was indicated by the action of the ice, which had heretofore pressed with dangerous force against the smelting works and government rip rap. The proprietors of the various lumber yards , the Chicago , Foster Gray and Hoagland , were on hand all night with gangs of men , endeavoring to construct booms around their yards … At six o’clock in the morning , the gauge showed an additional rise of nine inches above the measurement taken at twelve o’clock, making the total height above low water mark nearly twenty-three feet. By this time all of the lumber yards were filling rapidly ; the car shops and engine house belonging to the U. P. works were entirely surrounded and the aspect of affairs were most discouraging. Then , for some unexplained reason , the rise seemed to cease and it was hoped that the flood bad reached its limit. This condition of affairs continued for three hours , and the most active efforts were made to protect the pro0perty of the U. P. company , the smelting works and the lumber yards. At nine o’clock a rush came , and the side tracks which had up to that time acted as barriers to the progress of the flood began to show signs of weakness , and in a few minutes huge parts of the embankments had given away and the water was pouring into the last and remaining basins west of the smelting work . “

Click here to see more images in Nebraska Memories of the flood of 1881 in Omaha.

For more information about this year’s flooding visit this page on NebraskAccess.

Visit Nebraska Memories to search for or browse through many more historical images digitized from photographs, negatives, postcards, maps, lantern slides, books and other materials.

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