Deep Creek Flood

In early June of 1907 or 1908, the Deep Creek dam broke, and with the water pouring down Deep Creek Canyon, piling brush and trees in its path, young Arthur Williams rode his horse from Deep Creek to town, warning people as he rode that the dam had broken. A tragedy was possibly averted because of his actions, for according to the recorded accounts, several people could have been caught in the rushing water if Arthur had not warned them in advance. In a personal interview with Oren Jones in 1987, Arthur couldn’t remember the year for sure, but seemed to think it was 1907.

However, by the time the water reached Malad City, there was not a concern for loss of life. “When I got in the city I met D.L. [Evans]. He was coming from his home to the old co-op store,” states Arthur in his account. “As I rode down the road, he said, ‘Start to hollering that the Deep Creek Reservoir is coming.’ When I got down to the big bridge by the Chivy garage, right there I started hollering that the water was coming. You otta see the people running. They went way up on the hill there. It didn’t wide out vey far. It would have done a lot more damage than it did, [but] it split. It split in two pairs. Part went down the old creek bed and the other went straight down. If it had come at the same time, it would have filled every store in town. It filled all the basements anyhow. It filled all the basements on the south side of town.”

LaVeda E. Williams was twelve years old at the time, and she was pretty certain the year was 1908. She said that it happened on either the first or second Monday in June of that year.

“… School was out for the summer,” she recalled. “All the folks had moved back to their farms from town where they had been living through the winter so that their children could be in school. The Harrison family were always the last to come back as they had to wait for the snow to melt away and the grass to get growing so there would be feed for their dairy cows.

“We had a lot of snow that winter, and the reservoir was full, and the people were very concerned about it for fear it would overflow the dam. When there was any talk about it, Arthur T. Williams, a young man, would say, ‘If it ever breaks, I hope I am the one to ride to town to give the warning.’”

Arthur’s wish was granted, but the flood was not caused by water overflowing the dam. According to Arthur, it was caused by a badger that dug a hole in the earthen dam. In relating the story to Oren Jones in 1987, Arthur said, “… A dam badger dug a hole and the water soaked through, that done it. It didn’t go over the top. They said there was two or three badger holes in the dam that was left. That’s what started it, a dam badger dug a hole in it. There was little streams of water coming out. I rode over a little further. I knew it would go out. I could see it was starting to crumble.” (A thought – was Arthur talking about a reservoir dam badger or a damn badger?)

According to the account of LaVeda Williams, Zeniff and DeVel Harrison were on their way to Malad with a can of cream and a can of fresh milk for the creamery. They had to go early before it got hot, as their buggy didn’t have a top on it for shade. As they passed the dam, they saw that water was coming through it, so they made their team go as fast as they could down to A.M. Williams home where they told them what they had seen. That is when the Williams’ son, Arthur, got on his saddle horse and rode for the reservoir, but the water met him by the Third Creek Bridge, so he quickly turned his horse and did just as he indicated he would do if the dam broke and rode ahead of the onrush of water, warning friends and neighbors on his ride to Malad that the Deep Creek dam had broken.

The Deep Creek Reservoir as we now know it, was completed in 1951 as far as the on-site work. In the December 1, 1949 issue of The Idaho Enterprise, it explains that the project was begun in October 1948 under the direction of Marion Hess, Malad contractor. It was financed by the stockholders of the company through a $60 assessment per share on all capital stock. The total cost of the dam was listed as $330,000.

However, an earlier reservoir and dam was in existence in the year 1889. An early court case between property owners in the hay lands south of Malad City and owners of property and water rights in the Deep Creek area indicates that in the year 1889, the Deep Creek Irrigation Company commenced the construction of a reservoir. At this time, no one knows for sure, but the assumption is that the 1889 reservoir dam is the one that broke in 1907/1908. It does not describe in the account the location of the reservoir and dam, and there is some question as to whether or not the dam in question was what is now known as the Upper Deep Creek Dam. From the account of LaVeda Williams, it would seem that the reservoir was above the Third Creek Bridge. It is not known how much water the reservoir held at that time, but the photos of the aftermath would indicate that it held a considerable amount.

LaVeda indicated that the first place Arthur came to on his ride down the canyon was J.A. Richardson’s, but his house was up high enough on a hill that the water didn’t get to it. However, his barn and other buildings lower down were flooded. Again, according to LaVeda, Arthur’s family home, the A.M. Williams farm, got plenty of water and mud, the house got turned around and the milk house was washed down the creek a ways with the water before it got stopped in a pile of brush.

Both Arthur and LaVeda recall that Arthur’s brother, Sam, was laid up with a broken leg, so he had to be helped up the hill to the back of their home. Mr. Williams was away on a freighting trip, but Arthur’s mother and sisters did the best they could to save their things by carrying all they could in the short time they had up on the hill before the water got to their place.

“My two brothers, George and John, were out in the hills gathering the work horses to begin the plowing when they saw the water going down the canyon,” said LaVeda. “They left the horses and came home as fast as they could to tell the family that the dam had broke.” 

LaVeda continued, “As soon as father heard it [news of the dam break], he took the horse John was riding and went to see if he could be of any help to any of those living in the path of the water, leaving the rest of his family three miles at home, all so anxious to hear and see what had happened to our relatives and friends. Mother had brother George get on his saddle horse and take the baby in his arms in front of him, then she put LaVon and Leland on back of the saddle and she, John, and I walked down the three miles. The place didn’t look so good, with uprooted trees and brush mixed with posts, wire and mud in piles everywhere. The horses and cows would swim for high land as soon as they were turned loose, but everyone who had any pigs lost most of them. When I asked why this happened, I was told that pigs couldn’t swim, that with their short legs and sharp pointed toenails, that they would cut their own throats.”

Arthur also referred to the animals caught in the flood in his account. “I rode down and woke up Aunt Ruth and Cy and told them it was coming. They got out. Had a lot of pigs. I went on down. My brother, Sam, had a broken leg – was on crutches. We got the cows and horses out but couldn’t do a dam thing with them pigs. By that time here was the water coming, so I got right on my horse and went down.”

Arthur continued to warn his neighbors on his ride to Malad.

“I stopped at Oliver Briggers, Ruth was living in the Tom Brigger house (not sure if Brigger is the correct name but it sounded like Brigger to me), an woke them up. Ruth Richardson said Alec was over on the creek gathering wood. I hollered on him to get out, the water was coming. He just got out in time with the team and wagon. There was so much brush it would back up and then break through. Woke Will Henderson up. Woke them all up. They had lots of cows to get out. Then when I got down to Dave Thomas they were up early milking. Got their cows out of the corral then went down all the way, waking people up.”

Arthur seems to have been a man of few words. He summed it all up when he said, “It was quite the thing alright!”