Originally Written November -1963
By Grace Rice
Edited here by Lee Winters
Editors Notes: The man referred to in this story as “Lum” is Christopher Columbus Winters, my Great Grandfather. He was the last man in our family to be invited to the Indian dances, he carried a bullet in his neck for 30 years as a souvenir from a poker game, and carved a life for his family on the plains of southwest Oklahoma.
On the evening late the 4th day of April, 1921 my mother, husband, and three small children decided to go to the cellar as there was an ominous cloud in the northwest. We lived in low land and the cement cellar was about 100 yards from our home. My husband didn't think it necessary to go to the cellar, but I told him that it is always the unexpected that happens. Sure enough the unexpected happened early next morning.
We stayed for awhile at the cellar that evening and nothing happened. Howard, our two small children, and I came back to the house to sleep while my mother and four year old son Dennis stayed at the cellar, black cloud still in the sky. I lay down in my clothes thinking we might have to make a run for the cellar yet again. I slept through the night dreaming that the earth was parched dry. Howard, always an early riser, got up at 5:00 a.m. yelling that water was running all around our house. I woke just as the water was coming over the floor.
There was a great cloud burst many miles up river and the water rose at one foot per minute. I told Howard to stay calm, but to go immediately to the cellar and raise the door. Howard made it to the cellar but couldn't make it back on account of swift water. I went to a kitchen cupboard and placed two gold rings on my fingers I always took whenever I left the place.
I moved by the children’s beds where my two babies were sleeping. One bed had already begun to float. I felt the need of prayer and I prayed earnestly and silently to be rescued. As I said, “Thy will be done” I heard a voice outside. It was a neighbor riding another neighbor’s horse as he couldn't get to one of his own. This horses name was Jargo and he was 16 ½ hands high. He was a high strung nervous type and he stood on his hind feet twice as I was being helped on him.
This man, Lum, was raised on this river and he was an excellent swimmer. He left his own family safe and dared the raging waters to come in for us. I took hold of a small part of Jargos’ mane and carried the two year old in front of me. Lum carried the baby Earl who was 3 months old that day. The older part of house was creaking and breaking away scaring Jargo as we were trying to mount. Never the less, we started out downstream. Lum told me “Grace we will make it out all right, but it will be down the river a mile."
We had gone about three hundred yards when Lum told me to look back. Our home, where we were just standing, was gone. It had just hung for a few minutes on a pump in the yard.
Lum swam and carried the 3 month old baby until Jargo pulled all four of us near a slough 1/4 mile down. The slough had collected flood debris of all kinds and Jargo was going full blast when he hit the drift and came up and over, backward. Lum had only a rope around Jargo's neck, but knowing he would have to maneuver and manage Jargo he had given me both children just before we hit.
When we did, I came off but held onto a tiny bit of mane. Jargo was scared and he ripped, circled, squealed, and nickered. He circled three times and I washed down stream over him again and again, but held on. It is true that a drowning person will cling to a straw.
I dropped my baby the 1st time I came off, but grabbed the two year old Buddy with my left hand. I couldn't speak for a time, but when I could I screamed that I'd lost my baby. Lum said, “I've got your baby”. Jargo eventually broke through the drift and Lum said, “Grace, Jargo is going to make it”. I said do you think the baby will be alive? He told me no, but it was a consolation to know we even had it.
When we finally made the waters edge Jargo stopped, riderless. Lum and I both fell to the ground breathless from the ordeal. That’s when I saw Lum uncover my baby’s face. His gown had washed over his head smothering him, but also keeping out a lot of mud and water from my baby’s lungs. Miraculously, I saw my baby gasp and start breathing again.
I was looking at them under this horse, Jargo, as we rested a few seconds. Lum didn't get up for awhile as he was more exhausted than I. The veins in his temples stood out as big as a pencil is around. An elderly man met us there and I told him to take off his jumper to wrap my baby in and take him to the Carroll’s home as quick as he could. He did, but he later told his wife he thought the baby was dying while he had it.
Lum soon overtook me and took Buddy out of my arms going ahead of me to the Carroll’s home. When I arrived Lum was trying to kindle a fire and had stripped Buddy putting him in bed. Mrs. Carroll was changing Earl into dry clothes, an old dress she was wrapping around him.
Amazingly, the water kept rising and we all had to leave the Carroll house heading to another place up the road. The water was side deep to the horse as we went. Someone led my horse and carried Buddy. Someone else carried Earl on another horse as the water rose higher and higher. The men built rafts and one man tried to get to my husband, mother, and four year old child still on the cellar roof, but the water was still raging and too swift.
We found Howard standing on top of the cellar with water already above his knees. They stood there until about 5:00 p.m. when the water went down a great deal. A few men rode horses into the flood and took a boat with a rope tied around the saddle horn.
My mother and Dennis sat in the boat while Howard rode a horse out. Howard had to borrow some of Lum's overalls as he was out there in nothing but his shirt and underwear. My mother had only her coat and a little over $80.00 in the pocket. We not only lost our home and everything in it, but our chickens, turkeys, and corn in the barn. All went down the river including our 3 month old white shepherd pup that was found next day floating on the base of our dresser. He growled and showed his teeth at the man who tried to approach him, but was plenty glad when Howard rescued him. I cried when Howard brought him to me on the horse he was riding. This dogs name was Rufe, and we always cared a great deal for old Rufe.
There were more than 50 people stranded on each side of the river. A good many silent prayers were offered on that day. People were good in both counties to us. I had 29 quilts sent to me besides mattress, pillows, clothing, feed, chickens, cash and everything else. I could go on and on.
We never did go after some things people had asked us to come get such as feed and a few other things. We were all thankful to be alive, and I said it took everything but us and our debts, but we made a good crop and a better price in 1921.
Howard said one thing was for certain; we won’t ever live in lowland again. I still dream of living on that place, especially when I am troubled or sick. I guess that day left an impression that will always be in my sub-conscious mind. One thing is for sure, I believe that prayers are answered. I am not the best of person, but I always felt like I must be a Christian and I have lived a long time now and can count many, many blessings.
God Bless You,
P.S. Lum lived 40 years to that day an unsung hero - May God rest his soul.