Sunday, June 19, 2011

Great Springs of the Earth Shall Burst Forth

“The Lord made this old valley to run water down and he’ll run water down ‘er agin if he ever takes a notion.” O. B. Hume, early settler.

In 1882 the Missouri River flooded with water bluff to bluff in the Percival area. Water must have been 10 to 12 feet deep near the river and in the town itself. In consequence of this flood, the river changed its course and in the process nearly washed away the Percival cemetery.

When the water receded many of the surviving graves where moved to Grandview Cemetery on top of the bluff some eight miles to the east. Grandview became the de facto burying place for the Percival settlers and for many years Benton Township, the township where Percival is located, levied a tax to aid in the upkeep of Grandview.

So perhaps it was appropriate that it was at the Grandview Cemetery on Memorial Day that I first heard of the new flood that was about to engulf Percival.

The general comment went, “Pat Sheldon just got back from a meeting with the Corp of Engineers and they told him there is a flood coming. He’s packing up to move and he’s telling everybody they need to move out too.”

As it happens Pat Sheldon is on the Benton Washington Levee District and I am on the Missouri Valley Drainage District so I have his number on my cell phone. I called him up and caught him at work loading up household goods. I apologized for bothering him and asked him if what I had been hearing was true.

“They tell me the river is going to hit 28 feet at Nebraska City,” he said, “and the levee is only good to 27 feet, so it doesn’t sound good.” Nebraska City is just a few miles south of Percival and across the river on the Nebraska side.

I was stunned. My house is high enough to be spared but I could well remember the chaos and disruption of the 1952 flood. Finally I muttered something about him passing the word that I had room for farm machinery at my place if anyone wanted to bring it over and we hung up.

My family has been involved with the upkeep of Grandview Cemetery since its inception, so I was busy at the Cemetery all the rest of Memorial Day and the next day my wife and I had to make a trip to Council Bluffs, but by the next day we were able to help some of our friends a little bit with packing up.

What a wrenching thing it is for someone to be forced out of their home at a moments notice and how surreal it is to be carrying furniture out of a home, across a manicured lawn with the birds singing and the flowers nodding and then to load it into a truck and haul it over roads bordered by beautiful fields of corn and beans knowing, or at least trying to convince yourself, that all this will soon be covered with 8 to 10 feet of water.

By this time machinery was starting to arrive daily and I soon saw that it was going to be necessary to mow the lots, which were covered with waist high brome, if any order was to be kept, so for one day my son and I were busy with shredder and string trimmer knocking down brome.

Next: “By the Grace of God, be ye removed to Sidney.” The moving of a church.

Jerry Birkby


  1. well done Mr. Birkby! I learned a thing or two from this..keep me a learnin! :)

  2. Mindy, Very pretty site for our church especially nice since we have been displaced with this flood. I can't wait for the next installment from the talented Mr. Birkby.