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Hermosa residents remember ‘72 flood

By Dana Kizzier
Published: Thursday, June 7th, 2012

There are two things in my lifetime I remember vividly,” Doug Hesnard says, pushing himself back in his chair, becoming serious…“John Kennedy’s assassination and the ’72 flood.” 
Plenty of other people in Hermosa remember it, too.  Hesnard, just home from college at SDSU and getting settled into his basement bedroom stacked high with antique furniture he planned to restore over the summer, was on the “lost and presumed dead” list for several hours.  While his family and friends searched desperately on horseback for him, he slept, exhausted after being swept away in floodwaters and stumbling through back country for hours in the pouring rain, thinking he was going in the direction of his grandparent’s home, in a church pew at the Hermosa Congregational Church after gorging himself with cookies left over from a program the night before.
The U.S. Government Service sums up the June 9-10, 1972. flood in one paragraph: “Record flows were reported on Rapid, Battle, Bear Butte, and Boxelder creeks.  On June 9 a stationary front, with moderate southeast surface flow, moved through high pressure aloft.  A strong flow of warm, moist air near the surface fed the storms and anchored them against the Hills for six to eight hours.  An average of six inches of rain fell with up to 15 inches reported.  Rainfall intensities of two to six inches/hour were common. Canyon Lake breached, adding to the wall of water that poured through Rapid City. Flow on Rapid Creek in Rapid City was estimated at 50,000 cfs. After the flood, 750 acres near Rapid Creek were designated as a floodway. Two hundred thirty eight deaths and $164 million in damages were reported.”
It doesn’t say anything about Hermosa…or Custer or Hill City or Keystone or Hayward, all areas along Battle Creek and its tributaries that received some of the most intense rainfall.  One cfs (cubic feet per second) is equal to 448 gallons per minute, 27,000 gallons per hour, or 646,000 gallons in one day – what it would take to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.  And that’s just one cfs. We already know what happens when 50,000 cfs rage through an area. 
The report goes on to say…“Surrounding communities are susceptible to extreme flooding because of their location in and around the Black Hills.  Most floods in the Back Hills are caused by intense rainfall over steep watersheds which allows little time for warning residents in flood threats.”
And that’s just what happened.  The ’72 flood took people by surprise.  
Chuck Ferguson’s parents, Chelsea and Blanche Ferguson, lived on Battle Creek at Hayward on property homesteaded by his grandparents Byron and Erma Ferguson in 1902. He remembers the terrible drought that spring. “Our hay was drying up so we cut early that year.  I was working at Frontier Ford in Rapid City at the time and I left after it started raining around 3 p.m. to get back to the ranch to get it baled. It turns out it was wasted effort since we lost it all anyway. By dark, it was pouring rain and we'd had some hail and it was frigid cold. The electricity went out so we couldn’t see what was happening except when lightning flashed. We had some people staying in the cabins across the road at the time and we were already in water above our knees when we got in the truck and went over to try to get them out.  They didn’t even know there was a flood! Amazingly, all those cabins and the café survived!”  

There are two things in my lifetime I remember vividly,” Doug Hesnard says, pushing himself back in his chair, becoming serious…“John Kennedy’s assassination and the ’72 flood.” 

Plenty of other people in Hermosa remember it, too.  Hesnard, just home from college at SDSU and getting settled into his basement bedroom stacked high with antique furniture he planned to restore over the summer, was on the “lost and presumed dead” list for several hours.  While his family and friends searched desperately on horseback for him, he slept, exhausted after being swept away in floodwaters and stumbling through back country for hours in the pouring rain, thinking he was going in the direction of his grandparent’s home, in a church pew at the Hermosa Congregational Church after gorging himself with cookies left over from a program the night before.

The U.S. Government Service sums up the June 9-10, 1972. flood in one paragraph: “Record flows were reported on Rapid, Battle, Bear Butte, and Boxelder creeks.  On June 9 a stationary front, with moderate southeast surface flow, moved through high pressure aloft.  A strong flow of warm, moist air near the surface fed the storms and anchored them against the Hills for six to eight hours.  An average of six inches of rain fell with up to 15 inches reported.  Rainfall intensities of two to six inches/hour were common. Canyon Lake breached, adding to the wall of water that poured through Rapid City. Flow on Rapid Creek in Rapid City was estimated at 50,000 cfs. After the flood, 750 acres near Rapid Creek were designated as a floodway. Two hundred thirty eight deaths and $164 million in damages were reported.”

It doesn’t say anything about Hermosa…or Custer or Hill City or Keystone or Hayward, all areas along Battle Creek and its tributaries that received some of the most intense rainfall.  One cfs (cubic feet per second) is equal to 448 gallons per minute, 27,000 gallons per hour, or 646,000 gallons in one day – what it would take to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.  And that’s just one cfs. We already know what happens when 50,000 cfs rage through an area. 

The report goes on to say…“Surrounding communities are susceptible to extreme flooding because of their location in and around the Black Hills.  Most floods in the Back Hills are caused by intense rainfall over steep watersheds which allows little time for warning residents in flood threats.”

And that’s just what happened.  The ’72 flood took people by surprise.  

Chuck Ferguson’s parents, Chelsea and Blanche Ferguson, lived on Battle Creek at Hayward on property homesteaded by his grandparents Byron and Erma Ferguson in 1902. He remembers the terrible drought that spring. “Our hay was drying up so we cut early that year.  I was working at Frontier Ford in Rapid City at the time and I left after it started raining around 3 p.m. to get back to the ranch to get it baled. It turns out it was wasted effort since we lost it all anyway. By dark, it was pouring rain and we'd had some hail and it was frigid cold. The electricity went out so we couldn’t see what was happening except when lightning flashed. We had some people staying in the cabins across the road at the time and we were already in water above our knees when we got in the truck and went over to try to get them out.  They didn’t even know there was a flood! Amazingly, all those cabins and the café survived!”  

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Current Comments

1 comments so far (post your own)
William Baumgartner
July 29th, 2012 at 18:27pm

A great article by a great writer of a very
Tragic night.

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