San Gabriel River Flood of 1957 Williamson County, Texas

Narratives from the Georgetown's Yesteryears Book

A special thanks to The Georgetown Heritage Society and Martha Mitten Allen for letting us post these wonderful first person stories.

View Foreword and Preface

Tullia Ischy - interview by John Martin, Interviewer

They were having some terrible floods. We seen two terrible floods right here on this Gabriel. Where we lived, just up on the hill, well, whenever it got to raining and raining and the river started getting up, we'd just go down there and watch it. I've seen it rise from off of the causeway. 'Course they didn't have the big bridge then, just a low bridge and water came on up over it. There was a little store sitting there [at Mankin's Crossing, east of Georgetown] and we was begging this man to get out and take all his groceries and things out of there and move out before it got any bigger; they kept tellin us that it was gettin bigger and bigger, calling from town to get out. Well, he wouldn't believe it.

"I can't believe it would get up to me," he said. So finally, all the community was down there watching and we could see it coming, just in a big roll from the north, side to side, you know, down the river. You could just see how high it was, just comin right on down. Okay, then he wanted his stuff taken out, and there was a truck there. He began begging all these boys that had pickups to start loading on. And they was loading on while he was tellin everybody to "take what you want". Well, none of us was gonna go in there and take things that-a-way. He could have saved it all, but they only saved part of his stuff. Then it hit, and the windows went out and things began a washing out the windows. It was sad to see. We picked up cans of food along the road to Jonah for awhile covered along the ditch.

Coop Smith - interview by Steve Lescher, Interviewer

I was in the service in El Paso and I was honorably discharged on December 22, in 19 and 56. Back home in 1955, and '56, this country had gone through the worst drought that anyone around here could remember. It was a very serious drought. Like it always has done in history, when you have a very serious drought, that always breaks with a flood. In the spring of 1957, it broke with a flood. We had something like eight inches of rain in a short period of time after we'd had two or three weeks of pretty considerable rainfall, enough to saturate the ground, the top cover. Then when you have an eight inch rain, that water has to go somewhere. It cannot be absorbed in the ground; it has to run off and that's when you have a flood.

Two things, two or three things, that I remember about that flood that I'd like to recall. First of all, I was so sad, because when I went down on the South San Gabriel River bridge on old 81 in Georgetown, right below jail hill, the water was up to within a foot of the bottom of that bridge. Cattle that had gotten caught upstream in the flood waters and couldn't get out, couldn't swim strong enough to buck that current to get out, because that water was really rolling. They'd come down that river and they'd hit their heads on the bottom of those steel girders and it would kill them right then. There wasn't a thing in the world you could do about it. I remember the feeling—the helplessness—that man, there's not a way in the world I can get those animals out, or anyone else can with any kind of equipment that we had then. It just was impossible. That was quite a feeling of futility.

I remember another story too. When we were back from the service, I was involved a little bit with the Chamber of Commerce and we had a disaster committee through the Red Cross, I believe. I was one of the transportation committee members for that, so we were trying to move some families out that were right on the road to the San Gabriel Park. If you go down jail hill on 81 and turn to the right right across the North San Gabriel bridge, it goes down to the park. I don't remember the name of the street, but the county barn then was right in the corner where Dr. Gaddy had his office and a roofing company has their building now. Then next to it was Mr. Whitfield's place, and next to it was another, and one more next to it, and on the other end, was a small house. There was a Latin American man that lived in that house. Well, the water came on up. It was so high that it was coming up and it was just lapping at the back door to that house. This couple was gone; they'd gone to visit friends in South Austin or San Antonio somewhere, they didn't know anything about it.

Man, there was a debate. We knew that if we waited just a few more minutes, that whole house was going right down the river and be gone. All their possessions were inside that house. Here I had a truck and a trailer and a tarp and I could put that—How in the world do you break into a house when a man's not there and load everything in the world that he has up on that truck to move it? I mean, that's just really not right. I asked the sheriff, the deputy, and I don't know who else was around. "We can't tell you to do it, but I sure would appreciate it if it were my house". You know, that was the thing, so, the decision had to be made. We backed the truck up and we busted the front door of that house down. We started getting all the possessions out of there and putting them on the truck. It was still raining and we'd tarp it back as we came. We'd move the furniture in under that tarp and come right on back with it. We got the last piece of furniture loaded on that trailer and this man drove up with his wife and kids. He took one look and by this time the back of that house had started to come up close. He ran over there and be grabbed me around the neck and I never got as hard a hugging in my life and never did I feel as relieved in my life, as I did. He said, "Man, you saved everything I own." And he realized it and appreciated it, but I was scared to death because I didn't want somebody to think I was trying to steal.

E. C. "Pete" Bouffard - interview by Bobby Deaton, Interviewer

I always love to tell the story about the worker that started working on that dam there came out here one day to get some equipment that was shipped in on Central Freight Lines. I was out here that morning when he got here. He introduced himself and I got his equipment out for him and so on. I asked him what his job was and he told me he was working on that control tower. He said that he thought the building of that dam was one of the most ridiculous things the Army engineers and the government of the United States ever did. He said the type of stream that is, it'll take that dam fifteen years to fill. I kinda laughed.

He said, "What are you laughing about?" I said, "You know the rock house that's just above the dam that you're using for an office now?" He said, "Yes," I said, "That's my house." I said, "On May the 27th, 1957, I worked all morning in town. There was a real black cloud back this way. I went home at 12:30; I crossed that low water bridge—that bridge right here. There was approximately three inches of clear water running under that bridge at 12:30. At 3:30 that after-noon, there was forty-four feet of water over it." I said, "Now how long is it going to take that dam to fill with that [kind of] rise?"