by Eldon Morey
The year was 1972. June was begun and Eldon’s classes at the University of South Dakota that spring had concluded. The Moreys and their two small children were en route on Highway 385 from north of Hot Springs, South Dakota headed to Rapid City. It was a long overdue vacation following two years of intense graduate study by Eldon and night-work at the Vermilion Hospital by Karen as an Emergency Room Nurse. Money was in short supply, so the trip was a tenting excursion with reservations and a documented travel plan which had been formulated over several months. The Rapid City Public Campground was free. Midway between Hot Springs and Deadwood they planned to turn on Highway 16 which goes to Rapid City. Deadwood farther to the northwest was scheduled to be visited after a short stay in Rapid City.
As they approached the turn to Highway 16, it suddenly occurred to Eldon they might change their travel plan and continue on Number 385 directly to Deadwood. So he immediately blurted-out, “Would anyone rather go directly to Deadwood and we can see Rapid City during our return trip to southeastern South Dakota?” Karen was amazed such a sudden thought had entered Eldon’s thinking. Such a change would nullify the dates of their camping reservations and confuse their friends who had been given a schedule of their plans should they need to be contacted. Karen, therefore, remained silent. The children were too small to have opinions. By then Eldon had made the turn to Highway 16. But, lacking family response he immediately turned the car around and re-entered Highway 385 going north. They were headed to Deadwood!
They arrived at Deadwood in time to participate in the final public tour of the “Gold Mine” at Lead, the adjoining city. They then searched for the campground where they had reservations for the next evening. There was plenty of room at the campground and they soon had their tent set and an evening meal cooking. All was well. The children were tired so all four of them took to their sleeping bags as darkness settled.
Soon thereafter it began to rain. Oh my, how it rained. It rained so hard the inside of the tent was coated with moisture from the condensation in the air. Never-the-less, they slept soundly. The rain stopped when breakfast time arrived. So they opened the tent vents, hung the opened sleeping bags on the clothesline to dry and made breakfast. Everything was dry and packed to resume car travel by 10 o’clock.
As they were entering the car, a fellow camper happened to walk past them. “Oh,” he said, “I see you are leaving the campground!” “Yes,” Eldon said, “We’re going back to Deadwood for a “look around,” and then we’ll head to Rapid City. “Rapid City?,” the man questioned. “You can’t go to Rapid City!” “Why not?” Eldon replied. “You don’t know, do you?” the man responded.
“Rapid City during the night of June 9-10, 1972 experienced one of the worst floods in the history of South Dakota. Fifteen inches of extreme rainfall over six hours sent Rapid Creek and other waterways overflowing… The Canyon Lake Dam became clogged with debris and failed, resulting in 238 deaths and 3,057 injuries… There were over 1,335 homes and 5,000 automobiles destroyed” (Wikipedia). They later were told a 12 foot high wall of water rushed down Rapid Creek through the center of Rapid City where the campground was located. Everyone in the campground was drowned”
Four or five years ago Karen and Eldon visited Rapid City for the first time since the flood more than 38 years earlier. In the Campground Park was a brass plated obelisk with the names of those people who perished the night of the flood while camping there. There were more than thirty names on that monument. It was a very sobering moment because the Morey’s knew their family’s four names would have been there had they not been re-directed.
A couple of years ago while en-route to Yearly Meeting, they stopped in Oelwein to visit Eldon’s aunt and his cousins. Don Avenson, one of his cousins, and he were talking about Quakerism. Don is a former Speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives and a past Candidate for Governor. Eldon told him the story of the Rapid City Flood and explained that many “Traditional Quakers” are strongly “convinced” that the Divine Spirit sometimes provides “Leadings” which guide people. Don’s comment was, “If I had been redirected to avoid Rapid City during the night of June 9, 1972, I would be a Quaker too!” (Check Google for detailed information and photographs of the “Rapid City Flood of 1972”.)