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“On the Night When the Levee Broke”: William Cobb Remembers the 1927 Mississippi Flood

by William Cobb/Pete Daniel

In spring 1927 it started raining in the Upper Midwest and, according to one observer, “it just never did stop.” Torrential rains quickly filled the Mississippi’s dozens of tributaries. On April 21, the supposedly impregnable levee system, maintained since 1879 by the Mississippi River Commission, sprang two leaks, or “crevasses” as they are known. Within days the Mississippi River levee system sustained forty more major crevasses in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, unleashing a natural disaster that had no precedent in the long history of human interaction with the Mississippi River. William Cobb, who, in 1927 was a young boy living on his family’s farm near Pendleton, Arkansas, recalled for historian Pete Daniel the crevasse that opened on April 21 in the levee near his family’s house, a few miles from the Arkansas River.

Listen to Audio:

William Cobb: On that night that the levee broke, when daddy went out and he could see the water coming across the fields. And our house was about, I guess about eighteen inches off the ground. And he come back in the house, he says, “"I see the water coming across the field. It done filled up a big slew coming between our house and the levee,” and it’s level out there. So he come back in the house and stayed about twenty minutes. About 10: 00 that night, we were moving a few bed things up in the loft part of the house, and there’s where we was until the next morning. And we stayed in there, up there, two nights and three days. Finally a seaplane come along, and my daddy had done cut a hole where we could look out on the outside, and he was waving a white rag when that seaplane come by. And then about two hours after then, it was a gas boat going up there and taking us all to the levee. And we lived up there on the levee until the water went down.

Source: Courtesy of Pete Daniel.

See Also:"Seven All Together Went Down": A Family Disappears in the 1927 Mississippi Flood