The history of settlement around the Mississippi River is often depicted as a struggle of humankind against Nature. Yet the very richness and fertility of the soil in the Midwest and South is the direct result of the regular flooding of the Mississippi River and its tributaries. In April 1927, after more than a month of rain, the river overflowed its banks in a flood which inundated more than 16 million acres of land in seven states, destroyed 40,000 buildings, washed away over $100 million in crops, and claimed between 250 and 500 lives. For his book about the flood DeepĖn as it Come, historian Pete Daniel interviewed Herman Caillouet, an Army Corps of Engineers employee who used his twenty-two-foot boat to rescue 175 people stranded by the rising waters. Here Caillouet told of his futile attempt to rescue a family of seven.Listen to Audio:
Herman Caillouet: “Back up to a house . . . there was seven people on it. I presume it was wife . . . man, his wife, and five children. And I was heading over to this house. This was on my first hauling, the next day after the levee broke. And on the way getting to the house—this house was just moving along [in the river], you know—and all of a sudden it must of hit a stump or something. And the house flew all to pieces. And I searched the boards and things around there for ten minutes, and you know I never saw a soulĖs hand come up, not a soul.”
Pete Daniel: Caillouet: "When the house started breaking up and falling, you see, and the waves throwing that lumber over, it just covered 'em so where they wouldnĖt come out from under there, you see. I imagine they could swim. And that’s something to see, people on top of a house, they just let theirselves down, you know. It must have hit a stump or something and then fall all to pieces. And it look like one wouldĖve came up. There wasnĖt a soul came up. Seven all together went down."
Source: Courtesy of Pete Daniel
See Also:"On the Night When the Levee Broke": William Cobb Remembers the 1927 Mississippi Flood