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A howling terror of a storm

Out by the Table Rocks, just as the farmers began to plow, the rain brought everything to a stop.

What would become the biggest flooding event in Jackson County since the 1890 flood began with the first rain of the new year, a mere 0.3 inches Monday Jan. 19, 1903. By Friday, just over 1.25 inches had fallen. But then, daytime temperatures suddenly dropped 16 degrees.

Overnight and into the next day, gale force winds fed an additional two inches of rain into the soaked ground.

“It was a howling terror of a storm,” said Mr. Morris, a worker at the local fish hatchery. He said the water ran 43 inches over the floor of the hatchery and the damage forced workers to free nearly two million fish that were ready for release.

The Southern Pacific train line saw even heavier damage. Two miles of the company’s track northwest of Central Point were unusable for two days, with bridges washed out and telegraph lines and poles falling across the tracks. Water undermined a portion of the rail bed in Medford, leaving workers worried that the track would completely wash out.

John Arnold, whose farm was near Ashland, lost some of his winter wheat crop in the high water. During the storm he had feared he would be completely wiped out. “There was more water at my place at one time,” he said, “than there was during the winter of 1890.”

Because there was no snow on the ground, as there had been in 1890, water came down the hills faster and in greater quantity. “It overflowed the usual water courses,” Arnold said, “and cut out ditches where there has never been water before.”

William Bybee’s Bridge across the Rogue River, near today’s TouVelle State Park, was hit hard. On the primary route to Prospect and the Upper Rogue, the bridge’s south approach washed away. Bybee said he planned to at least temporarily repair the bridge so that it could still be used through the winter, until it was completely repaired in the spring or summer.

Mail carrier Jesse Richardson, who used the bridge while carrying the mail from Medford to residents between the Agate Desert (near today’s White City) to the town of Trail, had to perform “a few acrobatic stunts” in order to fulfill his mail contract. To walk across the bridge, 25 feet above the ground on the south end, Jesse had to climb a ladder attached to a rope with a mail bag on his back, swinging and swaying in the wind.

Bybee had other problems beside his bridge. Thirty-four of his cattle had been on the bridge when the wind and rain swamped it. Of those, 22 washed off and 10 were lost. The remaining animals were stranded on the bridge for two days. In addition, two miles of his fences were swept away, along with 64 goats, and a large portion of his topsoil.

In Medford, the area from Bear Creek to the train depot between Fifth and Sixth streets became a miniature lake. The drains in that area just couldn’t handle the amount of water that fell in such a short time.

There had been serious damage, but fortunately, because there was no heavy and melting snow pack in the mountains or on the ground, the flooding caused less damage and disappeared more quickly than it had in 1890.

Over the next few days, a few inches of snow did fall, but it only stayed long enough for the children of those Table Rock area farmers to get up early, toss snowballs and build snowmen. That howling terror of a storm was already a long lost memory.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.