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Up close with the flood

One of the difficulties of looking into the lives and history of everyday residents in the 19th century is that newspapers almost never interviewed or even printed stories about the average Joe or Jane.

In my previous column about the 1890 flood (‘The rains descended’ and brought the flood, Nov. 29), almost every quote comes from an editor or reporter offering an opinion or fact-based report of the situation. If a resident was interviewed at all, we didn’t hear about it.

Locally, things began to slowly change with the arrival of the new century. Newspapers hired more people and occasionally, columnists and reporters found time talk to residents and write their stories.

In the summer of 1947, Welborn Beeson, Jr. approached a Mail Tribune reporter with a chunk of petrified wood that had been found 4 feet underground by workers digging a well near Phoenix.

“Mr. Beeson believes,” said the skeptical reporter, “its wood rings bear out the commonly accepted theory of weather cycles of wet and dry years.”

Beeson began talking about the 1890 flood and how his chunk of wood might be similar to one growing in the time of that unusually severe winter and the following disastrous flood.

Born in 1870, Welborn was the second son of Welborn Beeson Sr. and Mary Brophy. The elder Beeson, an immigrant in 1853, operated a newspaper in Talent for just over a year before his death in 1893.

The younger Beeson was 77 when interviewed in 1947, and yet, his memory of the biggest flood he had ever seen was clear.

In late 1889, he was a student at Ashland High School, returning on horseback from his Talent home after Thanksgiving, when a “terrific storm” hit. The winds were so strong that horse and rider could barely move against them.

From Dec. 22 until the following February, snow fell nearly every day. He said in Ashland it piled up at least 4 feet high, the height of wood he and fellow students had stacked to warm their “bachelor quarters” at the school.

For seven weeks, he said there were no train connections from the south and occasional interruptions in the north. Food supplies were low, but fortunately the students had laid in a large supply.

Then, February 1890 opened up in nonstop rain for four days. Beeson thought it strange that instead of it first melting snow from above, it began to collect underneath, causing one of the high school girls to almost lose her life.

A group of students walked toward Bear Creek to see the flood. One of the girls ran ahead into a snow bank and called back to her friends. Suddenly, she began to struggle and sink, before disappearing into the snow as it began to move. She was almost swept away, but two of the boys managed to drag her to safety.

With the Talent Bridge washed away, Beeson family members couldn’t reach their cattle. They headed north to cross over at Medford, arriving in time to see a large pine in the creek strike the wooden Main Street Bridge. By lashing ropes to the end of the bridge and around a nearby tree, they were able to cross just before the bridge vanished downstream.

He couldn’t remember how long it took for the flood to disappear, but remembered the ground remained too wet to plow until late March.

What else might have been in that interview we will never know. Beeson’s story isn’t much, but a personal look into the past is always welcome.

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.