Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


The Flash Flood of 1866

In Keosauqua, it was the custom to ring the bell at the Congregational Church in case of fire. At 12 midnight one night in January, people were awakened all over town with the ringing of the bell.

“Major” Russo King lived near the mill. When he was awakened by the ringing church bell, his wife said, “There must be a fire!” He answered, “No, I don’t think so. This time, I think it is water!” He was right!

At the river ice and water was overflowing the banks and people were making their escape from the flood in all directions. In a short time the gorge gave away, and the water receded. However, in a little while it rose again so rapidly that merchants who had gone to secure or inspect their stores were caught, and had to remain surrounded by ice and water until the next morning.

At 8 o’clock in the morning, the gorge gave way and the water receded, this time for good. The danger was over! But the icy water from the river had backed up and spewed over the banks flooding a large section of town. Left behind were immense ice piles in the lagoons and streets, some of which did not melt away until June.

Keosauqua’s The Des Moines Valley Whig gave a very good account of the ice gorge and flood of 1866. It had been caused by a sudden January warm spell. The flood water reached about the same point as the flood of 1851. The good point is that this flood of short duration. The bad side is that it was more severe because of the ice and much colder water.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick