Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


The ice packed Des Moines River exploded out of its banks onto the streets of Bonaparte about 8 PM. Suddenly the river sprang up six feet that Sunday night, spilled over its banks, and shot huge chunks of ice swirling down Main Street like missiles!

The water remained very high for 45 minutes as some 20 families were evacuated and furniture from homes was moved to higher ground. Businesses frantically moved goods upstairs or to buildings out of the flood zone while the laundromat, Pankey’s Feed & Grain, and Burns Motors all moved machines to other locations. Eighteen inches of water stood in the Louis Parker home where they still had furniture in storage.

Nearby, Mr. and Mrs. Redhead moved priceless antiques to the second floor of the Mason House in Bentonsport as water crossed the sidewalk in front. Firemen in Farmington evacuated people living on Front Street and Sheriff Orville Lee reported a shortage of sand bags.

Representatives of the Corps of Engineers were on hand to help with the crisis, the National Guard was at the scene, and the Van Buren County Red Cross Unit stood by ready to assist people. Law officers, firemen, and volunteers worked through the night.

Although water by Monday had receded to only eight inches above flood stage in southeast Bonaparte, precautions were being taken against any additional flooding as more ice was expected to jam along the river.

The story describing the ice jam induced flood of January 14, 1973 was originally printed in the Leader-Record on January 18 of that year, and was reprinted in the 1987 Sesquicentennial Souvenir Edition under the heading "Ice Jam Threatens Bonaparte." Although I was living in Los Angeles at the time, I owned property in Keosauqua and returned twice a year on visits. However, I was unaware of this particular flood until I ran across the surprise news article a few weeks ago.

History has recorded the super floods of 1851, 1903, 1905, 1947 and 1993 and mentions ice gorge caused floods in 1857 and 1866. Likely there were other floods within the county caused by ice jams similar to the one in 1973. They happen suddenly and are unpredictable. Once again it shows that the river which has so richly blessed Van Buren County can also work as a curse. In spite of the dams and all the efforts made by the Army Corps of Engineers, old timers will always tell you that this river can never be completely tamed.

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