The work of extending succor to the marooned inhabitants of the districts which still were flooded continued all of Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and the days following. In many sections were rowboats, skiffs and canoes, making their way with extreme difficulty among the heaps of wreckage and overturned houses, among tangled meshes of telegraph and telephone and electric light wires, seeking possible victims who had been uncared for.


Among the organizations engaged in rescue work was the company of naval reserves from the United States ship Essex at Toledo, under Captain A. F. Nicklett. The company reached Dayton on a special train from Toledo and immediately launched a number of boats on the torrents. Up to 6 o’clock Saturday night the sailors had been constantly on duty two days, and had to their credit a total of 979 lives saved. They were not thinking of sleep when darkness fell.

One crew in command of Ensign E. E. Liebald, with two boats, rescued 375 persons from the business section and the district immediately east of Main and west of Eagle streets at Dayton. Many of the sufferers were taken out of their homes only after the sailors had mounted to the tops of partly overturned houses and chopped through to the attics, where the inmates were huddled together waiting for death or rescue.


Another crew under Junior Lieutenant Ross Willoh succeeded in saving 360 at Dayton.

Three boats under command of Senior Lieutenant Theodore Schmidt rescued 244 persons. The majority of these were taken from box cars, warehouses, freight sheds and grain elevators in the railroad yards. It was there that the water attained its greatest violence, rushing in whirlpools beneath the irregular buildings on either side of the tracks.

Navigation was extremely perilous on account of many submerged box cars, flat cars and overturned sheds.

Several times the rescuing sailors were capsized, but managed to keep with their boats and right them again. Not a life was lost among the reserves or among the hundreds whom they attempted to rescue.


While sailors worked incessantly to save lives Lieutenant Walter Gayhart, also of the ship’s company, established a supply station in East Fifth street, where many refugees congregated, and issued rations to the suffering. He slept tonight after seventy-one hours of continuous labor.

Only those doing relief work or having official business were allowed out of doors after 6 o’clock. With the additional military forces which arrived the city was thoroughly policed.

Even with the careful policing some robbing had been done.

It was impossible to do much relief work at night and the curfew order was due in part to the advisability of keeping the men where they could protect their own households if necessary.

Fronts of stores had been broken down and merchandise was exposed. Some of this was stolen. One thief gathered a quantity of jewelry and was making away with it in a traveling bag when arrested.

The authorities were ready to take energetic measures. This was shown when Major Dupuy, angered at certain undertakers, expressed himself in the following statement:

"These body-snatching ghouls who operate as undertakers will be treated as they deserve if it takes the entire military power at the command of the medical department of the Ohio N. G.

"All medical and military officers have received orders promptly to arrest any undertaker or other person who recovers a body and does not immediately report it to this department."


Major Dupuy said also he feared an epidemic unless the most rigid sanitary rules were enforced.

"There are thousands and thousands of dead horses and other animals strewn about the city," said the surgeon as he directed his force in the field. "While we are impressing into service large numbers of men, it will require many days to dispose of the carcasses.

"To add to the menace of the situation, we found that, with one or two exceptions, every stock of drugs in Dayton was destroyed by the flood!’

Major Dupuy said the city has been divided into six sanitary districts, each in charge of an officer of the sanitary corps of the National Guard.

A large corps of men was kept active in disposing of refuse and in disinfecting all premises occupied by refugees. Strict orders regarding the disposition of garbage were issued and the people were advised, by means of bulletins posted in conspicuous places in the streets, how best to preserve the public health.


A small army of sanitary inspectors was pressed into service and every effort made to prevent any outbreak of a pestilence. It was owing to the frightful flood conditions throughout the entire territory of which Dayton is the heart, rendering transportation facilities of all kinds useless, that supplies for the medical corps did not arrive until several days after the flood broke.


Arrangements for placing sanitary measures in the hands of federal officials were completed at the conference among Secretary Garrison, Major General Leonard Wood, Surgeon General Rupert Blue and the local relief committee, headed by John H. Patterson.

After Secretary Garrison had talked over the telephone with Governor Cox he decided that while the state troops would be able to police the city, the federal government should have charge of the sanitation.

Mr. Garrison said that Major Thomas Rhoades, in co-operation with Major James C. Normoyle, would have charge in Dayton. Major Normoyle had experience in furthering relief in the Mississippi flood district last year.

Secretary Garrison gave out the substance of his telegram to President Wilson, as follows:

"I find the situation at Dayton to be as follows: The flood has subsided so that they have communication with all parts of the city, no one being now in any position of peril or without food or shelter.

"The National Cash Register plant has been turned into a supply depot and lodging place for those who have no other place.

"Surgeon General Blue and some of his officers are here, as are also some naval surgeons.

"We are all working in concert.

"The governor, the mayor, the local committees and the citizens have all expressed much gratitude at the action of the national government and have welcomed us warmly, all of them stating that the fact that a direct representative has been sent to their community has been of the greatest benefit to the morale of the city.

"I find a competent force is already organized to clean up the streets, remove the debris and do general work of that description and have agreed to work under the direction of the army surgeon I leave in charge of sanitation. The National Guards have their adjutant general, George H. Wood, in command of the military situation, and he has cordially offered to co-operate in every way with our work of sanitation.


"I think that the situation is very satisfactory and that this community will find itself in a reassured position within a short time, and facing only then the problem of repair, restoration and rehabilitation.

"I will go back to Cincinnati tonight to get into touch with matters left unfinished there, and will go to Columbus at the earliest moment.

"Governor Cox tells me that he thinks matters are in a satisfactory condition at Columbus; that he has ample immediate supply of medicines and other necessaries, and that much of each is on the way.

"The weather is fine and there does not seem to be any cause for apprehension of further floods in the vicinity of Dayton."


Fifteen thousand persons subsisted on rations given out under direction of the relief committee at Dayton and elsewhere. Ten thousand of these, it is estimated, were in their homes and food was carried to them in boats and automobiles.

About 5,000 were cared for at the relief stations.

The relief committee made no attempt to keep a record of the number of rations sent out. There was plenty of food and it was placed in baskets in lots to serve five persons for two days.

Over candles, given out with the food, the people are cooking coffee, but other food is eaten cold.

There was no gas and little coal.

The relief stations were taxed to capacity, for the flood has subsided enough to allow people to leave their homes.

Homes of persons more fortunate were thrown open to those whose houses were swept away or destroyed. Homes usually housing four or five persons in many instances sheltered twenty to thirty.


The relief committee sent tons of food to these people. Some were found on Saturday in the more remote sections who had not tasted food since Tuesday.

Dr. William Colby Rucker, assistant surgeon general of the United States public health service, who came from Washington at the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury, with Surgeon General Blue, outlined the sanitary conditions of the city as follows:

"A survey of conditions in Dayton shows that the sanitary situation is not so bad as was first thought. Citizens have been warned to boil all drinking water and to bury refuse. City water is now flowing under twenty-pound pressure. Sewers in some sections are again in operation. The city expects to have others working tomorrow.

"The city has been divided into sanitary districts, and physicians who have been sworn in as district sanitary officers are being instructed as to their precise duties as heads of these districts."


While the survivors were being cared for the pathos of the flood came to light in stories told by many. Occasionally the tragedy was made the more dramatic through contrast with an incident full of humor and romance.

Of the thousands of remarkable escapes the experience of Miss Flossie Lester, a stenographer, who was marooned on an overturned moving van in Edgemont, a suburb of Dayton, was considered one of the oddest. With several men, Miss Lester mounted on a passing van when the flood came. The van was soon overturned and the party thrown into the icy water.

The horses that had been hauling the van broke loose and separated, swimming for their lives. One of them passed close to Miss Lester, who grasped a dangling strap and succeeded in climbing astride the animal’s back.

For more than a mile and a half Miss Lester clung with her arms about the horse’s neck until it reached a high approach of the levee near a farm house. Here Miss Lester fell unconscious to the ground. She was taken in by the farmer’s family. The horse was taken to the barn.

Miss Lester told rescuers that she would buy the horse if its owner could be found.


Mrs. Clinton Wallace and her three children, at 3 Zinck avenue, had an experience of another kind. They were marooned without food until rescued Saturday night. They subsisted on grapefruit, a box of which they caught as it floated up to a window.

C. H. Pfeffer, treasurer, and C. D. Gutlip, division superintendent of a Detroit automobile company, who hurried as best they could through the flooded district from the Michigan metropolis to Dayton to rescue Pfeffer’s sister, found her with another woman, both with babies in arms, on the roof of a farmer’s home in Riverdale, their feet resting on the eaves-trough.

There were seven feet of water in Riverdale, Mr. Pfeffer said, and 300 or 400 persons were marooned in second stories. He offered to take a boat load from one house, but as there was not room for every one none would leave their perches.

While those in Dayton had adventures enough to last the remainder of their lives, frantic fathers and husbands, wives and mothers out of town when news of the flood reached them also had troubles in attempting to return. With railroads out of commission in the Omaha tornado district and floods rampant from western Pennsylvania to the Mississippi, they found it difficult to return.

W. R. Sullivan, a Dayton business man on his way to Denver, heard of the flood while at Grand Island, Neb. He returned to Lincoln, Neb., where the difficulties of travel began. He darted to Kansas City, where delay confronted him; back to St. Joseph, Mo.; but here, too, no railroad would promise to deliver him to Dayton. Finally he went to St. Louis, caught a train to Guthrie, Ky.; worked back through Louisville to Cincinnati, and from the last city arrived home in an automobile. He found the relief committee had cornmandeered his own motor car and that his wife had given away most of her bedding, clothing and food, but that she and the children were safe.

Satisfied, Mr. Sullivan offered his services to the city. His story is a sample of hundreds.


A druggist of Anderson, Ind., whose family was visiting in Dayton, arrived in a state of collapse. Despairing of traveling by rail, he set out to conquer the flood. Where he could he hired vehicles, but he pursued a straight course, fording or swimming icy waters, plunging through swamps and crawling over broken and dangerous trestles. His feet, knees and hands were swollen when he reached Richmond, Ind.

Jones learned his story, but not his name. It never was known whether he found his family.

From the Register, Wheeling, W. Va.
Havoc of the Elements
Drawn by T. V. Gilkison


Back to Legacy