Barbara Hamilton


Written Memory


June 10, 2012


The Flood

Native Rapid Citians refer to June 9th, 1972 as the night of the “Flood.” That night it had been raining harder than usual. Many of us recent USD graduates couldn’t help but notice what an icy, stinging rain it was. Over the eastern edge of the Black Hills, eerie pea green cumulous clouds had been gathering all day. We attributed it to the technological skills of SDSM & T and the cloud-seeding practices with the National Guard.

Although I am usually a very nocturnal person by nature, that night at approximately 10:30pm an overwhelming fatigue suddenly overtook me. My fellow graduates really teased me as I left. When I stepped outside, to my surprise, water had been rising past the curb of the city streets as far up as the parking meters.

Rather than staying with friends as previously planned, I decide to go home immediately. As I was driving west on Omaha street, I was shocked to realize that cars were actually floating by me. At first it seemed very surreal to me, but then I began to panic! I prayed, “Dear God please help me!”

My first impulse was to step on the gas and get out of there as fast as possible! However, suddenly I was filled with a warm, angelic presence and I no longer felt any fear. It was as if I were no longer driving and the angel had taken over control of my car. Words of God filled my mind: “Drive as if your life depends on it!” Fortunately, I made it home minutes before the spillway broke.

Many survivors probably wonder why some were saved while others were not! Perhaps we have a purpose in life that is yet to be fulfilled.

It’s interesting how the tragic became interwoven with the ironic! While one house would be left standing, another next to it would be swept away. Often cars and debris had become stacked at the tops of cottonwood trees, but I was afraid to look too closely for fear of what I might find!

Unusual situations did occur that night. For instance, a yellow split-level house, which had washed off its foundation, landed in the middle of Jackson Blvd. The homeowner, who had managed to sleep through the storm, thought perhaps it had been the rocking motion of the waves that had lulled him to sleep! Can you imagine his surprise when he stepped outside the next morning to get his newspaper!

Near Meadowbrook School a lake formed where the playground once had been. Across from the school, a grandfather, planning to take his grandson fishing that morning, had placed fishing poles on his front porch. Of course, he didn’t have far to go as dead fish lay plopped everywhere after the floodwaters had receded!

It is strange how lost and confused we feel when the landmarks and buildings we have always known are gone. Canyon Lake has always been a significant landmark in Rapid City. In the 1940’s it was considered to be out in the country, but many young couples (my parents included) who were dating often rode bikes to there to swim and have picnics. What a shock I felt when a radio announcer stated, “There is no more Canyon Lake!” What once had been a beautiful lake, now had become a pasture of weeds. I thought to myself, “Where will all the ducks go now?”

A recently married friend of mine who lived near Canyon Lake lost her home that night. Later we joked that my wedding gift to her of a wooden salad bowl set was probably the only thing that survived. It may still be floating somewhere down Rapid Creek.

Although there are so many tragic stories as well as stories of survival to tell, even after almost 40 years, it still evokes such strong emotions. My family was fortunate because we all survived together. God intervenes in mysterious ways!

My sister’s boyfriend was late picking her up for a date that night and she was angry with him. He lived in Cleghorn Canyon in a beautiful home built against the cliffs and overlooking a meandering stream. He called to tell her that the walls of his house were collapsing and then the phone went dead! Needless to say, my sister was frantic!

Although Martial Law was in effect, the next day I decided to set out on foot to help my sister. (As the oldest sister, I felt a strong need to protect her.) What a coincidence it was then to run into her boyfriend several blocks away.

His story was so incredible! When he had called my sister and the phone had gone dead, the walls of his house had collapsed. He and his parents managed to climb to the roof as it was washed away by the strong current. The roof hit a submerged tree and cracked in half with his parents spinning to a more gentle part of the stream.

Meanwhile, he was hurtling toward the spillway. As he tried to swim, he couldn’t tell which way was up or down in the inky darkness. Other than the occasional lightning bolt or sparks from the downed power lines, he could not see very much.

Finally, in total exhaustion he realized that his feet had touched solid ground. He saw flashlights and heard voices yelling, “Don’t take another step!” He froze and then strong arms grabbed him. As it turned out, if he had taken another step he would have gone over the spillway, probably to his certain death! Was it a coincidence or Divine Intervention that those heroic men happened to be there at the right place and the right time that night!? (Unfortunately, his parents were among the victims discovered downstream later that week.)

However, many miracles also happened the night of the flood. Mine was just one of many! An elderly woman, who lived hear Baken Park, managed to hold a floating mattress above her shoulders all night so as not to awaken her mentally disabled granddaughter. She did not want her granddaughter to be frightened, so instead she bravely stood alone all night until the floodwaters receded the next morning.

Timing was everything! If God hadn’t sent that unnatural fatigue to overcome me, I wouldn’t have left when I did. Just 15 minutes later I would have been swept away by that giant wall of water! If my sister’s boyfriend had been on time and taken her back to his house for their weekend dinner date, perhaps neither one of them would have survived! As strong a swimmer as he was, I doubt that he could have saved the both of them.

Also, my friends who graduated with me and who had invited me to stay with them, had I not been motivated to leave, their house that night was washed away in the flood. My friend smelled a strange odor of gasoline, ran - looked out the kitchen window just in time to see a towering wall of water coming at her. She was swept away, but luckily her husband ran after her and dragged her to safety!

As a former lifeguard and swim team coach, there is a story of survival that touches me deeply! My Native American swim team actually taught me that the values of cooperation and sharing are much more important that the values of competition and winning.

One little girl in particular really tugged at my heartstrings! Although she was absolutely terrified of water, she would come to the pool every day, with her pet monkey, to cheer for her friends as they swam. One of my finest accomplishments in life was the day I persuaded her to come into the pool! As she bravely submerged herself under the water, my entire swim team cheered for her that day!

After the night of the flood, I discovered how brave she really had been! Evidently as water came rushing into her house, she courageously managed to get her brothers and sisters to safety. Unfortunately, just as she was trying to rescue the last child, her baby brother, a wave of water swept them both away. Later they were found with their arms wrapped around each other still clinging to each other as they had in life! Was her fear of water a premonition? How heroic she was to have given her life for others! To this day I think of her often and she is always in my thoughts and prayers!

These stories still “flood” most of us with intense memories that almost forty years later are very difficult to express! I guess we will never know why some were saved while others were taken. But, we do know how important it is to live each day as if it could possibly be your last!



“Barbara Hamilton,” Flood of 1972, accessed August 11, 2022,