Bryan Schnell


Written Memory


June 26, 2012


At about 21:30 on June 9, 1972, I went out with my brother in law, Rick Braband, who was 24 at the time. I was almost 14 years old. Rick had a new Scout II, which was a good 4wd at that time, and he wanted to go out and see what was occurring as a result of the then several hour old rain storm. We traveled to Canyon Lake Dam, arriving in the area of the Canyon Lake Club, located at the north end of the dam or the NE edge of the lake.
Upon arriving we found an unbelievably swollen lake, at about 10:00 p.m. We stood on the dam looking out, there were some authorities there with spotlights shining out into the lake. There were cars, rooftops, refrigerators already floating through the lake from the canyon above. It did not occur to me at the time that these were possessions and components of residences that had been washed out already that night.
For some reason, we decided to drive down below the dam, over to the spillway. At about what must have been 10:15-10:30 p.m., we were able to observe firefighters on the spillway catwalk (above the spillway) trying to open the gates. We got fragments of them yelling that they were open to the max amount already. About that time water began to "rooster tail" 30-50 feet straight into the air from the concrete spillway channel, which was below grade at that time.
It was evident that the spillway had reached its max capacity and the force of the water flowing through it was causing peculiar characteristics. About that time a police officer, I believe his name was Sam Roach- as he was African American and we only had one African American officer on the force at that time, pulled up and observed what we were observing. He looked at the water and looked at us and said, "I am getting out of here and I suggest you do the same." We were right behind him. I would guess this time to be right about 10:30 p.m. I found out later that the Canyon Lake Dam failed at approx. 10:35-10:45 p.m. We were directly below the dam just moments before it failed.
We then began making our way back to the northwest side of Rapid City, to higher ground. I recall crossing the bridge at 32nd Street and Jackson and noting that the headlights from the vehicle showed water just starting to wash over the driving surface of the bridge, I am not sure what time that bridge failed, but it was gone by morning.
I have read accounts and have no doubt that other people were losing their lives in close proximity to us at the exact time we made our unwitting escape from tragedy.
In the days and weeks ahead I discovered that several classmates were lost and a number of families I knew were lost. All of us were affected in some way.
I worked that summer helping clean up flooded homes, and worked in a family related car dealership cleaning up mud and cleaning out muddy parts for weeks. It was a losing battle. Virtually everything had to be thrown, nothing could be salvaged.
I will never forget "The Flood." When I left for the US Marine Corps four summers later, the city was almost, but not completely, cleaned up from the flood.



“Bryan Schnell,” Flood of 1972, accessed June 16, 2021,