Kenneth C. Hargens

Description

Written Memory

Date

June 10 2012

Text

The Black Hills community annually recognizes my birthday of 9 June. It was on my birthday of 9 June 1972 that the tragic flood occurred in Rapid City and the nearby communities. As I recall, 9 June 1972 was a Friday. My spouse at the time and I had gotten a babysitter for our young son, Chris. Chris was two years young at the time. We had planned on going out to the Canyon Lake Club to celebrate my birthday. The Canyon Lake Club was a nightspot on the east side of the Lake. It is now the site of a large business office complex.
It was very dark in the mid-evening and it was raining steady and medium hard. Our house was located on 5th Street just a block south of the old Catholic Cathedral. The corner of 5th and Clark. I still own and live in this house. There was not too much traffic on the streets at that time of the evening. We drove down 5th Street to the bridge over Rapid Creek. We were totally surprised and alarmed to see that the water was roaring down the creek and only about 3-4 inches below the bridge surface. We quickly turned around and headed toward Baken Park. At Baken Park, the water on the street appeared to be about four inches deep and some of the street lights were out.
We decided that we would wait another night to celebrate my birthday so we returned to our home. When we awoke on Saturday it was strangely silent with very little sounds of traffic. The radio was turned on and instead of music, the announcer was reporting the flood devastation of Friday night. We walked downtown and were surprised to see cars abandoned on the streets. As we neared Rapid Creek the number of wrecked and turned cars increased. Emergency vehicles were everywhere. Rapid Creek was still flowing heavily but not like it had been the night before.
We returned to our home to decide how to deal with this event. At the time, I was employed by Godfrey Brake on Omaha. I went to Godfrey Brake and the building was swept clean. There had been large overhead garage doors on both the north and south sides of the building and even though the building was some distance above the normal level of the creek the flood waters had swept through the building.
When I returned home the radio announcer was speaking of ways that folks could volunteer to assist with searches and cleanups. I had just recently been discharged from the regular Army so I volunteered as a searcher with a group of airmen from Ellsworth Air Force Base. Our search area was to be along Rapid Creek and we started at a location east of where Rapid Creek crosses Jackson Boulevard. This bridge was completely choked with wood debris from wrecked houses. On our way down Jackson Boulevard we had to negotiate our way around at least three houses sitting on the street.
The first body we found and recovered was a large white male wearing only pajama bottoms. This man was lodged just a couple feet from the flowing water next to a still standing tree. This was about where the golf cart bridge now crosses the creek at the golf course. We worked our way up Rapid Creek through the now empty Canyon Lake. We ended this search/recovery at the bridge near Dark Canyon. This bridge was also completely choked with lumber and tree debris.
Our next search area began at the West Boulevard-Omaha Street bridge over Rapid Creek. We were to search and recover from the bridge to Baken Park. The number and the damage to the many cars lodged in the creek was amazing. Some cars were crumpled and tumbled into almost round shapes. My task was to wade into the creek and search and probe with a broomstick for bodies lodged in cars. Just west of the packing plant a car was discovered with only about six inches of the car visible above the water. My probing tool encountered some heavy moving resistance inside the car. What I thought was a body was revealed to be the semi-buoyant seat back moving back and forth with my probing stick!
We took a break to eat our noon meal on the curb of Omaha Street which was level with mud and silt. At this time I discovered a body part in the mud. Also I found a billfold with money and identification inside. This was turned over to a special office organized for the purpose of receiving such items. I later learned that the person was a deceased flood victim.
Our next search area began at about the Elks Club in Rapid Valley. We were to work our way up the creek toward the city. In this stretch a juvenile body was discovered lodged in a low tree. On this day, momentary comic relief was found when we stopped to eat our sack lunch. The lunches were prepared by the Girl Scouts and the sandwiches were peanut butter and dill pickles!! We were very glad to have them though and nobody complained.
After a few days of coping with the flood devastation, we began to feel demoralized and we went to stay a few days with my parents near Custer. When we returned to Rapid City I found another job with a trucking firm near the Pete Lien Quarry. I later joined the National Guard and in this capacity I had plenty of opportunities to assist in overcoming other community disasters near and far in the 35 years spent in that service.
Whenever I visit the main Post Office I recall that that area was vacant at the time of the flood. The area was used as a staging area for depositing the hundreds of flood-wrecked vehicles. Also recalled was the curious manner in which vehicles were lodged at an angle one atop the other against power poles. Only recently did I recycle the metal container furnished by the Civil Defense that was provided with clean water for city residents.
It is inevitable that another flood will occur. We hope that similar devastation will not happen with the flood path and greenway established.

Collection

Citation

“Kenneth C. Hargens,” Flood of 1972, accessed July 2, 2022, https://1972flood.omeka.net/items/show/559.