Written Memory


June 9, 2009


I was 11 years old and staying in downtown Custer with my parents who were helping some friends manage their motel. The night the rain began, I had never seen or heard a rainstorm like it. Apparently my parents had never experienced anything like either, because they were a bit apprehensive about the conditions. In Custer, the water was running down the street and over the gutters onto the sidewalks. The next morning we learned of the devastation of the flood throughout the hills and especially in Rapid City. I'll never forget the reading of the names on the radio of the confirmed dead and those who were missing. Entire families were lost. My mother cried and cried. She didn't know any of the people, but she felt their family's pain just the same. To this day, I am still haunted by all those names.
My father, who was with the Forest Service, was called in to help the residents of Keystone. In Keystone, there was the lady who stood on a chair and hung on to a light fixture in her motel room while the water rose up to her shoulders. She was wrapped in barbed wire and would have bled to death had the water not been so cold. Several other couples in rooms above hers, watched as their cars were washed out of the parking lot. During brief bursts of lightning, they also saw sleeping bags and tents washing down the street. They heard the woman screaming in the room below, but could do nothing but pray. These people were welcomed into 'our' motel and spent days recovering from the shock. Residents in Custer lent a hand to help those who needed it. That was really great to see and a lesson I've never forgot.
My father also spoke of the large number of transients who were in the area right before the flood: people who walked into the Black Hills, camped out near the creeks and out of sight of any one. To this day, he figures no one knows for sure just how many people were washed away in that terrible storm.
Two days after the flood, my father took my brother and me out to our house on Upper French Creek Road. The ground was pounded so hard by the rain, a shoe could not make a dent in the wet dirt. It was bizarre. We found out the road out to our house had been partially washed out at the bridges. We had to walk to our house to get our dog who was wet and really glad to see us. Ruby Creek, which was above our house by two miles, had overflowed and done most of the damage to that area. The beaver dam just past the Frybarger house on Upper French Creek had held. That, too, was hard to believe.
No matter what country or state I'm in on June 9th, I always pause and remember. So many lives lost. What a tragedy!



“Anonymous,” Flood of 1972, accessed July 2, 2022,