Jim Kemp


Written Memory


Jim Kemp’s Story

I was 32 at the time and I lost my motel that I had built with my own hands, a gas station, and a souvenir shop. But that wasn’t so bad, because at least I wasn’t in the camper that I watched float down the road past my motel that Friday night.

“There was a car hooked to a camper and there were screams for help coming from the camper, and it was floating down the road. You couldn’t do a thing.” Dean Wilson, 14 at the time, worked for me and had to ride out the flood with me in the office of the Four Presidents Motel, described what neither of them would ever forget.

Keystone is a tiny town in the Black Hills about three miles downhill from Mt. Rushmore and 21 miles from Rapid City. It was founded as a gold mining town in the 1880’s.

The boom lasted until 1903 then didn’t return until the tourist starting coming to see Mt. Rushmore and to camp.
Grizzly Camp is at the top of the town and there are vast camping areas beyond. Searchers dug eight bodies out of the mud below Keystone Sunday and they said they expected to find up to 15 more. Most of the dead and missing were tourists.

Tourists liked Keystone which returned the compliment with a strip of family-oriented come-ons. And my motel was always filled. “I built it myself, the whole thing, myself and four young kids.” “I guess it was myself and four hippies, four long-hairs; we did the plumbing and everything.” We had 60 guests, and there were 20 cars parked in the front lot before Grizzly Creek, which runs in front of the motel along the road, and rose from its banks and pawed down the town.

One car after another was swept into the pillars that shored up one end of the long, two story motel. The cars then were washed downstream into a heap some 12 cars high.

The Texaco station just up the road from the motel road the torrent into Kemps Conoco station, then both swept downstream.

My guests became hysterical. “They all wanted to jump into the water, and that’s the worst thing they could have done.” “They heard the motel creaking and cracking, and they wanted to jump, but with all those cars in the water it would have been suicide.”

“Some of them threw mattresses out and were planning to jump on them. But as soon as the mattresses hit the current they were gone.” Wilson and I herded the guests to the balcony of the A-frame office. The office building held. “They were panicky and I don’t blame them. They didn’t want to be killed. The next day they thanked me for saving their lives.”



“Jim Kemp,” Flood of 1972, accessed August 17, 2022, https://1972flood.omeka.net/items/show/614.