Gwen Kemp Ray


Written Memory


It’s been a decade (June 9, 1972) since Grizzly and Battle Creeks merged at Keystone to form a devastating flash flood. In the past 10 years Keystone citizens have witnessed a successful “facelift” of their community.

When the waters receded on June 10th, Keystone merchants and residents looked upon their businesses and homes with heavy hearts. “I just started at our business, owner with her husband of a motel, gift shop, and gas station” says Mrs. Pam kemp, “It seemed our dreams and future had been washed away”.

Roadways were noting but large hunks of tar, buildings were uprooted or smashed, and meaningful possessions had been washed away. “I, Herman Kemp, another business owner, had been working on a set of cabins for one and a half years,” and planned to open June 10th. The waters were so powerful “I never did find the cast iron tubs that were washed out of the bathroom walls”. Despite the loss of material items, the people of Keystone were thankful for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. “I could hear cries for help, but there was nothing I could do,” says one Keystone man. “Those cries haunted me many nights after”. Emotional stress plagued many following the disaster, but through determination, prayers, and volunteer services, the cleanup and re-building of Keystone was possible. “I almost told the bank to take it all,” says Jim Kemp, but I couldn’t quit and went to work that day, hoping I would someday reopen.

Mennonites from all over the country supplied free labor. They helped to clean up and rebuild the town. Sluices were built to sift through the mud for jewelry and small merchandise. Shelves, counters, showcases, insides and outsides of buildings were all rebuilt by Mennonites. Keystone residents recall the patience, understanding, and willingness of the group.
The National Guard helped to repair roads, recover bodies, and vaccinate those in the area. The Red Cross and surrounding communities brought in food and clothing. I recruited willing workers. The people of Hill City delivered hot meals, fresh drinking water and moral support daily.

Government agencies such as the Small Business Association (SBA), Community Action Program (CAP), Housing Under Disaster (HUD), and the State Unemployment Agency provided financial aid. SBA loaned money at a one percent interest rate. This was possible because of effort of Senator James Abouresk, who was able to convince the Federal Government to give South Dakota the low interest disaster loans. Horrible floods had occurred in Pennsylvania at about this time and that state also received help.

Disaster loans granted to business men and individuals were given in the amount of $5,000 for each loan. For some this was all that was needed to rebuild. Others went about borrowing higher amounts at the one percent interest rate, and from these funds keystone began again to take shape.

CAP supplied workers, HUD distributed mobile homes which were free to live in for one year, and the Unemployment Agency paid one month’s unemployment wages and food stamps to all in need.

Mr. and Mrs. Fred Nielson, owners of the Trading Post, were able to reopen in 34 days. The young couple had bought into the tourist business that year and had been open only two weeks before the flood hit. “We washed and rewashed moccasins and T-Shirts in order to make a little money,” says Mrs. Kay Nielson. “We were young and had no choice but to re-open the business.”

Since the flood, reforms have been made. Workers, hired by the government, cleaned out, rechanneled, and deepened the creek. Keystone’s main street was widened by moving buildings on the west back toward the creek 40 to 50 feet. This allowed more parking space and room for a larger traffic flow. Some residents claim that high waters in the black hills in ’42, ’52, ’62, and ’72. “Let’s hope it doesn’t happen in ‘82” emphasizes Mrs. Darleen Woldt (campground owner). Keystone is once again a booming town. Its people have worked too hard for nature to wash it all away another time. If it does happen again, people may not be as determined and willing to pick up the pieces.



“Gwen Kemp Ray,” Flood of 1972, accessed September 28, 2022,