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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"100 Year Historical Album of Independence, Wisconsin, 1976":

Donated by Bill Russell


Independence - Catastrophe and Courage...       

Floods at Independence - A Look into the Past

The flood of March 1886, marks an important epoch in the history of Trempealeau County.  The saddest affair was at Independence.  The following account is taken from the records of Trempealeau County History:

It began to rain in Independence in the forenoon, and continued throughout the day.  The ground being frozen hard, the creeks were soon roaring torrents.

Toward evening four boys, Lee Fay, Fred Hill and two Schmidt boys went on the railroad bridge across Elk Creek to watch the ice break up, so intent were they in watching the ice that they did not observe that the track was covered with water.  They were unable to get off and had to climb to the truss of the bridge and stay all night.  As they told no one where they were going, their families were unable to locate them and when located the next day the boys were in a pitiful condition.  The physician called, concluded that immediate amputation of the feet was necessary.  The operation was performed by Dr. George N. Hidershide and Dr. Frank L. Lewis of Arcadia.

The experience of Dr. George N. Hidershide in this connection throws an interesting light on the life of a physician in the early days.  Word reached Arcadia of the tragedy at 5 P. M. and Dr. Hideshide, crossing the river in a skiff, secured a saddle horse from a farmer and started on his errand of mercy.  At the two-mile bridge he was forced to take to the hills.  At every valley he had to go nearly to the head of the stream as all were too swollen for crossing.  All through that terrible chilling night he toiled on his way and it was not until 5 A. M. the next morning that he reached his destination at Independence, only nine miles from Arcadia.

[Taken from April 30, 1953 issue of Independence News-Wave.]

Flood Damage in 1913

Flood does great damage:  Rapid thawing snow and ice, coupled with heavy rain of Thursday night, wrought sad havoc with roads and mills along the line.

Whitehall had every laboring man busy all yesterday trying to save the dam and powerhouse.  The nine o'clock passenger train was ditched this side of the asylum where the track runs thru the river bottom, and the passengers were badly shaken up.  The fireman in trying to jump was injured.  Some 200 feet of track was washed out between here and Arcadia so the 10:40 train could not get thru.

The ice went out of the pond at Elk Creek and the rush of water and ice here were so strong in spite of the struggles of workmen, the slashing and frame work of the dam went down in Independence.

H. F. Eichler, Louis Lecher and Lewis Sobotta narrowly escaped being thrown into the rushing water.

[The above is from the March 15, 1913 issue of the Independence News-Wave.]

Great Flood of 1919

High water of Saturday night does great damage.  No train service so far this week.

Saturday night Independence people witnessed one of the worst floods in the history of the village.  Just 43 years and five days had passed since the big flood came and four boys were caught on the railroad bridge east of town where they remained in water up to their knees all night.

Friday considerable rain fell on the snow and ice.  Saturday the temperature was above freezing and heavy rain came in the afternoon, streets were flooded in the village because the water could not run off fast enough.  The streams, Elk Creek and Trempealeau continued to rise.

The dam in the village gave way from the force of water and great chunks of ice.  Dynamite was used to break up the ice jam.  The railroad bridge to the east was damaged but did not give away.  Miles of track in both directions are either washed away or damaged.

The Thomas Slaby family to the south was rescued but Mr. Slaby remained to guard the house.  The cow stood int he barn in water up to her neck until the next afternoon.  The railroad was in such poor condition that mail was brought in by speeder on Saturday.  The village was without mail for a week.  Telephone lines were also out of communication.  The flood was general through out this part of the state.  Blair was flooded in places, Arcadia was hard hit as the whole town was flooded, water standing three feet or more in some of the stores.  Some families had to be rescued.  The deer in the park were released by Mr. Fertig to save them from drowning.

[The above is from the March 22, 1919 issue of the Independence News-Wave.]

Three Lose Lives in Bruce Valley Flood Water on Tuesday, April 3 [1934]

Three lives were lost in the community in the flood water following a two-inch rain on Monday night an aftermath of an 18-inch snowfall a few days previous.

The dead are:  Oscar Francen, Mrs. Oscar Francen, Mrs. Alfred Francen.

They were on their way to Pleasantville to cast their votes at the spring election.  They were accompanied by the latter's husband and Henry Schroeder, Halvor Halvorson and son, Lonnie.  Because of the heavy condition of the roads, the party was making its way in a light spring wagon.

When they came to the bridge crossing Elk Creek they noted that the water was well above the road on the side of the bridge from which they wanted to cross.  Being familiar with every inch of the road, and taking no thought of danger, they urged the horses into the water.  Soon the animals were swept off their feet by the swift current.  The wagon tipped over and down the stream went wagon, horses, people and all.  Those who were not drowned saved themselves by clinging to whatever they could get hold of above the water.

Their cries for help were not heard immediately, as the nearest farmhouse to the scene of the accident was some 20 rods.  It was sometime before Thomas Matchey, Hale farmer, driving near the scene heard the cries for help and immediately aroused the community, secured rods of hay rope and towed the stranded victims to shore.

The survivors were taken to the Emil Blaha home.  Dr. Donald Peterson had been called as soon as the accident was reported.

The body of Mrs. Alfred Francen was recovered at about 7 A. M. Wednesday morning.  The other bodies have not yet been recovered as the water had not yet receded enough to make a close look possible.

[The above is from the April 6, 1934 issue of the Independence News-Wave.]

Damaging Flashflood Hits Independence 1947

Independence experienced one of the most destructive floods in the city's history early Sunday morning, July 27, 1947.  Heavy flood waters of Elk Creek poured into the 60-acre flowage above the dam and spread on both sides of the pond into yards and basements.  Lumber, logs, trees, boats and other refuse carried by the high water clogged passage over the dam, causing the water to burrow through the highway to the south approach of the bridge, making a 100 foot excavation.

At 6:10 p.m. Saturday evening a high wind carried sand, followed by a heavy down pour of rain which rapidly swelled creeks and lower fields.  At 10 p.m., the Independence night watchman, George Klimek, began removing slash boards on the mill dam as a precautionary measure against high water.  By 2:30 a.m. men were working hard and fast at the dam trying to remove the slash boards with a jack and unsuccessfully trying to remove the debris clogging the dam.  Had they been successful, damage to the highway might have been averted.  At 7 a.m., water refused to remain checked by the dam, and citizens watched 100 feet of the highway approaching the bridge washed down the stream, carrying with it light and telephone poles.  It is estimated that 750,000 cubic feet of dirt had been removed from the bridge approach on Highway 93.

Shortly before midnight, Trempealeau County Coroner Martin A. Wiemer, received a call to go to Strum where a man was reported killed in an accident near the small bridge east of Strum.  In making the trip, Mr. Wiemer took four detours and finally had to retrace his route and take Highway 10 through Osseo to reach the bridge.

In addition to the bridge approach, there was also other damage done in the City.  The foundation under the northeast corner of the Independence Milling Co. was washed away and the City Hall basement was filled to a depth of several feet.  Mrs. Agnes Skroch and the operators of Lakeshore Cafe and Peter D. Filla Hardware, all saw their basements fill with water.  Water reached the first-floor level in the Paul Kulig and Edmund Grutzik homes.  Mr. and Mrs. Fred Maule were taken to safety in a boat after water had filled their kitchen hip-deep.  And Mrs. Mary Jaszewski moved furniture from the lower level to the upstairs as water kept rising.

Arcadia was give a siren signal early in the morning and citizens there were prepared for a flood should it come.  As it was, much of the water receded shortly after the bridge approach went out and water stretched out in creek beds before it reached the lower city.

[The above was edited from the July 31, 1947 issue of the Independence News-Wave.]

1903 Tornado

The following is an edited version of the News-Wave article printed on Oct. 7, 1938.  See the full account following.

On October 3, 1903, a tornado swept over Independence killing two and injuring nine persons.  The storm struck about 2:30 in the afternoon and lasted but half a minute.  In that short time, at least half of the buildings in the village and surrounding area were damaged or destroyed and property damage was estimated at $75,000.

The two persons killed were Joseph Sentik, 70, and John Kupka, 12.  Injured were:  Andrew Kupka, Vincent Benning, John Forsythe, Samuel Garthus, Mrs. Albert Hanson, Herman Jackson, John Elstad and Mrs. Sentik.

The tornado first leveled the Sentik home, about a mile southwest of the village, and then struck the granary stacks and barn on the Thomas Woychik farm.  It then came upon the railroad tracks, striking a passenger train and breaking several windows.

The home of Paul Sobotta was completely demolished as was the B. Brill home next to it.  C. Torgerson's brick residence was struck and de-roofed.  The Frank Hotchkiss barn was completely destroyed and the house was unroofed.  The residence and barn of A. W. Liver were unroofed as was the home of Mrs. Julia Hunsom.

Across the street the creamery was nearly demolished, the front part being completely torn off.

One of the heaviest losers was Hon. Thomas Thompson.  The house was lifted from the foundation and moved about three feet, the roof destroyed, the contents of the attic and part of the chamber carried away, windows broken, furniture damaged and the barn completely destroyed.

The homes of Dr. Stack, Henry Hanson, Frank Myers, Jas. Elstad, Jacob Johnson and F. E. Shappee all suffered damages ranging from broken windows to lost chimneys to damaged roofs.

A. J. Bautch had a machinery shed torn down and a warehouse demolished.  A barn, warehouse and machinery shed belonging to Frank Tubbs were all unroofed and the machinery considerably damaged.

The storm then lifted over several buildings and struck the City Hall which was recently erected at a cost of $13,000, lifting the roof and crashing it down demolishing the walls of the upper story except the front and the chimney.  The brick from the City Hall struck the machinery warehouse of Wm. Steiner and crushed it, destroying a large amount of machinery and buggies.

Larson and Short's hardware was partially unroofed and Liver & Torgerson's hardware completely unroofed and some of the brick on the west side torn off.  The chimney was torn down on Mrs. J. C. Taylor's building.  The barn of the German House was struck, the roof being crushed in and one side badly broken by flying timbers and brick.  The blacksmith shop of S. P. Cooke was so badly wrecked that it had to be torn down.

The haybarns, sheds, stockyards and a number of small buildings in the east end of town were completely demolished and their contents badly scattered or destroyed.

The home of Thomas Woychik was next in line, where the granary, barn and stacks were destroyed.  Then came the Andrew Kupka farm where the death of the Kupka boy occurred.  Outbuildings and homes of Clemence Killian and Joseph Klimek, located west of town were nearly all destroyed.

The warehouse of the Cargill Co. had the cuppola destroyed and the roofing somewhat scattered.  M. O. Lockway's warehouse was moved about three feet and tipped over on to the passenger train which was standing on the sidetrack below it.

Photographs blown from homes were found as far away as Blair.  One picture frame from the Hotchkiss home was found hanging in a tree on the grounds of the County Home.

The grass and fields in the cyclone track looked as though a roller has passed over them.  The telephone and telegraph wires were torn down and it was some time before communications with the outer world were reestablished.

News of the tragedy spread far and people poured in from miles around to view the destruction.  It was such a pitiful sight most of them pitched in to help clear the debris and provide housing for the homeless.

Although nearly half a village was destroyed in half a minute, steps were immediately taken to rebuild and make the storm no more than a bitter memory.

Tornado Does Heavy Damage in this Area
May 14, 1953

A destructive wind of tornado strength struck this area between 6 and 7 o'clock Sunday evening.  Late in the afternoon, after an extremely warm day with high winds, the sky darkened and the wind increased in fury with some rain falling.  While no damage was done in the city, there has been damage reported in most sections of the country.

An unusual but most fortunate incident of the storm is that there were no injuries reported in Trempealeau County.  There were fatalities and injuries in Minnesota and farther north in Wisconsin but none in the immediate area.

The storm entered this territory in Wickham Valley where Dominic Kampa farm buildings, except for the house, were damaged with windows smashed and the farm buildings leveled.

Next in the wind's path was the Peter Przybylla farm where the barn was destroyed and the granary damaged.  Frank Marsolek was thrown into the basement of his house and Leonard Marsolek, who operates the farm with his father, was thrown out of the house by the strength of the wind.

From Wickham the tornado swept into Travis Valley where John Przybylla's was the first farm damaged.  It was completely wrecked and at the Henry Mish farm the house seemed untouched, except for broken windows but the barn was completely destroyed.

A freak accident was noticed at the Carl Matchey farm.  A pick-up truck and family car were parked in the garage and were left standing undamaged while the garage was blown about 300 yards into a field.

At the Clarence Schank farm in Travis Valley, one small barn was a total loss while others were less seriously damaged and windows in the house were broken.  Alex Wozney, who operates the Travis Valley tavern reports that part of the tavern's roof is missing and a shed and garage wrecked.

The wind then hit the Silver Fox Ridge area with the Alton Anderson and Albert Kupka farms suffering great damage.  At the Anderson farm every building was damaged or destroyed with the exception of the milk house.  About 30 trees were uprooted near the house and the family car was found in a ditch.  At the Kupka place every farm building was demolished and the house badly damaged.  A large tree was uprooted that fortunately fell away from the house else there might have been serious injuries.  The Kupka family had taken refuge in the basement of their home when they heard the storm coming.

The John Burt farm, now operated by Bennie Berg had the barn leveled and the garage, machine shed and corn crib damaged.  Melvin Sonsalla's farm was hit badly with the barn almost a complete wreck, the machine shed was leveled and all the buildings damaged including the house.

At Leonard Olson's all the buildings with the exception of the house and chicken coop were pretty well destroyed.  The storm moved on to the Olai Insteness farm where all the buildings except the house were damaged extensively.  A milk house was destroyed at the Alfred P. Olson place.

At Joseph Sura's seven buildings were damaged with three of them entirely destroyed and severe damage to the rest.  A twisted barn and leveled machine shed were the casualties on the Ignatz Rombalski place and at the William Olson farm and barn were destroyed and a trailer house that was occupied by the Harold Huck family was tipped over.

Tom Sylla's upper farm buildings were leveled excepting the house, though it was damaged somewhat.  There was some damage done at the Halvorson farm and at the Palmer Olson place, the roof was slightly damaged.  At Peter Prudlick's the garage roof was lifted and smashed down on top of the car and truck which resulted in them being wrecked.  Further damage resulted when the barn was moved from its foundation.

There have been no estimates on the dollar damage done by the storm and it is difficult at this early time to make an estimate but it is certain to run into many tens of thousands of dollars in this area.

Telephone lines were blown down in the path of the storm with approximately 80 subscribers without telephone service.  By Wednesday, with the repairmen working at a fast rate, practically all of the telephones were in working order.

(The above article appeared in the May 14, 1953 issue of the Independence News-Wave.)

Fire at Chimney Rock

Fast thinking by a lucky 15 year old baby sitter, Sharon Boero, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Jacobson was credited with averting tragedy as a fire rode through the Chimney Rock Store and attached residence on Highway 93, about 8 miles north of Independence.  The general store was operated by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Everson and lived in the attached residence.

Sharon Boero, 15, was napping on a davenport while babysitting with the Eversons four children when she woke up and smelled smoke.

Sleeping upstairs were the Everson children, Ellen 11, Virginia 5, Ronald 7 and Peggy 8 as well as Sharon's half sister Marrie Arneson, 9.

Sharon ran upstairs and began to lead and carry the children to safety.  Marrie smashed a window in the smoke filled bedroom and ran out on the porch.  She was unsuccessful in getting the boy to accompany her so she made her escape down the drain pipe.

After making two trips upstairs, Sharon discovered that Ronald was somewhere in the house.  Turned back by smoke and flames she raced to the highway and stopped a car driven by a neighbor, Bernard Colby.  He sped home and returned with a ladder.  The smoke turned him back on his first attempt to find the boy but on the second trip he found Ronald and lowered him to safety.  Audry Stuve of Whitehall attempted artificial respiration on the unconscious boy who was then rushed to the Whitehall hospital by Colby.

The telephone line had been burned and Ralph Bautch, of Independence had stopped at the scene, sped south to summon the Independence Fire Department.  The entire building was ablaze when the equipment arrived.

Ronald was in critical condition when brought to the hospital but began to show improvement 24 hours later.  His sister, Virginia, was also a patient being treated for burns on the hands, feet and face.  Sharon, the babysitter also sustained burns on her feet hands and face and had her hair badly singed.  Nine year old Marrie was treated for cuts she received when she smashed the window.

Independence firemen were assisted by the arrival of a 1200 gallon tank truck from Whitehall which aided in keeping the fire from nearby sheds and gasoline pumps.

The owner of the destroyed building was P. M. Paulson of Whitehall, uncle of Robert Everson.

In 1959 Sharon Boero and Bernard Colby received awards from the Carnegie Hero Fund in recognition of their life saving deeds.

In a 1960 White House Ceremony, President Eisenhower awarded the Eisenhower Medal to Sharon for bravery.
 


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