It’s been our privilege to work with survivors of the 1964 flood, and it is inevitable that you grow close to your subjects when they share such personal stories. This is Kenny’s reaction to seeing a video filmed and produced by Torsten. Video filmed by Guru Amar Khalsa.
Webb Pepion, a 94-year-old rancher near Birch Creek, lost his house and cattle herd in the flood. He stayed in a tent with his family the next winter, and then rebuilt his life in the country.
Their grandfather saved them from the flooding Two Medicine River. But the flood of 1964 changed these cousins in ways they never imagined.
The Blackfeet Flood mobile app is available for both iPhones and Androids. The free app allows you to watch the videos, travel the route of the flood stories, and share your own story. Simply search the store for “Blackfeet 1964” or follow these links:
Naomi “Omi” Crawford remembers the collapse of Swift Dam on Birch Creek and the loss of her cousin, Ethel, and Ethel’s husband and daughter.
Lifelong friends Art and Papoose were in their early twenties when the events of the flood called on them to rescue neighbors trapped in the rising waters of Two Medicine River on June 8, 1964. While they helped save some people from the waters, they remain haunted by the people they could not reach. This is a introduction to their story, which stretches more than a half-century.
When his grandfather awoke Winslow Evans on the morning of June 8, he didn’t understand the urgency of the situation. He and his family waded through the rising Two Medicine River, then lived in a truck until help could arrive. “I never heard anything so scary as the sound of water,” Winslow said. Photo by Torsten Kjellstrand
Each morning, Chief Earl Old Person’s father greeted him with a Blackfeet phrase. It translated roughly as: Jump up. Try your best. Don’t give up.
Now 83 years old, Old Person remembers well that day in June 1964, and the days of rain that preceded it. He remembers traveling with tribal elders to Heart Butte on the day before the flood. He remembers the elders warning that the flood would come. But no one could anticipate how devastating it would be.
“We can’t control nature, we can’t control things that happen through nature,” Old Person said in an interview last June. “We need to have our young people understand that there are some things that are much greater than us.”
Mostly, though, Old Person chooses to remember how his community responded in the aftermath.
“I think people were right away coming together,” Old Person said. “They didn’t sit idle in any way. They came together, trying to pull one another together.”
It is, he said, an important part of the story for the community to remember.
Jump up. Try your best. Don’t give up.
David Grewe, filming at the foot of Swift Dam, gives some perspective to the magnitude of pent-up water that hung above the valley in 1964.
But how much water drained from the dam after its collapse on June 8?
We can only rely on an estimate — taken 17 miles downstream from the site of the collapse, when much of the water’s force had dissipated. At that point, hydrologists estimated the flow at 881,000 cubic-feet-per-second.
How much water is that? More than the flow rate of Mississippi River, sweeping down through homes set along Birch Creek. Photo by Benjamin Shors
Torsten Kjellstrand made this photograph of Art Derouche, 70, explaining a rescue attempt along the Two Medicine River. Art quickly became one of our favorite interview sources — not just for his knowledge and insight into what happened on that day in June, 1964, but also for his warmth and humor. Art was 21 years old in 1964, when he and a friend tied barbed wire to an old tire and threw it into the river to rescue people stranded in a pickup in the floodwaters.