1970 Labor Day Flood Recalled


Survivors and witnesses to the 1970 Labor Day Flood will gather at the Landmark in Christopher Creek at 10:30 a.m., Monday, Sept. 2. This photo from the collection of the Heber White family shows the destruction the establishment endured in the 1970 tragedy.

Survivors and witnesses to the 1970 Labor Day Flood will gather at the Landmark in Christopher Creek at 10:30 a.m., Monday, Sept. 2. This photo from the collection of the Heber White family shows the destruction the establishment endured in the 1970 tragedy.

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One of the more unique reunions in Rim Country will take place Monday at the Landmark in Christopher Creek.

They’re survivors of the 1970 flood that took the lives of at least two dozen people and changed the lives of many more in the Rim Country.

The flood swept away cabins and cars, claiming whole families in what some call “the deadliest natural disaster in the history of Arizona.”

Two families decided to make a run for Phoenix. But just as the two station wagons loaded with 11 people reached a bridge over Tonto Creek, a 40-foot wall of water swept them away, according to a recollection by Jim Hagen, published on page 4 of today’s Roundup. Hagen later found one of the twisted car frames five miles downstream.

A Phoenix highway patrolman took a chance on crossing the highway bridge on the Beeline down by Sycamore Creek, thinking the water wasn’t too deep for his patrol car. But the flood had washed away the far end of the bridge and he plunged into the water and drowned.

In Christopher Creek, a woman whose child was staying in a nearby cabin, grew alarmed when the creek rose above its banks. She left her cabin to get the child, but was swept away by the rising floodwaters, according to Hagen’s account.

For the first time since that tragic and disastrous rampage on Labor Day in 1970, witnesses and survivors will gather to relive the event along with others who shared their experience. To hear the stories join them at 10:30 a.m., Monday, Sept. 2 at the Landmark in Christopher Creek. Marshall Trimble will serve as master of ceremonies for the event.

The event will feature speakers with their own searing memories of the flood.

Star Valley Mayor Ronnie McDaniel was chief deputy of the Gila County Sheriff’s Office in Payson in 1970. He led a 350-member search and rescue force for 14 days and found the last body on Tonto Creek near Gisela. Other speakers include Tim Ehrhardt of Collins Ranch, who writes a historical places and events column for The Rim Review; Rob Jarvis of the Christopher-Kohl’s Fire District, who will talk about first responders then and now; Captain Jaime Escobedo, district commander, DPS, who will talk about Gilbert Duthie and Bob Martin on SR 87; Frank Kush, who will talk about Camp Tontozona and the ASU football team.

Those with personal memories will also be invited to share their stories.

Ehrhardt shared information he has gathered about the flood:

• The epicenter of the tragedy really was Tonto Creek, particularly the bridge near where Tonto and Horton creeks join.

• Tonto Fish Hatchery lost 70,000 pounds of fish.

• The flood also wiped out a chain of pools on Williams and Tonto creeks that had been created by the Civilian Conservation Corps, causing severe erosion along the creek.

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