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Harry and Fred Dion

July 1964


From the papers of Marie Dion, courtesy of Fred Dion, Jr., comes this first-person account of the Yellowstone flood of April 7, 1899, in which Margaret (Mrs. Henry) Dion's older sister, Mrs. R.W. (Nellie) Snyder, and her younger brother, Eugene O'Connor, perished.

Joseph Myers had gone to the Snyder home on the Marsh road when the ice in the Yellowstone River broke up. Mrs. R.W. Snyder, Mr. Eugene O'Connor, Miss Nellie Regan, and Miss Rose Wybrecht perished in the icy water, with Joseph the only survivor.

Their first intimation of the break-up was the noise of pressing ice in the main channel of the river. They were not overly concerned when they observed water backing up in the old creek bottom. Joseph noted that the party, standing outside, observed in a joshing way that if the water came up, they could get on the roof of the house.

Eugene suggested that they all go to the railroad track, but when they noticed considerable water in the ditch, Eugene asked Joseph to go in first to see how deep it was. The water was over three feet deep, and the rest of the party laughingly remarked that they didn't care to take a bath and started to return to the house.

Before they reached the house the first mad rush of water came. The water was waist deep, but there was no large floating ice. Mrs. Snyder became faint so Eugene and Joseph carried her almost thirty feet toward the house while Nellie and Rose held onto the men.

They then realized they could not reach the house so decided to try for the shelter of the first large tree. One was close by so the men attempted to raise Mrs. Snyder on their shoulders to one of the lower branches, about eight feet from the ground. She was unable to retain her hold because her hands were so numbed by the water. They next tried to get Nellie and Rose up the tree, but they could not retain their holds either. By this time the water had reached their shoulders.

Eugene first attempted to climb into the tree but did not have the strength to raise himself out of the water. Joseph succeeded in climbing onto the branch and threw his leg over the limb so that he could get hold of Mrs. Snyder, but she could not hold on. They next tried Nellie and Rose, but with no success. Eugene became excited at not being able to help the ladies. All they could do was hold them to the tree. From Joseph's position on the tree he could reach them so he took off his suspenders and tied one wrist each of Nellie and Rose on each end of the suspenders and hung the center over the broken branch below the one he was on. That compelled Nellie and Rose to stand with the tied arm raised above their heads.

Mrs. Snyder and Eugene were in the meantime holding onto the trunk of the tree with one hand and the other alternately holding onto Joseph's left hand and arm. By this time the water had risen to the heads of the four that were standing. Eugene said that he would change his position to the other side of the tree. As he attempted to do so he was forced away from the tree by the water, without a sound, and that was the last seen of him.

Joseph had twisted a piece of his suspenders around Mrs. Snyder's wrist and held onto it. After Eugene was swept away Mrs. Snyder missed him and kept asking where he was. Joseph told her he was behind Nellie, and that satisfied her because she could not see Nellie on the opposite side of the tree. Mrs. Snyder attempted to work her way around the tree, but the piece of suspender broke, and she was gone.

Nellie, Rose, and Joseph were talking to each other when they noticed lanterns on the railroad track. This encouraged them with the hope of rescue, and Joseph tried to cheer them and keep up their drooping spirits. It seemed to Joseph all of an hour after Mrs. Snyder was swept away that Rose became terribly excited, moving around in a half frantic condition and incessantly inquiring for Mrs. Snyder and Eugene until her end of the suspender broke, and she disappeared without an outcry of any kind. Joseph related, "I made a grab for her, missed her, but fortunately caught the end of the suspender to which she had been tied, with which I then tied Nellie more securely to the tree, and finally raised her onto the branch where I was so that her knees were out of the water. In this position she rested comfortably, and from that time until she fainted, never lost hope of being rescued.

"She fainted a second time and when the men hollered to me from the railroad tracks asking how I was, I answered that I was all right but that Nellie had just died, as I could not hear her breath. She finally regained consciousness and talked to me, but gradually ceased as she fell into a half unconscious condition, in which she remained until about two o'clock, when the ice began coming down in large pieces. I took off my coat and shoes, tying the shoes to the branch of the tree, to stand on. Just then a large block of heavy ice struck the tree, breaking it off near the ground, when I lost sight of Nellie, who I am satisfied died before the ice struck the tree.

"I was thrown into the water and probably swam three or four feet when I crawled onto the large piece of ice that broke the tree. I was on this piece of floating ice for two hundred yards when I caught the branches of a tree, the trunk of which I judged was a foot through, and climbed three or four feet above the water. A few minutes later another large piece of ice came floating down, snapped the tree in two and I had barely straightened up on another piece of ice before I caught the branches of a third tree and climbed four feet above the water.

"I remained in this tree until daylight when Sam Eakers, Andrew Larson and a stranger, by using 2x12 planks, reached the tree I was on from the railroad track, the ice being gorged. As they reached the tree the gorge broke and Eakers and the stranger were compelled to climb the tree I was on, while Larson started for the railroad track, got on a large piece of ice and was pulled out to the track by men on the end of the rope which he tied to himself when he started to assist my rescue. About ten minutes later the ice, which did not break all the way up, passed me. Mike Lacey and my brother Lawrence came out on a boat and the three of us reached the tracks safely. I was chilled through and through and could not walk, but willing friends hurried me home where I received all the kind attention that was needed for my speedy recovery."

 

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