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Three Drown in 1917 Flood

Written by Dick Perue

One hundred years ago, the worst flood in history rolled through the Upper North Platte River Valley between Saratoga and Encampment in south central Carbon County. Although water levels in 2011 exceeded that of 1917, tragedy was adverted. That wasn’t the case in June of 1917.

Headlines in the June 21, 1917 issue of the “Rawlins Republican” screamed:

Commissioner R.A. Day Drowned

Popular County Commissioner with Son and Nephew Drowned in Platte River Sunday – Bodies Not Yet Recovered

Last Monday, the people of this city were both horrified and grieved to learn that last Sunday afternoon County Commissioner Robert A. Day with his 12-year-old son George and his nephew Garland Gross, 19 years of age, had been drowned in the Platte River.

At the Day Ranch, which is about 10 miles above Saratoga, there is a footbridge across the river. This bridge is supported by two heavy cables. On one side of the river, the cables were fastened to an exceedingly large tree. On the other side, two trees were used to hold the cables. The bridge was considered to be absolutely safe.

Sunday, the telephone line, which crosses the river right at this bridge, went down. Mr. Day, assisted by his son, nephew and an employee of the ranch, Edward Goggrin, went on the bridge to take up this phone line for the purpose of repairing it and fastening it along the edge of the bridge. The bridge was then several inches above the water. The weight of the men on the bridge caused the structure to lower until it hit the water. When the bridge rested on the surface of the river, the force of the current caused the bridge to turn sideways when the entire strength of the river current, against the flat side of the bridge uprooted the large tree. The bridge then swung out into the river throwing all four men into the water.

Mr. Goggrin, who was the nearest to the edge of the river where the bridge was still held, grabbed the cable and pulled himself to shore. It was only by a supreme effort that he managed to save himself. However, he was unable to swim, and he knew that if he ever let go of the cable, he was lost.

The 12-year-old son of Mr. Day also grabbed the cable, but his strength gave out before he reached the bank, and he went down. Wm. Kenneday was on the bank at the time and witnessed the accident. He saw Mr. Day and the Gross boy swimming down the river in an apparently easy manner and felt no fears for their safety. He saw George Day go down once and started to the rescue of the boy as he saw him working his way toward the bank.

In going to the boy, it was necessary for Mr. Kennaday to pass around a clump of willows. He saw the boy as he reached the willows but upon coming out from behind the bushes, the boy had disappeared, and although search was made for him, there the little fellow was never seen again. It is believed that his strength gave out and he was dragged under the water by the cable.

Realizing that the boy was lost, Mr. Kenneday started down the river to locate Mr. Day and the young Mr. Gross whom he was sure had managed to reach the bank. When he failed to find them, the help of the entire section was sought and a thorough search started.

Join us next week as we search for the victims of the tragic flood of 1917.