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Stranded In Warm Springs

The Christmas flood of 1964

by: Submitted Photo - A house sits poised above the swollen waters of the Warm Springs River at Kah-Nee-Ta during the flood of 1964. One resort cottage did fall into the river.


   Beverly and Dave Horttor were new residents in Warm Springs the winter of 1964, the year a large snowfall, combined with a sudden thaw, caused a flood which tore out road access to the bridge across the Deschutes River, isolating reservation residents and cutting off their electricity for three days.
   Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the flood of 1964, Bev shared her family's recollection of that experience:
   "This was the year we moved our 10 x 50 mobile home to Warm Springs. I had been offered a second grade teaching position by the principal, Elton Gregory, who was a college friend of mine. His wife, Dolly, and David (Horttor) and I had played lots of pinochle and took choir together," Bev said.
   Gregory had lured them to Warm Springs by offering to accommodate their mobile home, plus house the Horttors and their kids until they could settle in.
   "He promised us a concrete slab and full hookups across the street from them in the teacher housing near the school on the reservation. We lived with them for a couple of weeks until the space was finished -- which meant there were four adults and six children under the age of 6 in a small three-bedroom house," Bev noted.
   Her husband David got a job at the plywood mill in Madras. "His boss from the valley knew Persh Andrews and said he would recommend him, so there was no waiting for him to go to work," Bev explained.
   A few days before Christmas it began snowing until it was knee deep (about 17 inches). But the Horttor's 6-year-old daughter Teresa recalls the snow as being waist deep, because it was to her.
   "We walked to Macy's to get our mail and it seemed a long way through deep snow. The snow was over ground that had froze first," Bev said.
   "We had planned to do shopping for Christmas after school was out for vacation and the church programs were over. We went into Madras to the Methodist Church. The program was an evening program and on the way home a Chinook Wind and rain was causing a slide of rocks by the Rainbow Caf‚ at the Deschutes Bridge," Bev recounted. She didn't know the particulars at the time, but they were in a very dangerous flood situation.
   "We were one of the last cars to get past that point. By the next morning the approaches to the bridge over the creek by the mill had washed out and the water was too close to the bridge north of Warm Springs to be safe for crossing. We were stranded," she said.
   Cut off from the nearest town, Warm Springs was without electricity, safe drinking water, and emergency medical help. But people rallied and figured ways to deal with the problems that cropped up.
   "A local dentist was a pilot and rode with a helicopter pilot who took out a woman who was ready to deliver a baby. The highway north of Warm Springs became a landing strip so he could get medical supplies in and ill people and pregnant women to the hospital," Bev said.
   The Horttors called Bev's parents in Myrtle Creek to let them know they were OK, and had just hung up the phone when the power and phone service went out.
   Meanwhile, there was a rush on Macy's General Store by Warm Springs residents stocking up on milk and basic supplies, which made the news on the Portland TV Channels.
   Another problem was the fact that it was Christmas, and the Horttors hadn't gotten to do their gift shopping yet.
   Bev recalled, "We bought typing paper, color crayons, scissors, paste, construction paper, water color paints, chalk, etc. The neighbors had a train that their daughter was no longer interested in and gave it to us so Santa could bring a special gift to the children. Our children were so excited by these gifts we didn't feel we needed to get them anything else."
   Without the availability of everyday conveniences, reservation residents adjusted their daily routines and pitched in to help each other.
   "We didn't know how long the power would be out and drinking water had to be boiled. We were catching rain water off the roof to do dishes. We had a propane stove. We knew we had to keep the freezers closed as long as possible as we wanted things to last at least 72 hours. After that we would probably lose food," Bev said.
   "Neighbors shared camping equipment and prepared meals together. Gregorys cooked and ate with us since they had been all electric. Dolly has never let me forget that I insisted I had to make gingerbread cookies with the kids. We made them and delivered them to all the neighbors in teacher housing. Then we had to use rain water to do dishes and clean up the mess," Bev said.
   For entertainment, she said they played games by candle light, and especially played a lot of pinochle after all the kids were put to bed.
   The electricity was restored after three days, in time to prevent those with freezers from losing any food.
   Finally, the flood waters receded enough so they could cross the bridge north of Warm Springs and get into Madras by a round-about circuit through Bear Springs, Maupin, Willowdale and in to Madras on U.S. Highway 97.
   Bev said their friends the Oatmans didn't have chains when they attempted the drive, "So Harry Phillips led the way and we followed Oatmans. We wanted to be sure if they had problems we would know and be able to help. In the wee hours of the morning we stopped to have a snack and hot drink then Harry and Oatmans went on to their destinations in Redmond and we headed over the Santiam to Myrtle Creek," she said, noting their children Teresa, Tim, Tammy and Trent were well bundled up for the cold trek over the pass.
   "We had to chain up to cross the pass and there was lots of flooding along the way, but we made it safely to Myrtle Creek where we celebrated Christmas again with relatives," Bev said.