One of the difficulties in examining the life and history of ordinary residents in the 19th century is that newspapers hardly ever interviewed or even printed stories about the average Joe or Jane.
In my previous column on the flood of 1890 (“The rains fell and caused the flood, November 29), almost all of the quotes are from an editor or reporter offering a factual opinion or report. on the situation. If a resident was interviewed, we would not hear about it.
Locally, things started to slowly change with the arrival of the new century. Newspapers hired more people, and on occasion columnists and journalists found time to talk to residents and write their stories.
In the summer of 1947, Welborn Beeson, Jr. approached a Mail Tribune reporter with a piece of petrified wood that had been found 4 feet underground by workers digging a well near Phoenix.
“Sir. Beeson thinks,” said the skeptical reporter, “his wood rings confirm the commonly accepted theory of weather cycles in wet and dry years.”
Beeson began to talk about the flood of 1890 and how his piece of wood could be similar to the one growing during that unusually harsh winter and the catastrophic flooding that followed.
Born in 1870, Welborn was the second son of Welborn Beeson Sr. and Mary Brophy. The elder Beeson, an immigrant in 1853, ran a newspaper at Talent for just over a year before his death in 1893.
Young Beeson was 77 when he was interviewed in 1947, and yet his memory of the biggest flood he had ever seen was clear.
At the end of 1889 he was a student at Ashland High School, returning on horseback from his Talent house after Thanksgiving, when a “terrible storm” struck. The winds were so strong that the horse and rider could barely move against them.
From December 22 to the following February, snow fell almost every day. He said that in Ashland it had stacked at least 4 feet high, the height of wood that he and his classmates had stacked to warm their “bachelor quarters” at school.
For seven weeks, he said there had been no train connections from the south and occasional disruptions in the north. Food supplies were low, but luckily the students had accumulated a large amount of it.
Then, February 1890 opened in uninterrupted rain for four days. Beeson found it odd that instead of melting snow from above, it started to pile up below, almost killing one of the high school girls.
A group of students walked over to Bear Creek to view the flooding. One of the girls ran past a snow bank and called her friends back. Suddenly she started to struggle and sink, before disappearing into the snow as she started to move. She was almost taken away, but two of the boys managed to drag her to safety.
The bridge of talents having been washed away, the members of the Beeson family could not reach their cattle. They headed north to cross over to Medford, arriving in time to see a large pine tree in the creek hitting the wooden Main Street bridge. By tying ropes at the end of the bridge and around a nearby tree, they were able to cross just before the bridge disappeared downstream.
He couldn’t remember how long it had taken for the flooding to go away, but remembered that the ground remained too wet to be plowed until the end of March.
What else could have been in this interview, we’ll never know. Beeson’s story isn’t much, but a personal look into the past is always welcome.
Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin ‘,” a collection of his previous columns and stories. Contact him at [email protected]