Folsom Museum News
Folsom Flood of August 27, 1908
More information about the 1908 Flood is on display at
the Folsom Museum
The Folsom community flourished with a population of
about 800 until the disastrous midnight flood of August
27, 1908, which swept away most of the town's business
buildings and various residences. In all, a total of 17
lives were tragically lost.
Old timers have stated that empty washtubs standing
out in that heavy rain filled to overflowing during the
cloudburst along the Dry Cimarron River headwaters at
Johnson Mesa, eight to ten miles west of Folsom.
Sarah J. Rooke, telephone operator at Folsom,
received a frenzied call from Mrs. Ben F. Owen, eight
miles upriver, telling of the cloudburst and the
onrushing torrent. The water was held off for some time
by trees and debris at the railroad bridge just west of
Folsom. When the bridge gave way, it allowed over a
five-foot wall of water to sweep through the town.
Mrs. Rooke called as many persons as possible,
warning them to leave their homes for higher ground at
once. Her pleas were ignored; the Dry Cimarron, even
during heavy rains, had never really endangered the
town. Choosing to remain at her switchboard, she lost
her own life. Her body was recovered the following
spring about eight miles downriver. A monument and
plaque, honoring her heroic deed, was placed in Folsom
Cemetery by the Telephone Company.
Folsom never regained its business status after this
terrible experience. Today, the Village of Folsom has a
population of about 65.
August 31, 1908
(The issue of August 29, 1908 was delayed until
August 31, 1908 because of flood damage to the press).
The most destructive flood ever witnessed by the
people at Folsom struck the town about midnight of
August 27. It was caused by a cloudburst west of town on
the headwaters of the Dry Cimarron River.
Just after a beautiful rain in the evening, the sun
set upon a happy and prosperous little town of 800
inhabitants. The next morning, it arose in a clear sky
upon a scene of destruction, death, desolation and
horror. After sunset a strong southeast wind began to
blow and clouds began forming and collecting among the
mountain peaks. Vivid and continuous lightning soon
developed and the unbroken background of solid gray
cloud underneath a black and rolling mass of upper
lining revealed the evolution of a most extraordinary
and terrific battle of the elements. The near approach
of this most terrific battle of elements and downpour of
torrential waters was heralded by the lowing of cattle,
the barking and howling of dogs, and the fluttering
chirp of birds from their roosts among the willows.
Down came the torrents of water amid the continuous
flashing of lightning and crashing of deafening peals of
thunder that were echoing back and forth from peak to
peak, the continuous roar sending terror to the heart of
man, bird and beast. Yet amidst all this there were
those who did not dream of the scene which was to awaken
Mrs. Owen, who lives 8 miles up the river, telephoned
Mrs. S. J. Rooke at the Central Office that the most
terrible flood that had ever been known here was
advancing upon the town. Mrs. Rooke faithfully warned
all that she could warn of the impending danger. Her
office was a small building which turned over as the
flood struck it, extinguishing the light and carrying
this brave and faithful lady to her death. Mrs. Rooke
was a member in high standing of the Eastern Star. Her
body has not been recovered to date.
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas W. Wheeler and their two
children, Walter and Vera; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wheeler,
with their four days old baby boy; Mrs. Cox, the mother
of the Mesdames Wheeler, with her youngest daughter,
Theler, aged 13, were swept away. The frame building
which they occupied floated like an eggshell. The
Wheeler brothers married sisters and the two families
were exceedingly affectionate and kind to each other.
The mother was visiting here from Sterling, Oklahoma.
The bodies of this entire family (a total of nine family
members), have been interred side-by-side in our
beautiful little cemetery here, except Mrs. Cox and
Theler, whose bodies were shipped to Sterling, Oklahoma
The water soon began to spread over town in high
rolling waves. The railroad bridge west of town held it
in check for a while then it broke and let loose a
mighty volume of water that swept everything along with
it. The stream was now nearly half a mile wide and was
at least five feet deep in the streets and rushing along
with a mad, torrential velocity that picked up houses
and floated them off like chips.
John Young's stable, in which were tied three fine
horses, was picked up like chaff, torn to pieces, the
horses killed and the debris was piled up in front of
Baker's saloon, while was a stone building and withstood
We are sorry that we cannot give more details this
week but, lack of time and the condition in which our
office was left by the flood, prevents. We will give
every detail in Saturday's issue with a full report of
loss. Quite a number of strangers have visited our city
and assistance offered and rendered, a full account of
which we will publish Saturday.
August 15, 1890
Cloud Burst In Upper Dry Cimarron
Floods the City of Folsom With Water
Trains Delayed in the City Since Friday
Morning (August 15) - The Passengers Well Pleased
The people of our city were startled Thursday evening
about 5:30 by a rider who informed them that the Dry
Cimarron was raising at a remarkable rate and that the
water was coming down the canyon several deep. Everybody
immediately commenced making preparations to save
everything that was in danger of being carried away, and
in less than one half hour the Cimarron was out of her
banks and spreading over the city. There was not much
damage done in the city, only the carrying off of loose
articles that were thoughtlessly left out of doors.
While the rain in the city could not have been called
anything more than a shower, a short ways above the
Hereford Park Ranch, about 6 miles west of the city, it
seemed to be a steady downpour for over two hours.
Parties in from that neighborhood yesterday say they
have never witnessed such a rain before in their life.
It had more the appearance of a cloudburst than a rain.
Thursday evenings train had not arrived up to the
time of going to press. Yesterday mornings 6:20 train
could not get any further north and returned to Texline
to wait until the roads are again repaired. The
passengers were left at this place until a train can be
The flood had hardly spread itself over town until
the water commenced falling, and in less than three
hours the water was off the streets. Among the damages
done, so far as could be ascertained under the
facilities to learn the news along the river on so short
a notice, are the following:
We understand a number of railroad bridges between
Trinidad and this place, also the one across the
Cimarron west of this place, were washed away, besides
two or three hundred yards of track at Emery Gap. One
report is that nearly three miles of track was washed
out near the above place.
The bridge at Fisher Peak was washed out and will
have to e replaced with a new one.
About 200 yards of fence was washed away for Dr. T.
E. Owen on the Hereford Park Ranch.
William H. Jack has less fence by several rods today
than was around his ranch Thursday morning.
Fairchild B. Drew lost a number of panels from his
fence at his ranch west of town, also about five tons of
new mown hay and most of his garden.
Robinson & LaBelle's cellar, under their store
building, was filled and workmen were repairing the
damage yesterday. The damages sustained will be about
A horse was drowned. The animal was staked near the
river, and being unable to reach high land, perished in
the flood. The water reached the floor of the land
Jackson Tabor's house, on Grand Avenue, had a narrow
escape from being carried down the canyon.
We understand that one of our townsmen started for
Capulin when the flood was first reported, so as to be
on dry land. C. George Myers, who lives a few miles east
of the city, experienced the loss of several tons of
alfalfa and lots of fence. He estimates the damage to be
The bridge near J. S. Daugherty's ranch, across
Trinchera was washed away.
Maxwell G. Records lost some fence, a part of his
garden and a number of fruit trees at his ranch in Oak
D. C. Young, of Oak Canyon, lost considerable fence
and his oat crop is damaged considerably.
William Cronk had to use the pump on his cellar
yesterday morning to relieve it of an abundance of
The residence of Mr. E. L. Mosely was flooded and
most everything was ruined.
Thompson's Restaurant was filled with water and a
number of articles soiled.
The Flood as Experienced by Ella Stringfellow
August 27, 1908 was the date of the Great Folsom
Flood and on that particular day my parents, Dan and
Kate Harvey, had overnight guests, which was not an
unusual custom in the horse and buggy days. The guests
were the McMinamin family and had consisted of the
parents: John and Myrtle and a baby girl. I was seven
years old at the time. The baby, who was ill, cried off
and on all night, much to my distress. My mother looked
out of the window and saw our horses trying to get into
the area we called the horse pasture. Almost instantly,
they disappeared. We later learned that they had been
swept down stream some 6 or 7 miles by the swift tide of
flood water. They all survived with the exception of one
small colt which drowned.
After the flood waters subsided, the body of Irvin
Cox's mother was found on Dad's dam, and his sister's
body was on the horse trail in the horse pasture. It was
close to this area that my Dad found the body of Sally
Rooke several months after the flood and when he was
burning debris on what we called the "corn patch." My
Dad, Bud Sumpter, and Sam David also found the body of
Mr. Dan Wenger buried in a sand bar with only his hand
visible. My Dad often told of the sun reflecting from a
Masonic ring on his finger.
The Flood as Experienced by Alcutt McNaghten
In the spring of 1907, I was sent to Folsom to work
the second shift (telegrapher on the railroad). Mother
came to keep house for me. We lived in the old stone
house east of town (east of the Doherty store), which
mother had purchased some time previous. The following
year on August 27, 1908 Folsom was inundated by the
worst flood in its history. I think there were about 250
people living there at the time, and 17 of them lost
their lives in the flood. As near as I can remember,
this is an account of the flood.
My hours were from 3:00 p.m. to midnight. At around
10:30 or 11:00 p.m., I had cleaned up my work and was
just waiting for my relief. I noticed that the telephone
repeatedly jingled one ring. As our ring was two rings,
I initially paid no attention. After the ringing
persisted for some time, I decided to answer, thinking
that someone needed assistance. The person on the line
was Sally Rooke, the elderly telephone operator. She was
in a very excited state. She did, however, manage to
tell me that there was "an awful flood coming down the
river" and to get out and notify everyone we could.
I tore out at once to tell anyone I could. My
intentions were to go to our house and notify Mother
first. When I got to the Doherty store I encountered Bob
Penniwell, manager of Wenger's Store, who was on the
same mission. I told Bob, "You go down one side of the
street and I'll go down the other." The plan was to
notify people, then come back to the wagon yard, hitch a
team to a wagon and take people to higher ground. The
school being our intended goal.
I notified Mother and told her that I would be back
with a wagon to take her out. When we got back from
notifying people, it was too late. The flood was too
close. We didn't get any wagon out. I went back to the
depot. My relief was there and I told him that I was
going back to my home. The night was pitch black. The
only way one could see was by the lightning flashes. I
took a lantern and started toward home. It was raining
hard. About half way to the house I slipped and fell.
The water, which was running rather deep, put my lantern
out. I decided to return to the depot because I knew the
way back in the dark. As I returned to the depot, I
could see a few lights burning here and there. When I
arrived at the depot, I heard the flood coming. By the
lightning flashes I could see the wall of water. It
looked like it was about four feet high. By this time
travel was impossible.
The Rope family who lived across the street from the
old Folsom Hotel (the rock hotel not the wood hotel),
came to the depot for safe refuge. Together we could
only watch and hope. My concern was whether our house
would stand the raging waters. As we watched, we saw a
building near the end of the Folsom Hotel disintegrate
like an egg crate. The water maintained the four foot
wall for about 20 minutes or so and then rose higher.
That rise brought the water just barely into the depot.
It maintained this level until about 3:00 a.m., and then
began to recede.
We tried to get over into town several times, but the
depth of the water kept us out. Finally after sunup, we
went up and around the church and then down Main Street.
There was still quite a bit of water running in the
street. The scene that greeted us was one of
devastation; Sally Rooke's house was down in front of
Doherty's Store on its side with the front completely
gone. The saloon building had washed into our house, its
patrons were safely perched in the attic.
Fry Wilson was in a building one door removed from
the telephone office. Old Frye felt the house going so
he jerked the doors open (allowing the water to flow
through the building). The house settled and only moved
slightly. John Young and his son were in a house that
was nailed to a fence post. They said that the house
moved all night but it never broke loose from that post.
When my mother saw the water begin to come up, she
and a woman who was working for her got up on a table.
When the water got a little higher the situation became
uncomfortable, so they got on top of the piano. There
they remained until the flood was over. There was about
2 inches of mud in the house, and evidence that the
water reached the depth of three and a half feet in the
There were 17 people killed in the flood. Nine
members of the Wheeler family died. Mr. and Mrs. Dan B.
Wenger and their daughter, Daisy, were lost, plus Lucy
Creighton, who kept books for Wenger's store. The Wenger
house and its four occupants was seen with the lights
still burning floating down Grand Avenue and the screams
of the occupants for help could be heard above the roar
of the waters. About two miles below town the flood
waters created a whirlpool which caught the Wenger house
and spun it around and around until it hit the river
bank. After the flood, the largest piece of the house
that could be found was half of a door. The Wengers were
interred at the Masonic Cemetery, Trinidad, Colorado.
Antonio Salas' concern for his livestock (and his
favorite horse), cost him his life. He went to the
corral to see about the stock, and the oncoming flood
caught him before he could return to the house. He lived
west of the railroad bridge, one mile, west of town.
Demetrio Guerin and his wife, living near the pump
house, were swept away by the current. (Father Dumarest
interred Antonio Salas and the Guerins at the Catholic
Bodies were found lying down river as far as the
John's Ranch. We saddled horses and rode down the river.
The first thing that we encountered was a group of
people on the north side of the river about a mile from
town. They had discovered some of the Wheeler bodies. My
saddle, which washed away, was also there. A little
further on up the rocks, on the north side where it
begins to form a short canyon, was Antonio Salas lying
on a flat rock as though he were asleep. The next
recovery was Mrs. Wenger and a girl from the Wheelers.
We only went as far as the John's Ranch and returned to
town. All the bodies were recovered except Mrs. Rooke.
Her body wasn't recovered until the following spring,
when it was discovered by Dan Harvey as he was burning a
windrow of driftwood. He found a shoe and upon further
examination discovered it to be the body of the heroine
of the flood. Having no family, the Masonic Lodge
arranged the funeral service for Sally, an Eastern Star
The flood of August 27, 1908 was caused by a
cloudburst on the Trinchera Pass. Part of the water went
Trinchera way and part Folsom way. If by chance all of
the water had gone either way, it would have completely
wiped out the town.
The Owens Ranch was where the alarm was first
sounded. The Owens were some of the first settlers in
this part of the country and had seen many floods go
down the river. They told Sally Rooke that this was one
of the worst that they had ever seen. It was the worst
that anyone had seen.
The river path through town prior to the flood of
1908 meandered. Later a straight channel was dug and it
carries water quite nicely to this day.
Escape for Tom Honey
Tom Honey was out with Sheriff Tabor and got into
Folsom late. It looked like a bad storm was coming up.
Dan Wenger asked him to stay the night with them. Tom
thanked him and said he had better get home. His horse
made it home in fifteen minutes without striking up a
Tom got home just before the flood. He told Mrs.
Honey to call Folsom and tell them to go to higher
ground. It was too late; the storm had already broken
the telephone lines. Tom went to Folsom the next day
because he knew there was trouble. Mr. Wenger and family
and many others were washed away. Tom spent days helping
to find the bodies.
Memory of the 17 Lives Lost August 2, 1908
Sarah J. "Sally" Rooke, Telephone Switchboard
Thomas W. Wheeler, Husband of Lula; brother of
Lula Cox Wheeler, Wife of Thomas; sister of Willie
Willie Cox Wheeler, Wife of Charles; sister of Lula
Infant Son Wheeler, 4 day old son of Charles and
Mrs. Cox, Mother of Lula, Willie and Theler
Theler Cox, Age 13 years; sister of Lula and Willie
Walter Wheeler, Age 8 years; Son of Thomas and Lula
Vera Wheeler, Daughter of Thomas and Lula Wheeler
Charles Wheeler, Brother of Thomas Wheeler; husband
of Willie Cox
Dan B. Wenger, Husband and Father
Mrs. Dan B. Wenger, Wife and Mother
Daisy Wenger, Daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Dan B. Wenger
Mrs. Demetrio Guerin