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A pig in a poke or a bear in a rowboat?

By Linda Emley

Like many others in Ray County, I’m tired of all this rain. I heard someone the other day make the comment that is how the Flood of ‘93 started.

I love to sit on a porch and listen to the rain, but there is nothing worse than planning an outdoor event and then getting rained out. I have several events coming up that a little rain could really affect.

I’ve heard that many of the little league baseball leagues are already having make-up games, so there goes the free Saturdays they were counting on. Since rain is on our minds, I want to share some of the stories from the Flood of ‘51 and throw in a few short stories on one of my favorite local history tales.

On July 20, 1951, the Richmond News published a letter that the Ray County Flood Disaster Committee sent to Washington, D.C.

Our Ray County guys did not waste time contacting their congressman. They went straight to the top. The Richmond News read, “Ask President for $250,000 For Flood Aid. – Telegram Sent to Truman Last Night Lists Extent of Disaster Here.”

The Flood Disaster Committee was a group of farmers from Orrick, Camden, Henrietta and Hardin. W.G. Calvert was the president, Luman Offutt of Orrick was the vice president, R.W. Eslinger of Hardin was the treasurer and Nelson Hill was the secretary. “The Honorable Harry S. Truman, President of the United States, Washington, D.C. As you know from first-hand knowledge, the flood disaster in the Missouri River Valley is of such stupendous magnitude that local relief measures are entirely inadequate.”

They explained that 65,000 acres of crops had been destroyed and 400 farmers had suffered heavy losses. They also mentioned the health issues from dead animals due to the large number of animals that perished in the Kansas City stockyards. They estimated the loss in destroyed crops in the bottoms of Ray County to be $4 million. They closed with, “The need is urgent, and the farmers of Ray County will deeply appreciate any assistance you can give them.”

I thought it was interesting that the farmers of Ray County sent their request to President Harry Truman, but after you think about it, everyone in Ray County felt like Harry was their “main man” because he had spent time here hanging out at Pryor Lodge. Then I got to wondering what happened to Pryor Lodge during the great Flood of ‘51.

I had the 1951 Richmond News on a table in the library at the Ray County Museum and we had been having fun all week reading it. Jenne Sue Layman was reading the news about the flood and then she found the answer to my question about Pryor Lodge.

On May 31, 1951, there was a sale at Pryor Lodge because J.J. Pryor had sold his farm. Little did he know that in just a few weeks, the whole place would be under water when the Sunshine bottoms flooded. “The Sunshine Lake levee at Three Chance Lake broke at noon today leaving a gap in the 15-foot-high dike about 50 feet long. At Sunshine Lake every cabin was covered with water and was up on the roof of the two-story structure of Uncle Sam’s camp.”

The Quindaro Boat Club of Kansas City had planned its first boat race at Sunshine Lake for July 8. Forty boats were entered, with two women drivers, but their plans got changed. They rescheduled for the following week but that did not help. “Boat Races Planned for Sunday, July 15, at Sunshine Lake have been postponed because of flood waters. A new date will be set and advertised later.”

There was not much fun going on around Ray County but there was one thing that helped entertain everyone while they waited for the flood to be over. On June 29, the Richmond News had this: “Gigging is Legal In Overflow Water. Ray Donahoe, conservation agent for Ray County, says gigging of fish and frogs for food purpose is legal in overflow water. This is ‘water caused wholly by temporary formation or overflow,’ according to the wildlife code book. The fish or frogs must be taken with a gig or pitchfork and not by hand, net or shooting.”

So what did J.J. Pryor have for sale at his auction? “As I have sold my farm, I will sell at public auction at the farm, four miles south and west of Henrietta, three miles west of highway 13, known as the J.J. Pryor Lodge on Sunshine Lake. J.J. Pryor, owner. Lunch will be served by the ladies of the Henrietta Methodist Church. Col. Paul Farabee auctioneer, Mrs. Paul Farabee, Clerk.”

There was a long list of farm equipment. He sold an International tractor with all the extras like a rake, a harrow and a drill seeder. Then there was a list of horse-drawn items like a five-foot mower and low wagon wheel frame. Some other items were an anvil, a forge, two pitchforks, blacksmith tools, 100-gallon gas tank, 100 gallons of gas, a Johnson outboard motor, 275 bales of hay, 250 bushels of corn, a water tank and a mule.

I am guessing he took his prize horses with him. Some household items were sold: six double chairs, two iron beds, three kitchen tables, a small bar, six kitchen chairs, two wicker large-back chairs, three porch tables, two porch rugs, two more beds, a table with leaves, two mirrors, a cook stove, a small desk  and a porch swing and a bear in a cage.

Well, it sounded pretty normal until we got to the bear in a cage. I want to know who bought the bear and what they did with it. I have visions of a pick-up truck driving down a gravel road with a bear riding in the back.

J.J. was lucky that he sold out a few days before the flood hit, but I think it was very lucky for the bear because it would have been really hard to evacuate a bear in a rowboat. Please give me a call if you know the rest of the storyon what happened to J.J. Pryor’s bear.

We were recently contacted by a local family that has a J.J. Pryor item they plan to donate to the museum, so watch for a story about him.

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