The late 1920s before the Great Depression officially began was a time of true hardship for all Arkansans. It might be hard for us to really wrap our heads around the shocking events that took place. Natural disaster after natural disaster spelled out ruin for our beautiful natural state, and the aftermath affected everyone. The Flood of 1927 still holds the record for the worst flood in our Arkansas’ history and remains as one of the worst in the entire United States’ history. The flooding affected several states along the Mississippi River, but out of all of them, Arkansas was the hardest hit. Well over 6,000 square miles along the entire length of the Mississippi River flooded. This essentially meant that almost half of the counties in Arkansas had flooded waters, up to thirty feet deep in some locations.
There were many reasons for the scale of the flood to have been as destructive as it was. The previous summer had been a wet one, so the Mississippi River was already starting to back up. Very heavy rainfall fell in the spring of 1927, further swelling the river’s banks. The rainfall was so heavy and consistent that the ground could not soak up any more. One example would be that in April in Little Rock, seven inches fell in only a few hours. All of the rivers were backed up, especially along the Mississippi River, as were all of the levees. At this time, the nation was enjoying the economic boom before the Great Depression, and everyone was able to borrow money from banks very easily on credit. For Arkansans, especially along the Mississippi River, which is rich in nutrients and perfect for farming, this meant that farmers could and did borrow money for levees along the river so that they could, theoretically, expand their crops closer to the banks. This practice was logical in some ways, but did not look to the future at all, and showed the naivety of that time. Things were going great, and hence, they would always be going great, was essentially the mindset.
Disaster struck when the levees started to break. There was just too much water, and they were not structured to withstand the extensive amount of pressure the Mississippi River was generating. To put the effects of this flood into perspective, consider 750,000 people. That is, approximately, the number of people in the United States affected by the flood, most of them left homeless. In Arkansas alone, the number of people affected reached 350,000 or more. Almost 100 people were killed in the initial flood, which is 100 too many, of course, but if the population had been as condensed as it is today, the numbers would have been even higher, I’m afraid.
The staggering number of homeless meant that more relief camps were needed than ever before, and the Red Cross and volunteers from all over did the best that they could, but there were many lessons that were hard-learned. More on that next time.