It's not difficult to understand why the Algonkian-speaking Indians who lived along the Mississippi River named it the "Great River" and the "Father of Waters" (Misi, meaning "big" and Sipi, meaning "water"). The Mighty Mississippi and its great tributaries are literally the lifeline of North America, meandering through some 40 percent of the continental United States.
The Indians learned to adapt to the periodic flooding of the river, but the early white settlers determined to conquer it. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a disorganized series of levees began to appear along the lower Mississippi to protect farmland.
By 1879, Congress had created the Mississippi River Commission to implement a uniform flood-control plan in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Since both groups were convinced that levees were the best measure for flood control, by 1900 a wall of earth stretched for a thousand miles or more on both sides of the river from Cairo, Illinois, to the Gulf of Mexico.
This system did little to control the flooding. In fact, ironically, the more the Corp of Engineers sought to control the river, the more the river sought to escape its boundaries. Between 1858 and 1922, the river eroded, crumbled and burst violently through the levees eleven times to flood the farmlands beyond. But these floods would seem tame compared to the Flood of 1927.
Prelude to Disaster
In April, 1926, the Army Corps of Engineers, having just finished constructing levees stretching from Cairo, Illinois, to New Orleans, Louisiana, publicly declared that the levee system along the Mississippi River would prevent future floods. Little did they know that in little more than a year's time, not only would those levees be tested but they would fail spectacularly.
It began with a low pressure system that moved into Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas and Oklahoma in mid-August of 1926. The violent storm poured out heavy amounts of rain before moving east into Iowa and Missouri then Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. It lasted for several days before breaking.
Within 48 hours, a second low pressure system moved up the Mississippi Valley, followed closely by a third system, pouring more rain into the same areas.
By September 1, the banks of dozens of rivers overflowed and flooded towns from Carroll, Iowa, to Peoria, Illinois, 350 miles apart. Three days later, much of Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana were saturated and flooding. Another storm system moved in and the flooding stretched from Terre Haute, Indiana to Jacksonville, Illinois. The Illinois River at Beardstown, Illinois, reached flood stage on September 5 and remained in flood for 273 of the next 307 days.
The Neosho River in southeastern Kansas overflowed on September 13, killing five people and causing millions in damage. Over a three-day period, northwestern Iowa received fifteen inches of rain in the Floyd River, Sioux River and Dry Creek valleys, rowning ten more people and adding millions more to the damage. The floods covered 50,000 acres, including Sioux City.
On September 18, while the American Red Cross rushed its special disaster team to Iowa, the waters near Omaha rose to threatening levels. All through September and into early October, it rained. South Dakota and Oklahoma joined the states that were flooded.
Along 1,100 miles of the lower Mississippi, from Cairo to the Gulf, two and three story high levees were all that held back the river. It wasn't enough. The Mississippi overflowed above Cairo plunging tens of thousands of acres under water. Late in October the rains subsided. But it was a brief break. Six weeks later, more storms hit the Mississippi valley.
On December 13, the temperature dropped 66 degrees in eighteen hours when a snow storm hit South Dakota. In Minnesota, there were reports of snowdrifts ten feet high. Helena, Montana, received 29.42 inches of snow. As the storm moved south and east, the snow turned to rain. Little Rock reported 5.8 inches in one day, Memphis 4.11 inches, and Johnson City, Tennessee, 6.3 inches.
By Christmas, heavy flooding became widespread throughout the Mississippi Valley. The Cumberland River rose to its highest recorded level and flooded Chattanooga. The Big Sandy River dividing West Virginia and Kentucky overflowed its banks. The Yazoo River overflowed and left hundreds homeless.
The US Weather Bureau noted that the average reading through the last three months of 1926 on every single river gauge on the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi (the three greatest rivers in North America, encompassing nearly one million square miles and stretching the width of the continent) were the highest ever known.
By New Years Day, 1927, the Mississippi reached flood stage in Cairo, the earliest for any year on record, then the storms abated.
As Congress reconvened, representatives from Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee wired their respective governors to find out if they should seek federal aid for the flooded districts. The governors all wired back that no help would be needed.
The storms returned.
In New Orleans, hundreds of men started topping the levee January 17 when a hole was found near a ferry landing. An emergency bulkhead placed across Bayou St. John had already been washed out and repaired.
Pittsburgh, caught between the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers where they converge to form the Ohio River, was flooded by January 23. Five days later the Ohio flooded downtown Cincinnati.
Waters that reached the Mississippi were rising higher and higher. Unseasonably high waters had prevented the levees from being repaired, as would be normal during low water stages, the previous fall. The weight of the overburdened river was pushing against the saturated levees.
Levees on the White and Little Red Rivers in Arkansas gave way on February 4, flooding more than 100,000 acres under ten to fifteen feet of water and leaving 5,000 homeless.
A week later, New Orleans received 5.54 inches of rain in 24 hours. Similarly heavy rains deluged most of the lower Mississippi valley.
As March opened, a second flood struck Pittsburgh, while a severe blizzard dumped record snowfalls on Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, where buildings gave way under the weight of the snow. The blizzard hit Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, and parts of Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas as well.
Further south, it rained.
The Tennessee River flooded for a second time in a few weeks, while in Mississippi, an additional four inches fell and, as paranoia and panic set in, the Mississippi National Guard mobilized to protect the levees from saboteurs.
Between March 17-20, three different tornadoes hit the lower Mississippi valley, killing 45 people. The high winds from the storms that spawned the tornadoes whipped the Mississippi into a frenzy of whitecaps and sent waves crashing against the levees, doing severe damage to the already weakened levee system.
The man in charge of the Mississippi River Commission's Memphis district, Major Donald Connolly, said, "If the river does not go any higher than has been forecast by the meteorologist at Memphis, no serious trouble with the United States levee system is anticipated."
The next day, levees along the St. Francis River broke in three places, pouring waters into Missouri and Arkansas. All along the levees men were mobilizing to fight the raging river. More and more, homeowners, farmers and merchants alike volunteered and worked shoulder-to-shoulder with federal units and groups of blacks and convicts who were pressed into work-gangs to save the levees. Men, women and children worked in whatever fashion they could to help with the efforts.
On March 29, the Laconia Circle levee, the oldest in Arkansas, sloughed into the Mississippi. It was not a federal levee but it was a good one, and its collapse was ominous. Engineers sounding the bottom to gauge river depth could find none.
While the Yazoo and Sunflower Rivers rampaged through the delta, officials of the American Red Cross, anticipating that local resources would not be adequate for the disaster expected, gathered in Natchez, Mississippi, to plan for refugee camps. A major concern must have been that the weather was unseasonably cold, dipping into the 30s, even in the Delta.
In the west, a storm killed two in Oklahoma City on March 31, crippled railroads and inundated highways. At St. Louis, the Mississippi rose six feet in 24 hours and poured into Cape Girardeau to the south. The White and St. Francis Rivers in Arkansas were miles wide.
In the east, the Ohio River from West Virginia to Kentucky was rising two feet every 24 hours. From Cairo south, every levee board was operating around the clock. In April, the rains continued.
On April 8, Major Connolly still insisted, "The government levees are safe. We do not expect a break anywhere along the line of the levees, although some of the private levees may give way. The situation is well in hand."
But storms that very day devastated a wide area, stretching from Oklahoma to Kansas. Railroads were paralyzed; the streets of Erie, Kansas, were under four feet of water; the Neosho River levee burst, flooding thousands of acres; in El Dorado, Arkansas, the Ouachita killed four members of one family.
As of April 9, the upper Mississippi from Iowa south was in flood; the Ohio below the mouth of the Green was in flood; the Missouri from Kansas City east was high; the St. Francis, Black and White Rivers approached record levels; and the Arkansas was the highest since 1833. Below the Arkansas River, the Ouachita, Black and Red Rivers were rising; the Yazoo, Sunflower and Tallahatchie in Mississippi, in flood for three months, were rising. And the Mississippi below the mouth of the Arkansas, also long since in flood, was rising.
Major Connolly still insisted, "We are in condition to hold all the water in sight…" while confidentially, in New Orleans, Guy Deano, head of the Orleans Levee Board, informed a city councilman, "From the forecast, we are given to understand the water level will reach… extreme high water. Under the law the levee board authorities are authorized to proceed under the extreme emergency."
On April 12, a tornado more than one mile in width, whipped through Rock Springs, Texas, at 7:45 p.m., virtually whipping out the town and killing 72 people, injuring 205 more, and causing $1.2 million in damage. Huge hailstones fell in the aftermath of the tornado, bruising many survivors. Destroyed were 235 of the 247 buildings in the town.
On April 13, tornadoes ripped through twelve states.
Good Friday, April 15, Arkansas Senator T. H. Caraway wired Secretary of War Dwight Davis: "Every available house and box car and tent at Helena and all of Phillips County is in use to house refugees from the overflowed section and still hundreds unprovided for…Situation demands immediate action."
That same morning, the temperatures in parts of Oklahoma and Texas dropped 30 degrees in a few hours. Angry winds whipped across hundreds of miles and, at the Mississippi, the waves pounded relentlessly at the levees.
In eighteen hours, fifteen inches of rain fell on New Orleans, exceeding one-fourth of the city's annual rainfall total of 55 inches. Water stood in the streets up to four feet.
Between six and fifteen inches fell on an area as far north as Cairo, as far west as Little Rock and as far east as Jackson, covering several hundred square miles. Near Hickman, Kentucky, the Mississippi River rose seven feet in one day.
While a number of the private and state levees had been overwhelmed by the floods relentless tide, the government levees still held.
On Saturday, April 16, the first government levee burst at Dorena, Mississippi, 30 miles below Cairo. Twelve hundred feet of the levee simply crumbled under the weight of the Mississippi, flooding 175,000 acres. Additional levees crumbled in Missouri and Illinois, and at Whitehall Landing, the St. Francis River and Big Lake in Arkansas.
On April 19, near New Madrid, Missouri, a mile-wide section of the levee burst open, flooding as much as one million acres in Missouri and Arkansas. Near Pine Bluff, a crevasse in the Arkansas River doomed another 150,000 acres.
The same day, tornadoes tore across four states to the west, killing 31 people. The next day, the same storms entered the lower Mississippi region.
The 720 mile long White River and the 1,459 mile long Arkansas River flow into the Mississippi River only a few miles apart. By April the area between them was entirely submerged as the overburdened rivers came together as one. The combined force of the White-Arkansas Rivers shook the levees on both sides of the Mississippi River as they poured into it in volumes exceeding three million cubic feet of water per second.
On April 21, the levee at a ferry landing eighteen miles north of Greenville near Mound Landing, Mississippi, broke. At 8 a.m. thousands of terrified workers watched as the flood waters rushed first over, then through the deepening crevasse. For three miles inland, the river savaged the land, leaving a deep lake that remains to this day. Twenty-five miles away, in Leland, the flood came "in waves five or six feet deep…" and would eventually cover an area 50 miles wide and 100 miles long up to a depth of twenty feet. Seventy-five miles south, in Yazoo City, the waters reached the tops of houses. A total of 185,459 people fled from their homes to the safety of refugee camps. Almost 70,000 were still living in the camps five months later.
A few hours later, the levee at Pendleton, Arkansas, gave way. Its southward path covered Desha County, then further south into Chicot and Ashley Counties. Only the bulk of Overflow Hill in Ashley County stopped the waters from spreading further.
By April 22, downtown Greenville, Mississippi, was under ten feet of water. On April 23, the Inspector, an ocean-going molasses tanker, accidentally rammed a levee south of New Orleans at the Junior Plantation causing yet another breach and sparked panic among the citizens of the town.
On April 24, an Arkansas River levee near Pine Bluff washed out, spilling waters into more than 100,000 acres of Arkansas. Later, the Glasscock levee near Baton Rouge crumbled. By April 29, the situation in New Orleans was desperate. Governor James Thomson, with the approval of Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover and Chief Engineer Edgar Jadwin, authorized a plan to dynamite the levee at Caernarvon, thirteen miles below Canal Street. The first attempt failed, producing only a trickle of water over the levee. On May 3, diver Ted Hebert made a second attempt, volunteering to plant the charges under the batture. Thirty-nine tons of dynamite blasted a hole in the levee, and the waters rushed through at the rate of 250,000 cubic feet per second. New Orleans escaped any serious disaster, but the waters flooded Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes.
On May 2, the Yazoo River levee at Cabin Teele, Louisiana, yielded to the pounding waves, flooding land as far west as Monroe, 75 miles away.
Six days later, waves began to batter the Bayou des Glaises levee. Thousands of men piled sandbags over the levee. It continued to hold until the rains began again. Within three days, miles of the levee simply crumbled away at a spot between Long Bridge and Cottonport. Other breaks at Kleinwood, Bordelonville, Willard Station, Moreauville and Hamburg, all in Louisiana, followed. Hundreds of millions of tons of water hurtled through the crevasses south towards the sea. It took the waters only two days to destroy the entire Bayou des Glaises levee system.
On May 9, after causing five deaths in Arkansas, a tornado devastated Poplar Bluff, Missouri, killing 98 people and injuring 300 more.
The waters continued southwest toward the city of Melville and the raging Atchafalaya River. By May 17, the waters created a 2,000 feet wide hole in a levee on the Atchafalaya. New Orleans escaped serious damage, but the diversion annihilated much of the marsh traditionally trapped by the Canary Islanders whose 18th century fore parents had colonized Louisiana for Spain. "The water leaped the crevasse with fury," reported a contributor to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "Breakers were shooting through and leaping over each other way up into the streets of the town. [The flood] swept everything before it. Washtubs, work benches, household furniture, chickens and domestic animals were floating away."
A week later, on May 24, a 700 foot stretch of the east bank levee of the Atchafalaya near McCrea dropped into the river. The breach created a wall of water forty feet high and almost twenty miles wide. Another 150,000 people were made homeless by the last crevasse of the Flood of 1927.
Ashley County and the Flood of 1927
By Thursday, April 21 the White and Arkansas Rivers were one river as the area between them was submerged by the flood waters. As they roared out of Arkansas into the Mississippi River, the raging rivers shook the levee near Mound Landing, Mississippi.
E.D. Gregory of Parkdale was a schoolboy in the spring of 1927. "I remember," he said, "in early April we were afraid the Mississippi levee was going to break. Sand boils caused by water seepage under the levee kept appearing. To relieve the pressure, they used sand bags and encircled the boils to the height of the levee forming chimneys."
Everyone knew that when the levee gave way, people on the opposite side of the river would be safe. Once the tremendous pressure of the raging waters was given an outlet the level of the river would go down.
At 8:00 a.m. that Thursday morning, Lt. E.C. Sanders, in charge of the National Guard at Mound Landing, Mississippi, was on the phone to General Alexander G. Paxton, commander of the National Guard units at Greenville, saying, "We can't hold it much longer…" What followed were three words that Paxton recalled in his book, Three Wars and a Flood, would haunt him forever."There she goes!"
While the residents of Ashley and its neighboring counties must have sighed in relief, the Mississippi Delta was in a state of panic. As Paxton recalled later, "The fire whistle was blowing repeatedly and people were swarming down the streets in throngs. Pandemonium broke out everywhere."
That morning in Ashley County was quite different.
"Shortly after we got to school that morning they asked for volunteers to work on the levee at Panther Forest north of Lake Village," recalled E.D. Gregory. "We had a bunch of sacks and were shoveling dirt to fill those bags," he recalled in a feature story by Linda McCay in the Ashley County Ledger.
"We worked until shortly past noon and the Corps of Engineers boat came over and told us the levee had broken. We found out later it had broken at Scott, Mississippi. You could see the water beginning to fall away."
"They said we could go home, but first they fed us from the Corps of Engineers cook boat. The cook boat was going to each group that was working on the levee. We had baked sweet potatoes, fried dry salt meat and cornbread."
"It made us feel good, of course, about the water dropping."
The relief was short-lived however. Within hours, the Pendleton levee on the Arkansas side of the river crumbled under the combined force of the Mississippi-Arkansas-White Rivers. The waters moved northwest along the Arkansas River, which was already in flood to as far west as the Oklahoma border, while the remaining waters rushed south covering Desha County and parts of Lincoln and Drew Counties. Called the "Pike's Peak of Arkansas" during the flood, Dumas was completely surrounded by the flood waters for more than three weeks. Arkansas City was totally inundated. Refugees moved south and west in advance of the flood waters as, the initial energy spent at the crevasse, it continued to move southward at the rate of about fourteen miles a day.
"There was a total of over ten thousand refugees in Monticello alone; all the homes in that city were thrown open to the stricken people," reported the Dermott News.
By Monday, April 25, the water was pouring into McGehee. Late afternoon found the highway between Dermott and McGehee impassable. The following morning, north and east Dermott was covered by water.
Friday evening, at 4:45 p.m., the South Bend levee gave way. As news came that the city could expect an additional three to fifteen feet of water from the new break, G.E. Kinney, editor of the Dermott News, later recalled, "There was panic in the city."
Paradoxically, while the waters covered Dermott, the Allied Theatre was showing a film starring Douglas MacLean entitled Let it Rain.
As the flood moved further south into Chicot and Ashley Counties, Montrose was inundated.
"The water moved in fast," recalled Victor Edwards, who managed to keep his drug store open by sandbagging and attempting to keep the water pumped out.
E.D. Gregory found he had little time to panic. "I spent my time in the saddle, moving the livestock, mostly horses and mules, into the hills. I was riding with Tom Durham's father, C.L. Durham. He was the farm manager. People would leave their fence gates open so everyone could move their livestock through to high ground. Mr. Durham knew where the gates and high places were, but before we were through, we were swimming our horses.
"You could stand at Sunshine, Mr. Foster was overseer there, you could stand and see the water gradually rising. It didn't excite me cause I knew I could swim."
Others in the area weren't so sure.
A.J. Harris was in school when he was told to go home because the levee had broken. "By the time I got home around two that afternoon, the water was at the edge of the woods, backing up. It was clear. The artesian well at Portland stopped flowing at eight that night, and the water started running east into Cammack Pond. My parents stayed up all night watching it," he recalled.
"You could hear the water coming. It was making a terrible roaring," recalled Amos Watson of Portland, who was seven years old in April of 1927.
"You could see it coming from way off," recalled Peck Wells, who was ten. "I heard it coming through the woods; it was rattling the leaves as it picked them up and pushed them along. In less than thirty minutes time after we first heard it, the horses were swimming. It got fourteen feet off the ground and it got up to the eaves."
Portland was the only land above water for as far as one could see, a small sanctuary for the hundreds of people who gathered there.
"The farmers fled to Portland," said Earl Cochran. "The barns were full of people. The Red Cross set up tents and soup kitchens."
Whether people swam, walked, boated or rode, the Red Cross Emergency Relief Camps filled quickly. In Ashley County, the relief agency set up camps at Crossett, Hamburg, Montrose, Parkdale, Portland, Wilmot and Boydell.
"In all those towns the Red Cross had kitchens," Gregory recalled. "The Missouri-Pacific railroad moved in empty boxcars for refugees to live in if they couldn't get to Hamburg or Bastrop. The Red Cross just took over. There's no telling how many people were helped."
"We stayed in a train box car for three days and then we moved into J.W. Pugh's warehouse by the Methodist Church. Four families lived in there for a month until the water went down. They [the Red Cross] fed us. We would get in line and get a bowl of soup. Mother cooked meat which she had brought with us," recalled Amos Watson.
According to Chesley Virginia Barnes Young of Hamburg, a nameless daredevil airplane pilot became a savior to the refugees in Hamburg. "One day in Hamburg when I was about eight years old, I was walking up to my father's office when an airplane suddenly appeared and buzzed the town square. Hardly any people were around, but some of the store keepers ran out and told pedestrians to get inside. We watched from the store doorways while the pilot signaled and buzzed the square again a couple of times. The pilot then flew very low and dropped a package that didn't look very heavy. It landed right in front of the doorway where I was standing, just as if it was meant for me. Then, he flew away.
"I went out into the street with Mr. Oliver Norman the store owner's son. The package was addressed to my father, Dr. L.C. Barnes, of Hamburg. A man came and picked it up and I said, ‘I'll go with you. It's for my father.'
"When we met daddy, a grin of relief covered his face. Hundreds of flood victims were camped at the fairgrounds and an emergency supply of vaccine had come just in time to avert possible disaster."
Many families in the low-lying areas "headed for the hills" when they saw the water coming. Jake White of Portland sent his family to Snyder. "He got us together and sent us to Montrose to catch the train to Synder and go to grandmother Howie's house," recalled his son Austin. "The water was over the road and track in some places." "People walked in front of the train to make sure it was staying on the track," said Millard Pamplin, who also rode a train from Snyder to Montrose. "The water was nearly waist deep."
Rosa Ransom Bonds of Negro Bend fled with her husband and stepmother. "We had to go through Bastrop to get to Hamburg. We passed people along the road with bundles on their heads and shoulders. They were trying to get to dry land." At Sunshine, the "water was coming so fast that you could be standing away from it and it would ease up on you. The water was pouring in from the west out of the bayou."
The flood inundated Thebes at the foot of Overflow Hill. Bearhouse Creek backed up and overflowed. Refugees from the persistent waters struggled to find anyplace that was still above water.
"People were coming in wagon after wagon to the hills," said Henry Austin of Mt. Pleasant. "They camped out or stayed with families."
"People were coming in by the hundreds," said Alcus Burney of Line. "They got in empty houses and barns and anywhere they could."
Only the bulk of Overflow Hill stopped the waters from spreading further west in Ashley County. Young Billy Lindsey of Hamburg recalled that someone took him out to Overflow Hill during the flood and "there was water out there as far as he could see."
As the water continued south, it joined the Ouachita River and turned northeastward moving through Bradley and Union Counties towards El Dorado. At Moro Creek, it branched off again and moved through Bradley and Cleveland Counties to as far north as Ivan and Princeton.
In effect, the only portion of Ashley County above the flood plain was an approximately 25-mile wide stretch of land from the Louisiana border to the Drew County line, and extending as far north as Star City.
"Everything was gone when she got back," said Estelle Morris Jones of her great-aunt from Montrose. "She took what she could and made do."
As the waters gradually receded, people began returning to homes devastated by the flood. Some were able to return in two weeks while others waited as long as four weeks.
"The house was full of mud," said Peck Wells. "We had only moved the essentials. We lost all our bedding."
"It was pitiful," said Rosa Ransom Bonds of her first view of Montrose on her way home. "The water had such an odor. It had dead people and dead animals in it. We had a friend at Boydell who had two sons to drown. Plenty people died in the flood."
According to A.J. Harris, Richard Lee drowned trying to bring his family out from the Guy Lindsey place. "He was under water for three weeks. When they found him, his body was tangled in a wire fence. He was buried on the edge of the field at the Lindsey place. There used to be four tombstones there."
But, despite the devastation and true to the spirit of the land, the residents of Ashley County persevered.
"We planted crops late," Earl Cochran said, "but we didn't make much. The different currents changed the texture of the land. It switched the soil. It helped some land and ruined some."
While the devastation was plain, there were hidden benefits to the flood.
"The flood deposited sand on the Radford farm," E.D. Gregory said. "Made it good, sandy, loamy soil, really improved the quality of it."
"Places where the water had come up were left clean," said Rosa Sims. "Everything flourished pretty good. Berry and muscadines were plentiful. We gathered scaly barks and hickory nuts by the bucketful for fireside eating during the winter. There were also plenty of fish."
"Dewberries were everywhere. And you could catch fish everywhere with your bare hands," recalled Peck Wells. "For the first time, the waters were full of white perch. They are similar to crappie."
While some people decided that "enough was enough" and never returned to the lowlands, the majority of Ashley County went on with the only lives they have ever known. Although there had been disasters before and have been afterward, the Flood of 1927 will probably always stand out in the minds of most of the residents unfortunate enough to live through it as the most catastrophic in Ashley County's history.
By August 1927, when the flood finally subsided, the disaster had displaced about 700,000 people. Twenty-six thousand square miles were inundated to depths up to 30 feet, levees were crevassed, and cities, towns and farms lay waste. Crops were destroyed and industries and transportation paralyzed.
At a time when the federal budget barely exceeded $3 billion, the flood, directly and indirectly, caused an estimated $1 billion in property damage.
Flood Leads to New Federal Legislation
Unbeknownst to Ashley County at the time, their tragedy (and that of the whole Mississippi Delta) would not be without benefit to the inhabitants of the Delta.
On September 12, 1927, less than four months after the last crevasse of the flood, an ad hoc group of men from Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi who formed the Tri-State Flood Control Committee, gathered at the palatial home of Colonel John Fordyce in Hot Springs. Present were Herbert Hoover, then Commerce Secretary to President Calvin Coolidge and future president Arkansas Governor John Martineau, chairman of the committee; John Parker of Louisiana, vice-chairman; Leroy Percy of Mississippi, who served as secretary; and Jim Butler of Louisiana; among others.
Backed by political forces who had been demanding legislation to solve the flood problem within days of the end of the disaster, these men sat down to decide the broad outlines of the bill they would unanimously support.
The end result, arrived at in barely half-an-hour, was the foundations of the most comprehensive and expensive piece of legislation Congress had ever considered–the Flood Control Act of 1928, which gave the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the job of Mississippi River flood control.
The act authorized the Mississippi River Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers to use federal money to develop a unified flood-control system along the Mississippi River without contribution from the state or parish. The previous concept of "levees only" was expanded by the addition of controlled floodways, cutoffs and reservoirs.
The stabilization of the bank of the Mississippi River is the greatest challenge in modern flood control. Many types of protective works have been used to prevent the banks from caving in. These have included screens of wire, light timber, permeable cribs, and submerged spur dykes.
All these proved inadequate. The standard revetment now used is made of concrete mats laid together along the bank, below and above the water surface. Casting of the concrete mat squares is carried on by contract at government-owned casting fields; one of the largest is at Delta in Madison Parish.
Funds for carrying out this act and later supplemental acts have amounted over the years to hund reds of millions of dollars. These funds have made possible one of the world's largest and most complex flood control systems. The latest estimates have placed the cost of the entire flood control system at about $2 billion.