From January through April, 1986 a friend of mine and I taped stories of a number of people in the lower end of Tucker County who had survived the Flood of 1985. Rough transcriptions of many of the tapes were made – and they were put in a box. I came in possession of the box several years ago. And the box has set on a shelf in my darkroom – until now.
With the recent passing of David “Boots” Humphrey I have, with minimal editing, typed up – and present here – portions of the recordings we made regarding Boots’ heroism on that night thirty five years ago, almost to the day.
We will all miss you, Boots. Enjoy your Great Motorcycle Ride in the Sky –
[Note: The recordings of the four individuals below were all made separately, on different occasions.]
– John Warner
By the time we got back down to my place [down 72 just below town] my car was clear under water and my camper was just all but under water, and my dog was still swimming around on his chain as high as the chain let him go. They was a few of my friends there with me and they didn’t want me going out in there after him because they was afraid I would end up dead along with him. After a while he couldn’t handle it , the current was real bad. So we just had to set and watch him die.
Boots with his car and camper,
Nov. 13, 1985
The Jeep lifted up and started moving, and it flipped again and we all fell off. Mom and Dad got pushed towards the land. The first time I came up I could hear them yelling for me but I couldn’t yell back because I couldn’t breathe. I went under three or four times but I got to a briar bush and I got ahold of it and the water still kept pulling me under so I pushed my head up into the bush to try to get it stuck in it so that I would stay above water, but then the bush got washed out. So, I don’t know how, somehow I got ahold of a board. It was long and skinny and I kept ahold of it and I got to a barbed wire fence and I could stand. The water wasn’t that swift right there and I could see lights up on the hill. So I put the board up over the fence and climbed over the fence. I was going to try to get to the house or whatever the lights were. But the water picked up again and it knocked me down into the fence and I got caught in it. So I held onto the fencepost because the water was hitting me from the back, and I was stuck there. Then there was a porch or a whole wooden deck and it came and hit me in the back. I crawled up on it and laid on it until it floated into a tree. I climbed up in the tree and then the porch floated away. So I just sat there and waited.
We had been in the water all evening. I went up to the people’s house I was staying with that night up on Spruce Street. We just got in and got dried off and dry clothes on and friends of ours Steve Sturms and David Eye come in and asked us if we would go and help them look for Amy Moore. “OK”, we told them, “Yeah. You know we been out in it all night, but we will go back out with you.” So we went down to Holly Meadows and looked for her for probably six, seven hours.
FOREST BLUME, Conservation Officer:
Truthfully, deep down, I didn’t feel that there was any chance that we would ever see the girl alive again, with the way the water was rolling down there, and the fact that she couldn’t swim. I thought it would be impossible to ever see her alive. So anyhow we went ahead and took the boys down there and let them have what lights we had.
About four-thirty in the morning I seen this trailer or something clear across the water, but my light was just about dead. So some decided we was going to go home and come back in a couple hours and look for her at daylight, and I was telling them, I said, “Well, we done been out here all night so it ain’t much use to go home. We would just get home and if I know me, if I go home I am going to go to bed and I am going to be there for a while.” So I said, “Well, let’s just look a little bit longer and see if we can’t see something or somebody.”
And then after a while I saw three flashlights. And they moved down a little further, so I yelled at them and all the lights popped up.
She yelled, “Hey!” You could tell it was coming from across the water over that way , so we thought she was in that trailer, or house. Anyway, we yelled at her who all it was over there, and she yelled, “Hey!” at us three times and that was it. She wouldn’t talk to us no more.
So we started scurrying again for a boat. We walked up the street [in Parsons] and there sits Mr. Goss [Don Goss, Sr.] in his van, asleep, with his bass boat on the back of his vehicle which he had used earlier in the evening to get them people out of that house in St. George. [There is another amazing story here – JW]. So we tried to get him roused up there and see if he could get his boat in there and try to get whoever that was out there.
DON C. GOSS, SR.:
Someone flashed their light in the window, and it’s Blume, the Game Warden, and a couple fellows with him, said they can hear hollering from a rooftop down in Holly Meadows. And he asked if I could take the boat down there and try to get them. Said there wasn’t any chance of getting any other boats until later on the next day. So I said, “If we can get the boat in, we will try to get them.” So we got about half way down the lane there at Holly Meadows as far as you could get. We had to manhandle the boat, but we got it in. The Humphrey boy [Boots], lives in a camper down below town there, says, “I’m going to go with you and help,” and I says, “Well, I’m going to need help.”
Most of the Emergency people there was really tired from all the fighting the water and the people they had been helping Mr. Goss save all evening there anyway. That, and the water being so high and bad out there, that they was, you know, scared to go out in the boat. So Don, he is probably seventy some years old, I told him it was his boat, and if he wasn’t scared to take it and go out there, I wasn’t scared to go with him.
So me and him started across, and the only thing we had was Forest Blume’s flashlight and a rope. We started across, and David and Sturms was yelling at us. We couldn’t hear what they was saying for all the water roaring and the motor roaring so I told Don to shut the motor off, so he did. Turns out they was shouting to us that the telephone lines, or power lines? had got up around the boat’s motor, and we was dragging the poles down the river. The poles that had been washed out or knocked out, we was pulling them right down the river. The boat couldn’t even tell it in the water, but as soon as he shut off the motor the boat got pulled back up the river about four or five boat lengths. Then when it stopped the cable fell off, and by that time we was free-floating again. But the boat didn’t want to start back up, and in the meantime we was drifting down the river and the water was probably going fifty-five or sixty miles an hour and we was heading broadside toward a line of trees when he finally got it started.
I could hear a person hollering and I flashed the light over and she was in a tree right where the swiftest water come. There was the piece of a house in a tree there, and she was over from it. I knew that if I would run the motor right down into the tree the prop would probably hit something and then we would just have to all stay there. So there was another tree right up from it. We had this rope that the Emergency Squad had, and I told the Humphry boy, “I am going to get up next to that tree there up above her and you snatch this rope around the tree and I’ll shut off the motor.”
I didn’t even think about it being a motor boat. I said I’m not going to get into that boat for nothing.
I never been out on the water like that, and never tried to rescue anybody. I didn’t even know what the heck we was doing out there.
So I pulled about twenty, twenty-five feet of rope off the front of the boat and made a big loop, and when we come up beside the tree I throwed one arm around it and tried to reach around and grab the rope on the other side. Well, when I got the rope and pulled it back, Don shut the motor off, and about that time the current shifted the boat around and drug me almost out of the boat. The current was real fast, and I was hanging onto the tree, actually out of the boat, now, and the heel of my shoe was the only thing caught on the boat and holding it. He had to start the boat back up again and run it back up to where I could get my feet back down into the boat.
And then there wasn’t no place on the boat for me to tie the rope onto. There was no hooks or nothing on it, so I just had to hold it. I had a yellow raincoat on and like I said I had that loop there, so I just pulled the loop down over my arm. See that scar there? If I hadn’t had that raincoat on it would have been worse, but I had to hold the rope under here and hold my arm up and then just let the rope out – let it go out slow across my arm to let the boat back in far enough to where it would go into the forks of the tree where she was at.
This Humphry boy is strong. He grabbed that tree. The rope was in that swift water and I thought it was going to get away from him. He hugged that tree with his foot caught in the boat, holding it. He held on there and he got the rope around it and he let it out and you know that boat came right down there right under her feet where she was in the tree.
I really didn’t want to get into that boat. So they had trouble getting it backed up close enough where I could get on it. I finally put my foot on the motor and it slid off. So I told him, “No,” I said, “If you can’t get it back any farther then I can’t get in.” So they got it to come back a little farther and I got in.
Well, we got her into the boat there, safe. So I asked Mr. Goss if the boat would start, and he said, “Yeah, it would start.” And I said, “Well, start it – make sure here before I turn loose of the rope.” So it started and I turned loose of the rope and I told him to Go!, and we come back to near the shore line.
Well, I got out of the boat and into the water there, got her out, and then I didn’t realize I was so hyper, I guess from being out there fighting all that water and everything. Until I picked her up and got her in my arms I didn’t realize that I was that tired, and my arms started shaking. So I had to get her on my back and carry her through the water to where I could hand her off to another guy that had just come up there.
We got lucky. Got her out of that tree and got the boat out of there without getting anybody else hurt or anything. But I guess some people wasn’t as fortunate that night.
Boots had taken his coat off and wrapped it around that little old girl and he came up through the water there carrying her on his back. Well, I never thought I would see the day. Like a lot of people, I had just thought he was worthless. I never thought I would see the day it would ever happen, but I took my coat off and give it to Boots – and I took it off and was proud to give it to that old boy now.