Life on the Edge: 8 Harrowing Tales from the American Frontier
Life on the Edge: 8 Harrowing Tales from the American Frontier

Life on the Edge: 8 Harrowing Tales from the American Frontier

Robert Ranstadler - September 3, 2017

Life on the Edge: 8 Harrowing Tales from the American Frontier
Sketch of the Great Flood of 1862. View of the corner of L and Fourth Streets, Sacramento.

The Great Flood of 1862

The final entry to make our list of harrowing tales is another horrific act of nature. Still considered one of the greatest natural disasters in the history of the American West, the Great Flood of 1862 remains the largest flood on record for the states of California, Oregon, and Nevada to this day. Precipitated by unprecedented amounts of rain, snow, and a freakishly warm storm during the winter months of 1861/1862, the flood washed away dozens of towns along the swelling Columbia River. From as far north as Oregon, all the way southern reaches of New Mexico, rushing waters devastated anyone or anything that stood in their path.

Recent studies reveal that a powerful weather pattern, like an El Niño type of jet stream, propelled a mile-high ribbon of heavy water vapor down through California from regions further north, such as modern-day Washington and parts of British Columbia. This 250-300 mile-wide “atmospheric river” played havoc with conventional weather patterns in the region, causing major precipitation across the Pacific Northwest and parts of northern California.

The unusual and unpredictable nature of the event, coupled with a lack of modern weather advisories and disaster relief agencies, complicated the catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of Americans endured over forty days of heavy rainfall and ceaseless floodwaters while fighting for their very survival.

Overall effects of the flooding varied by region but few were left unscathed. Steamboats in Oregon could run Willamette Falls, which normally stood over forty feet high. Linn City, Champoeg, and Orleans were completely wiped off the map and never rebuilt. Trapped miners faced starvation in parts of Idaho. California’s Central Valley was completely submerged under raging waters that swallowed entire towns. Although total deaths only numbered in the double digits, local infrastructure, livestock, and economies were completely rocked by the event. Recovering from the disaster took well over a decade and left thousands impoverished or desolate for generations after the flood.


Sources For Further Reading:

History Net – Hugh Glass: The Truth Behind the Revenant Legend

Telegraph – The Revenant: What Was Real and What Was Fake?

The Hollywood Reporter – The Real Story of ‘The Revenant’ Is Far Weirder (and Bloodier) Than the Movie

Natchez MS – The Great Natchez Tornado of 1840

American Heritage – Who Invented Scalping?

History Net – In 1876 George Custer Was Not Scalped, But Yellow Hair Was the ‘First Scalp for Custer’

JSTOR – The Truth Behind Buffalo Bill’s Scalping Act

Wikipedia – Buffalo Soldier Tragedy Of 1877

History Collection – The Notorious Men of the Wild West

History Collection – 12 Notorious Wild West Outlaws