1910: The Palouse River Floods Colfax

"Hundreds Homeless at Colfax - Driven to the Hillsides by Raging Floods - Houses Swept Away by the Rushing Waters"

The front-page headline of the March 3, 1910 edition of the Spokane Daily Chronicle described nearly 500 residents of Colfax as they were left without shelter as the Palouse River flooded homes, businesses and railroad depots. Although it suffered the worst devastation, Colfax was, by no means, the only town affected by the raging waters of the relatively small, yet powerful and dangerous river. Every community in the region near the Palouse River and even its tributaries, such as Pine Creek and Latah Creek, were subsequently inundated as well. Residents of the Palouse region who lived near the rivers and creeks had learned to live with floods occurring every ten years or so, but never had they witnessed anything like the 1910 floods. As settlers transformed the grasslands and forests of the Palouse to support industrialized agriculture and logging, they unleashed forces that would wreak havoc on their frontier communities.

As an unseasonably warm February in 1910 moved into March, the creeks and streams that flowed into the Palouse began turning into raging torrents. The warm weather caused a dense snow-pack to melt, which, combined with recent heavy rains and winds, forced the river beyond its banks and into nearby towns and fields. Before area residents had a chance to begin flood preparations, the river was already at flood stage. On February 28, local newspapers mentioned the river rising rapidly and wondered of the possibility of a major flood. By March 2, Hangman Bridge at Latah Creek was completely
washed-out and Colfax and Rosalia (among others) were under an average of three-feet of frigid, rushing water. On March 4, as the waters began to recede, Colfax and Moscow were left "completely cut-off from the outside world" and were without trains, or even a telegraph wire. In fact, the Spokane & Inland Empire train depot was washed from its foundation, slamming into another building over 200 yards away. Colfax suffered an estimated loss of around $300,000.00.

The extreme damage created by the flood forced a Colfax Gazette reporter to ask, "Is this the winter of our discontent?" Fortunately, there were no deaths caused by the floods and the afflicted communities immediately rebuilt. If anything, Colfax was only strengthened as a community as a result of the rebuilding efforts and the stories of individual bravery which demonstrated the power of humanity in times of struggle.

Unfortunately, this was not the last flood that Palouse-area residents would experience. Similarly devastating floods occurred again in 1933 and 1948, which eventually led to the Colfax Flood Control Project in 1962. The project's construction involved the deepening of the Palouse River channel, building concrete-lined canals and retaining walls at a cost of $ 203,000.00. Since the project was completed in 1964, the town has managed to stay dry and subsequently, has experienced no problems with the Palouse River since.