|Wilfrid Tow, children Raymond and Lillian, Laredo, Montana, Aug 1941. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott.
FSA (Farm Security Administration) borrower and two of his children.
Laredo, Montana, August, 1941, Marion Post Wolcott.
On June 23, 1938, according to National Weather Service records: “More than five inches of rain
fell in the Gravelly Coulee watershed in one hour, creating a wall of water which rushed out of the foothills, traveled 10
miles and still managed to erode two miles of Great Northern Railroad track near Laredo (Montana). Farther east, nearly $500,000
damage occurred in Havre as the normally dry Bull Hook Creek spread a half mile wide on its route through the center of town.”
The next day, the Helena (Montana) Independent
reported that nine persons were drowned and a baby was missing in the flood waters. One had washed 10 miles down the coulee.
The article also stated: “Twenty-two persons who lived in the Gravelly coulee are homeless. They are members of the
D. E. Couch, Frank Earl and Wilfrid Tow families.”
In August 1941, photographer Marion Post Wolcott traveled through Laredo, Montana, on an assignment
for the Farm Security Administration, a federal government agency. Her mission was to take pictures of farm families who were
receiving loans from the FSA, and others who were experiencing financial hardship. One of those families was the Wilfrid Tow
family, who had been left homeless by the 1938 flood. She took about a half-dozen photos of the family, but did not identify
them in the captions, nor did she make any mention of the disaster that had befallen them three years earlier.
When I saw the photos of this family on
the Library of Congress website, I was struck by the father’s strong, rugged looks. He reminded me of
actor Gary Cooper. I wanted to know more. So, as I have done before, I got the local paper, in this case the Havre Daily News,
to publish the photo above and a short article about my search. Within 48 hours after it rolled off the presses,
I had talked to two relatives of the family. They had seen one of the pictures before, in a book of historic Montana photographs,
again with no names given.
I interviewed Agnes Cook, the oldest daughter, and that’s when I learned about the flood. Among those who died in
the flood were neighbors of the Tows: Emil De Haan, his wife and three daughters, ages two, five and eight; and Charles Pratt.
Continue on to see more photos, and my interview with Mrs. Cook.
Wilfrid Tow family, Page Two