Josiah Harding married Harriet (Hattie) Phillips in September, 1902 in Hebron, Nebraska. She was the daughter of John Phillips and Elizabeth Kennedy, both born in Ohio. They remained in Hebron until 1910 when they moved to Montana. Before moving to Montana, children Ray, Doris, Olive, and Chester were born in Nebraska, Blanche, Myrtle, Phil, Alfred, and Alta were born in Montana, and Roland was born after the family moved back to Nebraska.
Josiah and Hattie were in Nebraska in 1920 and 1930, but early in 1935 he and his family were living on land belonging to a settler named H. P. Wiley near Hale, Colorado, apparently as a hired hand. On May 31, 1935, the Republican River flooded and swept away the Hardings that were living in Hale. Youngest son Roland (or Rodney) was killed, Hattie's body was recovered 50 miles downstream in Benkelman, Nebraska, and Josiah's body was recovered in Kansas, just a short distance downriver from his home a few weeks later. Children Myrtle, Alfred, and Alta were rescued from the river, and the older children were not in Hale at the time of the flood.
This account of the flood was written by Ryan Cure, a high-school student at Idalia High School, in 2001 as a portion of his contribution to Gusts to Dust III, a school project to record the oral histories of the area. He interviewed Ward Wiley, who was a probably the son of H. P. Wiley.
The middle years of the drought held the worst misfortune of that time: the 1935 Flood of the Republican River. It seemed that a year's worth of rain came all in one night. Memorial Day of 1935 became a more extensive day of memory than any other Memorial Day.
Ward Wiley tells a story about the flood that includes some shocking detail. Not long before the flood, a family moved in about three-quarters of a mile southwest and downhill of the Wiley home. The day of the flood, water flowed right up against the Wiley's front step; but that meant the neighbor's home, right in the middle of the Republican River Valley, was in danger. Later a ten-foot wall of water came down the hill and immediately picked up the neighboring house. Ward watched this incredible event take place right outside his front window. That house just went floating along; but when it got nearer, Ward saw the farmer on the roof. Inside were five other members of the family. Just as the house floated in front of Ward's home, it broke and everyone fell in the water. All of them grasped for air and some sort of floating device. Can you imagine the terror a person would feel if this suddenly happened?
Then the search began. The next day searchers found two daughters and a son still conscious, but the remainder of the family wasn't as fortunate. The youngest son was recovered near St. Francis, Kansas. Meanwhile, the mother was found near Benkelman, Nebraska; but the search for her husband continued. Then a second flood rolled by on June 16, though not nearly as harsh as the previous flood. Later, a rancher near St. Francis, while checking his land, accidentally saw a hand sticking out of the quicksand. The hand belonged to the father of the family.
The Wray Gazette, a weekly published from the Yuma county seat, featured several articles on the flood and the Hardings.
The Wray Gazette
Wray, Colorado,Thursday, June 6, 1935
FLOODS BRING DESTRUCTION TO BIG AREA
THREE PERSONS WERE SWEPT AWAY IN FLOOD WATERS NEAR HALE
Mr. and Mrs. J. F. Harding Were Yuma County's Only Flood Casulaties
Three persons, all members of one family who resided near Hale on the South Fork of the Republican, were swept away in the flood waters last Thursday night and Friday. They were Mr. and Mrs. J. F. Harding and one of their children, and they are believed to be the only casualties in Yuma County from the flood that spread death and destruction through eastern Nebraska and Kansas. Many others in this section, who lived close to the banks of the Arickaree and South Fork escaped drowning by almost miraculous happenings.
The Harding family were caught in the flood when it engulfed their home. Neighbors who saw their plight made heroic efforts to rescue them, and three of the children were brought to safety, but not before their home washed away, carrying with it the father and mother and one son. The mother's body was reported discovered near Benkelman.
A daughter and her husband came here Sunday from Ogallala, Neb., when they learned of the disaster and were taken across the Arickaree at Beecher Island to go to Hale. A son-in-law came from Torrington, Wyo., Monday morning and went from here to Benkelman to identify, if possible, the body found there and believed to be Mrs. Harding.
Ira J. Whipple, another widely known Hale resident, was caught in the flood waters which completely surrounded his home. His home, however, withstood the water and he was carried to safety by rescuers.
Stories of the rescue work done by the people Hale community, one of the spots that suffered most by the flood, reach heroic proportions. It is impossible to learn the names of all those who took part in the rescue work, but Ernest Wiley and Joe Busby are mentioned in accounts brought to Wray.
Hattie's body was recovered downriver near Benkelman, Nebraska:
The Benkelman Post and News-Chronicle
Benkelman, Nebraska,Friday, June 7, 1935
BODY OF COLORADO WOMAN RECOVERED HERE ON SUNDAY
Body of Hale, Colo. Woman Was Found On The South Fork By Local Searchers
The body of a woman was found on the sand near the K. W. McDonald farm by a searching party comprising Willard McDonald, Lyle Carlin and George Follett Sunday afternoon. Her body was practically nude. The boys moved her to the McDonald ranch house, two of them remaining while the third went for help. A team and wagon was secured and the body brought to the North Fork bridge where it was taken across in the boat. It was then carried to town and turned over to Miss McEvoy for embalming. Doctor Peck of St. Francis, who came to Benkelman with Dale Fallart that afternoon to ascertain the extent of the loss of life, indicated the belief that it might be the body of Mrs. Blanche [sic] Harding of Hale, Colorado. The flood had swept away the Harding dwelling and with it Mr. and Mrs. Harding and their four children. Three children were later recovered alive but the parents and one child were still missing. Relatives of the deceased woman later identified her as Mrs. Harding and her body was taken to Hale by airplane sent from that place Monday afternoon. We understand that the missing child has been found dead in the river bottom but that Mr. Harding is still unaccounted for. Hale is 80 miles from Benkelman and there were indications that Mrs. Harding had a made a terrific fight for life as she probably floated down the river on debris for many miles before being overcome and lost. She was about 45 years of age.
The Wray Gazette
Wray, Colorado, Thursday, June 13, 1935 [Page 1]
IDALIA COMMUNITY SUGGESTS PAYING TRIBUTE TO STATE LINE HEROES
On the forenoon of May 30 residents living between Idalia and the South Fork of the Republican, coming into town to try to ascertain the extent of the damage done the night before, reported a river flood without precedent except in Indian tradition running back far before our earliest pioneer days but remembered by our early Idalia settlers in a warning given by a friendly Indian Chief to the founder of the Bar-T ranch, "White man, build too close to the river. Indian sees water from bluff to bluff."
At the Burlington crossing the whole bottoms were a waste of tossing water, covered with great trees that had stood for generations and with lighter debris of every kind; with a terrific current in the center which appeared to stand many feet many feet above the water along the bluffs and in addition was covered with rolling white capped waves that appeared in places to rise twelve or fifteen feet in height; while the whole valley was filled with a roar that could be heard inland a distance of five or six miles.
The first intimation to Idalia of the tragic deaths and heroic rescue east of Hale came in late afternoon when Joe Busby and Kenneth Wiley passed going west in an attempt to gain telephone connections with Kanorado or Goodland to ask them to try to send rescue parties through to the south side of the river at a point near the state line.
No one seeing them could fail to be impressed with their appearance and anxiety and eager haste.
Below Hale, they said, the whole Harding family: father, mother, Myrtle, Alta, Alfred, and Rodney had been swept away at five o'clock by a wall of water that in places seemed to be twenty feet in height.
The father, the mother and one child had been lost. The remaining three children had carried for [sic] down stream but had caught in trees and rescuing parties from the State Line Community were attempting to reach them from shore.
Here in the early morning had come Melvin Catt of Jaqua, and an unknown young man from near St. Francis?strong swimmers?both determined to swim a three hundred yard channel into which to venture was almost certain death.
They were kept almost by force from making the desperate attempt and that afternoon a raft was built, launched, and manned by men never before on a raft and driven across the still furious current?free--unrestrained by ropes?to rescue the the oldest girl, Myrtle, just before a blinding dust storm came up from the east.
In the meantime the younger girl had escaped on the south side and the upper force shifted one mile down stream where another State Line group was trying to reach the remaining child. Here working all night by dim lantern light the combined forces, just at day-break, succeeded in a seventh attempt to drive across the a captive raft guyed by ropes and rescued Alfred, the remaining child.
Dr. Garcia, who had been taken to the scene to render first aid and remained all night, says that the actions of these men, working in a practical darkness, were those of unquestioned heroism.
The Idalia community pays since retribute to their neighbors on the state line who have risen to a height of stature that will keep their names in remembrance as long as we honor our truly great.
It has been suggested here that this community lead in securing a suitable memorial for these men, which can be kept, perhaps at some some church or high school near the state line?or perhaps at Beecher Island?some memorial not valuable, necessarily, for intrinsic worth but valuable instead, as symbol of faith in higher ideals.
For the whole effort of these men is epitomized in Holy Write in the words of the Master recorded by....[Remainder of story not captured by me]
Funeral Services Were Held For Flood Victims
Funeral services were held at Armel last Wednesday afternoon for Mrs. J. F. Harding and her son, Roland Jay Harding, victims of the flood that swept the Lansing Valley district. The body of Mr. Harding, who also perished, has not been recovered.
Rev. S. R. Graves conducted the service which was largely attended by the neighborhood. Following are the obituaries read at the service:
Harriet Phillips Harding was born at Hebron, Neb., September 18, 1879, and passed from this life May 31, 1935, at the age of 55 years, 8 months, and 13 days. She resided at Hebron until she was about 25 years of age and while there was united in marriage to to J. F. Harding. To this union were born ten children, 5 girls and 5 boys. Mr. and Mrs. Harding moved from Hebron to Valier, Mont., later going to Arthur, Neb., Arizona and Arkansas and from there moved back to Arthur, Neb. About two years ago they came to Colorado. Mrs. Harding was a member of the Pilgrim Holiness church at Arthur. Besides the immediate members of her family, she leaves many other relatives and a host of friends. She was a devoted mother and will be greatly missed by those who knew her.
Roland Jay Harding was just a mere lad of past 13 years of age. Born at Arthur, Neb., December 19, 1921. He attended school at the Browning school, and took part often in the school's activities. While he did not remain long in life's school, we believe there has opened for him a place of service in a world beyond our view.
The Wray Gazette
Wray, Colorado, Thursday, June 27, 1935 [Page 1]
FLOOD VICTIM'S BODY WAS FOUND NEAR ST. FRANCIS
The body of J. F. Harding, Hale farmer who was washed away with his wife and a son in the Decoration Day flood on the South Fork, was found a few miles west of St. Francis, Tuesday afternoon, according to reports from that section. It is stated that the body had been covered by sand and it is believed the high waters of last week partially uncovered it.
The body was identified by Ernest Wiley, on whose place the Hardings resided. Funeral services and burial were held at Armel Wednesday afternoon. Mrs. Harding and the son were recovered just after the flood, the son near Hale and Mrs. Harding near Benkelman.