by Elsie Lenton Corwin

When the Loomis family had lived in Alder Creek Canyon for 23 years their friends in the mountains discovered that Captain and Mother Loomis were soon to mark a milestone in their lives. In August, 1936 they would have shared love and adventure and the joys of a fine family for fifty years of married life. Their Golden Wedding Annivarsary was not far off.

Now they had had a wonderful friend through the years, Dan Tracy, who had a cabin on Mt. Wilson, but who spent much time on the Ranch. He and the Captain both loved adventure and they shared much in common, including their love of good books. Dan was fairly wealthy and he was always bringing in books and other nice things to the Loomises.

So Dan just took over and planned a big celebration. He invited all the forest folk and all the mountain friends and planned a lavish feast. There was a 30 lb. Turkey, which John Opid roasted and just everything that goes with a turkey for food and many fine delicacies that only he would have thought of. There was in immense Wedding Cake, decorated with golden roses and leaves and gold mints, flowers and gifts – just everything wonderful.

As Mother Loomis, who is now 87, told me about it, her clear blue eyes lit up as she held her white crowned head high and her voice had a happy lilt. She related, we had fancy food and all the fixings champagne and everything, toasts too of course! And they did have a marvelous party “a wonderful evening to remember” to celebrate that Golden Anniversary. But alas the sad days were to come!

It was only a few months later that the Captain, who so dearly loved the mountains, the man of so many skills and such great courage, died, leaving his faithful wife alone on their ranch. During the next two years she spent much time there all by herself being happiest in the place where they had planned and worked together to build their dream. Various members of the family and friends came in whenever they could to stay with her awhile. However they insisted that she at least spend her winters away from the ranch where she could be warm and comfortable near them.

It was during one of these winters – that terrible winter of rains, that tragedy again struck the Loomis ranch. Had the Captain been able to foresee what would happen this winter he wouldn’t have been so happy at that Golden Wedding Anniversary.

During the years a great deal of brush had piled up along the upper stream bed almost daming up alder Creek. Then the rains came and kept coming. Three months of rain there was in the winter of 1937-38. Finally, on a Wednesday, March second, far up the canyon, the water began to pile up behind those dams built of debris of many seasons. Far up the canyon the water banked up higher and higher until finally the debris built dam could hold the water back no longer. A veritable wall of water broke through and came tearing and rushing and roaring down the creek, cutting out the bank, carrying trees and shrubs, barns and guest cabins, farm machinery and furniture in its racing current. Frank Mattys
[Mathys], nicknamed Matt, a ranger on Chilao who had always enjoyed the Ranch, had been staying on the place that winter to look after it for Mother Loomis. Well all of a sudden Matt heard this terrific roar! If you have ever heard such a wall of water rushing down a canyon you will never forget it! The terrible crashing of trees and debris, the grinding of hundreds of rocks and even boulders in the rushing water can be heard from far away in the distance. But the whole flood travels at lightening speed and is upon you almost before you know what is happening. Matt was busy in the kitchen fixing a meal when he heard that awful noise of the flood coming and rushing to the door he saw the wall of muddy water tearing right toward the house! There was noting that Matt could do but run – he ran for his life leaving the front door of the cabin open. Just ahead of the flood Matt ran up the hillside as the water rushed by. In fact the latrine up on the hill was the only dry place left for Matt to sleep that night.

With the rush of water, there came riding a huge pine log – straight through the house! It crashed through the back door and on out through the front! But miracles happen – the house stood, because the door had been left open the water and log sailed through unchecked and all the muddy water with it. The high water lasted only about three minutes, but oh the damage it did in that length of time!

Well, Mother Loomis who was staying in Orange County for the winter, said she didn’t even think of worrying about storm damage at the Ranch for they had lived through so many bad winters there through the years. It was much later before she knew what had happened when finally Matt could get out and the ‘phone lines could be put up again. So, although she read of other floods, she just thought, “That can’t happen to me”. But it did! Even after she had received word from Matt it was a whole month before they could get in to see the place for all the fine new roads of the Angeles Crest highway were completely demolished, miles of road were washed out and huge landslides covered either parts of it.

Finally they were able to get a permit to get in for the public wasn’t allowed on the roads, such as were left, at all. While the road crews were frantically trying to repair the damage, Mother Loomis, Todd and Norman traveled slowly over narrow ledges that didn’t seem like they would hold anything, over rocks and ruts until at last they got as far as Chilao. From there they had to unload and walk, for all the trails and roads into the ranch were wrecked. So they spent hours climbing down steep mountains sides cutting out trails as they went to get to the Ranch.

And oh, what a heartbreaking sight they found! All the buildings were gone, except our lodge, trees uprooted, not an Alder left standing! Where the once shallow steam had rippled peacefully along, there was now a deep gash where the water had cut a channel as it rushed through. And in the house – what a wreck! All Mother Loomis’ beautiful Haviland china and her lovely crystal, which had come safely down the hills packed on burros without breaking a single piece, now lay completely destroyed in the ruins of furniture left by that huge log. It had sailed through the house utterly demolishing the china closet and everything else in its path! The little cabins were gone and the stoves, bedding and furniture had washed down steam. The remains of these were later found where they had caught hanging in trees in the debris far down below the house.

Todd and Norman stayed with Mother Loomis to help clear up the damage. She remembers that the mud was eight inches deep on the rugs and all they could do was dig it out and throw away the rugs. She recalls that they teased her about being such a “dirty woman”.

It is hard to imagine, even when I tell you all of this, how much terrible damage can be done in so short a time – only three minutes!

But Mother Loomis surveyed the wreckage. She remembers thinking that there never would be any Alder tree again. They gathered up the broken pieces of China and glass and began to clean up, refusing to admit discouragement. After all she and the Captain had never let things get them down so far. So they began to rebuild and repair just as the Captain would have done. Todd and some friends he brought in to help, laid an 800 foot water pipe that the Red Cross disaster relief had helped them obtain. New trees began to grow and within a year the creek bed was full of new little Alder trees as close as they could grow. It took a long time to clean up and rebuild and all the family and many friends came in to help Mother Loomis with this backbreaking job. Later Hazel and Orval moved back to live on the Ranch and stayed many years re-planting and re-building, making it once again the beautiful oasis in the barren hills around it.

Now, as you look at it, you would never know that hits tragedy had happened unless you knew where to look for the signs, some of which are still left. Have you ever noticed that some good comes from nearly everything bad that happens? The really good thing resulting from the tragedy of the flood of 1938 is that the danger of ever having such a flood again is very remote. The rushing water cut the banks of Alder Creek so deep that a tremendous amount of water could now be carried down without flooding over the sides so that our camp is not in any danger of such a disastrous flood over happening again.

This is the last of the true stories, just as Mother Loomis told them to me. New and exciting stories will be made through the years by you and hundreds of other girls who will come here to camp, but I venture to guess that none of them will be more adventurous and exciting than some of the stories of these courageous pioneers, who first came to live here and who made it possible for us to camp here now. I am sure the spirit and good wishes of Captain Loomis and all his family will always be with you as you sit around your many camp fires in future years in this beautiful canyon of Alder trees.

[Source: The True Loomis Stories by Elsie Lenton Corwin, Wandalee Thompson Collection (2006.38.1)]