A January 1937 lead headline in Memphis’ Commercial Appeal blared, “55-foot Crest Predicted,” and Tunica Countians went into action.
Flooding from the Ohio River system pushed the Mississippi to record levels and threatened homes and livelihoods up and down the river. Delta residents had vivid memories of 1927, when the levee failed near Greenville and flooded thousands of acres of the South Delta.
Tunica Countians had reason to fear. If the levee had broken at Commerce in North Tunica County, the Mississippi River would have sent eight feet of floodwater into the town of Tunica. Or if the levee had broken at Mhoon’s Landing, five feet of water would have inundated town residences.
On that late January day, the swollen river was within two or three feet of topping the mainline levee.
Tunica’s men sent their families to Memphis for the duration and their livestock to the hills east of here. The following weeks spent fighting the floodwater were chronicled in The High Water Fight of 1937: Tunica County’s Finest Hour, the scrapbook of of J.W. Dulaney, Deceased (1889-1968), with a foreword by his son John Dulaney.
“The Tunica Rotary Cub furnished Tunica County with its leadership,” remarked John Dulaney in a program to the club on August 12.
Dulaney said Rotary charter member Sterling Withers led the fight from his headquarters at Planter Oil Mill.
J.W. Dulaney closed his law practice and also moved into the oil mill, where he kept a log of everything that took place that January. That log, now housed at the Tunica Museum, is an especially valuable piece of county history.
Tunica County experienced several levee breaches prior to 1937: in 1886, again in 1898, when Flower Lake was formed, and in 1922, at Devil’s Hole south of Mhoon’s Landing. There were numerous threats of a breach during the disastrous flood of 1927, and though several severe boils occurred, disaster was averted.
In 1937, Withers mobilized hundreds of men to patrol the levee day and night, and to sandbag, rig pumps to equalize pressure, and lay willow mats to prevent erosion on the levee banks.
Dulaney was hired on as a runner for Withers and spent the days of the crisis going to the store for cigarettes for Withers, but says with a laugh that he realizes now that “Withers was just giving me something to do.”
The threat ended with the river’s crest on February 11, some 3.8 feet higher than ever before recorded.