A wet spring had filled the reservoir at Hatchtown, Garfield County, Utah, to the top of its spillway: on Monday, May 25, 1914, its earthen dam held back about 14,000 acre feet of Sevier River water. All was well when caretaker A.W. Huntington made his routine morning inspection.
At 2:00 p.m. he discovered a muddy ooze below the dam and summoned help. For hours he sought the source of the leak. The ooze increased to a stream, and the ground above began to cave, first in small slabs, then large, until the dam gave way entirely at 8:00 p.m. Water burst through the five-story-high breach with the pressure of a fire hose, scouring farmland far beyond the river banks as the flood rushed northward.
Nine minutes later, the flood crashed into the W.R. Riggs house. Most of the family’s belongings had already been moved to higher ground. As the Riggses ran, 10-year-old Ernest carried the last items to be saved – loaves of his mother’s new-baked bread.
Four miles downstream, Panguitch was high enough to escape damage. Two dozen low-lying farms to the north were in danger, however. Telephone operators had been busy, and George West, a traveling salesman from Ogden, set out in his automobile to alert isolated farmsteads.
Thanks to timely warning, families had time to move some goods and livestock. The flood rolled on, washing out bridges, irrigation works, farmland, and fences. As its leading edge entered Circleville Canyon, waters that had begun to spread were again concentrated. The water deepened, gained force and speed, and the debris it carried crashed against canyon walls.
Telephone operators in Panguitch called a warning to Circleville and Junction. Residents of these two towns were skeptical: earlier warnings of dam failures had been false alarms. Most ignored the danger.
Not Cyril Munson, caretaker of the Piute Dam at Junction. He knew that if his dam held, the reservoir might contain the flood and spare towns further north. Munson opened his dam’s three floodgates to make more room.
Rosalia Whittaker, Circleville’s telephone operator, was first to hear that the dam had actually failed. She called Ted Robinson, a rancher in the canyon. His family climbed to higher ground, then watched in disbelief as the flood caught his house, spun it madly around, then deposited it undamaged on the opposite side of the river. The Robinsons did not see that further down the canyon Warren Taylor of Loa heard the water coming. While his wife climbed a hill, Taylor struggled to give his horse a chance by freeing it from the buggy. The flood was too close; Taylor scrambled after his wife and the horse, still tangled in harness, was washed away.
Rosalia Whittaker then ran to the dance hall. Merrymakers brushed aside her warning, but she insisted the orchestra stop, sent the girls home to pack, and ordered the boys to get their horses. Some she directed to warn outlying farms; others she sent to the canyon as watchmen.
Circleville worked through the night, sending their children to sleep in the high ground of the cemetery and driving their livestock into the hills. Most household goods had been removed to safety before 6:00 Tuesday morning when the watching horsemen raced toward town with their warning.
The flood exploded into the valley. Released from constricting canyon walls, the water was 15 feet deep as it crashed into Max Parker’s farmhouse and six feet deep when it rolled over Circleville, leaving behind three feet of standing water as the crest raced onward. On high ground, Junction’s homes were spared while its cultivated fields were washed away.
The water spread and slowed as it reached Piute Reservoir. It still carried great force as it slammed into the dam, but the dam held. There would be no further destruction and no loss of human life. Families living along 70 miles of the Sevier River faced months of rebuilding.