1929 Whites Creek Flood

A new record of Boy Scout heroism and of Scoutmaster James Tarwater Wright of Rockwood, Tennessee who gave his own life in an effort to save his troop, were included in a report of conditions of the flood devastated areas in Tennessee and Alabama in 1929. The report was made to Chief Scout Executive James E. West by Fred C. Mills, Director of Swimming and Water Safety of the Department of Camping of the Boy Scout of America, after he returned from a tour of the region. Seven other Rockwood Scouts lost their lives in the floods—Charles Fred Burnett, James Edward Burnett, Roy Paul Green, James Clarence Hill, Woodrow Wilson Kerr, Lawrence Nedra Montgomery, and Jack Acuff Shamhart.

Scoutmaster Wright drowned while trying to save one of his scouts when Whites Creek overflowed and catapulted their Boy Scout cabin into forty feet of flood waters. He worked for hours bring scouts to safety, and then, when his strength was exhausted, lost his own life in trying to save a scout that had fallen into the swiftly moving waters. The flood waters rose so suddenly that the scout cabin, 500 feet off the Dixie Highway on the banks of the stream, was submerged, broken up and carried away. Twenty boys and two leaders were asleep in the cabin when the flood waters rose. They became stranded on the roof until the cabin broke up from the force of the current. The other scouts were only saved from death through the heroic work of their leaders and good judgment of their Scoutmaster, who until his death, kept the scouts from panic and instructed the older boys in keeping their younger companions from being submerged in the flood waters.

It was later reported that the flood of 1929 was one of the most severe to ever hit the Tennessee Valley. The Emory River rose 22 feet in three and a half hours and currents raged at 100 mph. Hundreds of businesses and homes were destroyed; twenty lives were lost in addition to the seven boy scouts and their leader at Whites Creek. Three of the scouts, Willie Evans, Ted Derrick, and J.C. Acuff were awarded the Boy Scout Gold Honor Medal for bravery. A posthumous award was made to Scoutmaster James T. Wright who made the supreme sacrifice. 

Today a monument sits in memoriam of the Scoutmaster and seven scouts of Troop 45, Rockwood, Tennessee who lost their lives in the flood. The monument is made with a Latin cross setting on top of a stone base about 15 to 18 feet tall and has the Boy Scout emblem in the center. The cross can be seen from the northbound of U.S. Highway 27 at Whites Creek Bridge. The monument is on the east side of U.S. Highway 27 and on the south side of Whites Creek, which is the boundary between Rhea and Roane Counties, Tennessee. A more detailed account of the tragedy and heroism that occurred that day is written in the book, DANIEL CARTER BEARD, BOY HEROES OF TODAY (Brewer, Warren & Putnam 1932).

In 1995, Knoxville's WBIR station did a story on the flood and one of its survivors. Because of the response on Facebook to the Heartland Series story years later, WBIR news decided to retell the story with a slight change in angle to talk about the scouts efforts to maintain the monument. Reporter Jim Matheny interviewed Don Miller, vice president of district operations for the Great Smoky Mountain Council.  The new story ran on March 23, 2015. Here is a link to the PDF of the 2015 story and here is a direct link the 2015 story with video. 

Another article was published on June 24, 2016 by WATE.com about Great Smoky Mountain Council Troop 101 restoring the memorial.  Here is a PDF of the 2016 story and here is a direct link to the 2016 story with video.

A 2017 article about Scouts restoring the monument is available at this link.

creek video.mp4

This is the 1995 story.

For photos relating to the 1929 flood, the 1932 memorial, and other photos regarding the event, click the image below.