Friday, August 1, 2014

36 Hours: From Boys to Leaders

In a day and a half, five dozen high-school–aged boys from Culver Military Academy rescue more than 1,400 residents of flooded Logansport, Indiana—and transform both city and school. By guest author Richard Davies, Ph.D.

[The compelling story of how some 60 teenaged cadets from Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana, tirelessly rescued more than 1,400 men, women, and children in the city of Logansport during the 1913 flood demonstrates how the very young can rise to triumph at a life-and-death mission of monumental endurance. This guest installment is a condensation of a longer article in the Spring 2013 issue of the Culver Alumni Magazine by retired Culver faculty member Richard Davies, Ph.D. Gratitude is also expressed to the magazine’s editor Doug Haberland for additional materials. –T.E.B.]


Surprised to receive a telephone call near midnight, Culver Military Academy Superintendent Lt. Col. Leigh R. Gignilliat picked up the receiver. He was even more surprised when the operator connected him long-distance to David Fickle, mayor of 
Each of the four Culver cutters were manned by 11 teenagers (10 rowers and a helmsman) accompanied by an adult member of Culver’s military staff and a Logansport policeman. The rescue boats could accommodate another 30 to 40 people. This is cutter No. 13, under command of Captain Robert Rossow, Culver's director of horsemanship (man standing at right in cutter). Credit: Culver Academies Archives
Logansport, a city 40 miles south of Culver. In a frantic voice, Mayor Fickle desperately asked for help. Logansport lies at the junction of the Wabash and Eel rivers. Both rivers were cresting, creating a flood region a mile and a half wide that was submerging Logansport’s business and residential districts. Houses were being swept away. Many of the city’s 20,000 residents were trapped by the raging waters, some without food or clean water for almost two days. It was now 24 degrees and snowing. Mayor Fickle pleaded with Gignilliat for Culver to send its Naval cutters via rail to Logansport for rescuing people.

Gignilliat agreed instantly and hung up the phone. But he knew that Logansport would need far more than just the four man-of-war cutters Culver had borrowed from the U.S. Navy for cadets’ summer naval instruction on inland Lake Maxinkuckee. Each big craft was 28 feet long and 8 feet abeam (across), weighed 1.5 tons, and required 10 skilled oarsmen plus a navigating helmsman. For instruction, Culver also included a faculty officer. Thus, Gignilliat knew Logansport would need not only the boats themselves but also skilled crews to handle them in the turbulent floodwaters.

Fully loaded, cutter No. 13 makes its way to safe ground in order to disembark its rescued flood victims before heading out for more. The Culver cadets worked non-stop for 36 hours, plucking nearly  1,500 Logansport residents from attics, rooftops, and second-story windows. Credit: Culver Academies Archives
Gignilliat summoned Captain Robert Rossow and other faculty officers to supervise getting the four cutters to the Pennsylvania Railroad. Gignilliat and his officers then awoke some 60 cadets—all teenagers who had worked with the cutters in Culver’s summer Naval School—to man the boats. Working by the light of lanterns, the cadets loaded the heavy cutters onto railroad flatcars, an arduous task requiring 20 boys to carry each boat from winter storage half a mile across snow-covered ground in the dark to the Academy railroad spur. 

After finishing around 3 A.M., the crews were issued rations and clambered into the caboose. The locomotive pulled away into the darkness, slowly feeling its way along tracks, over culverts, and across bridges weakened by the force of rushing floodwaters.

Many cadets had eagerly volunteered for the rescue mission, but only a few were chosen. Contemporary accounts indicate that 60 cadets made the trip: 45 who had prior experience with the boats in the Naval School and another 15 burly football players. Gignilliat assured the others remaining behind that they needed to be ready to serve as replacements or as a second group of rescuers depending on how long flood conditions lasted. However, 16-year-old Elliot White Springs—deemed too young and 
Naval cutter No. 10 rowed by Culver cadets makes its way through flooded Logansport to rescue more flood-stranded residents. Note the snow on the roofs. Credit: Cass County Historical Society
small for the demanding task—refused to take no for an answer: smuggling himself aboard the train, he took cover under the tarpaulin of one of the cutters. When the stowaway was discovered en route, Gignilliat assigned Springs to his own boat.

The train reached Logansport just as day was breaking. The city was in darkness. All electricity had been knocked out by the raging waters. Here contemporary accounts differ. According to Gignilliat in his book Arms and the Boy, the cadets skidded their boats off the flatcars, and then slid them down streetcar tracks for a couple of blocks to the edge of the floodwaters where they floated. According to an account by another faculty participant, Captain Robert Rossow as well as Gignilliat himself in a different account, the floodwater was deep enough right around the tracks that the cadets slid the cutters off the flatcars directly into the flood. At Mayor Fickle’s request, each boat carried not only its Culver crew of 12, but also a Logansport policeman.

Third Street Bridge in Logansport over the swollen
Wabash River, before it was destroyed by the 1913 flood,
Credit: Cass County Historical Society
The next 36 hours in the icy waters were grim and dangerous. “At first we progressed nicely in a column of cutters, but as we came nearer to the river, the boat that I commanded was caught in a whirlpool at a street crossing and spun around like a top,”  Gignilliat wrote. “Before I could give the orders to pull us out of the whirlpool, two of the heavy oars were snapped like toothpicks against a telegraph pole. Fortunately we had brought along spares.” From then on, “the Culver cadets and faculty engaged in a hard day and a half battle with swift currents and foaming eddies dangerously complicated with wires and treetops. Snatching a mouthful of coffee occasionally as they came to shore, the cadets worked unceasingly.”

Third Street Bridge after it was destroyed in the 1913 flood,
testifying to the fierceness of the currents against which
the Culver cadets were rowing.
Credit" Cass County Historical Society
In another boat, Rossow soon realized that because the Wabash flows from north to south, the floodwaters’ current was particularly fierce through intersections with north-south streets. “As we pushed deeper into the area, these currents began, more and more, to sweep us sideward as we crossed one street after another,” Rossow wrote. “Suddenly, as the prow of our heavy cutter nosed into the intersection of one of the last north and south streets that we would have to cross, a current of unbelievable force careened the craft diagonally across the street. Red Drake [a cadet], caught unawares and off-balance, was nearly swept overboard by the suddenly jibing long tiller.” 

Likewise, the powerful current pushed Gignilliat’s cutter into a huge guy wire, causing the craft to tip dangerously. “Nearly pulling their young arms out of their sockets, and with the help of a boy in the bow with a boat hook, who, without orders from me, did just the right thing on his own initiative, they extricated us from the guy wire,” Gignilliat recalled.

Yes, the cadets had mastered their summer training well, Rossow observed: “We swept into the flood, one, two, three blocks, the heavy 14-foot oars clunking in the thwarts with exact precision, the sweeps catching the water in beautiful timing. They rowed like veterans of a racing shell, their reaches forward, between strokes, smooth and effortless.  . . .  Most of them were boys whom I had had personal contact. I knew what was in them.”

A tender touch
“I shall never cease to marvel at the strength and endurance of those teenaged boys, who labored at the oars for two days with scant time for food or rest,” Gignilliat wrote. “During the afternoon they kept steadily on, although half blinded by a driving snowstorm and with hands so cold they could, with difficulty, retain their grasp of the oars.”

Cutter No. 6, shown here, was in charge of Capt. Harold Bays, who directed Culver’s horse-drawn artillery. Each cutter was 28 feet long, 8 feet wide, and weighed 3,000 pounds. Credit: Cass County Historical Society
“Something else that I shall not forget about those boys was their tenderness with the old and the young and the sick,” Gignilliat continued. “Maybe it was a woman with a baby, maybe a bed-ridden old woman with the stoicism of age, maybe a shivering, frightened child. All were helped into the boat with the solicitude those boys might have shown their own mothers or grandmothers or little sisters in distress.” One particularly poignant rescue struck him: “One helpless old man in the arms of his cadet rescuer said, ‘I am not afraid for you to carry me down the ladder, comrade. This is the third time that I have been carried by a soldier—twice when wounded in the Civil War.’”

 Logansport resident John Beatty added his own praise by writing in a Logansport or Indianapolis newspaper, “I want to say that Logansport owes a debt of thanks and gratitude to the brave boys of Culver Academy. How our hearts leaped with joy when they appeared on Linden Avenue with strong boats Wednesday morning. When the storm beat down upon them, they worked with cheerfulness, willingness and tenderness that invoked our admiration.”

Cutter No. 13, with a second boat right behind, makes a return trip to rescue residents and row them to safety. Notice the men standing at the right on a wagon, either watching with interest or awaiting their turn. Credit: Culver Academies Archives
By the second evening (Thursday, March 27), under a hundred teenaged boys in four cutters had rescued more than 1,400 people—Rossow, with improbable precision, puts the tally at 1,492—from the inundated district, with no serious injuries to themselves. By then, the waters had receded too far to make it possible for the cadets to lug the boats back to the railroad for the return to Culver. Thus, after securing the cutters, the boys instead marched by a long detour back to the depot. En route, Gignilliat witnessed another miracle: “By all the laws of nature, they should have been exhausted, but they went their way with a swinging step, singing, and occasionally giving a school yell.”

The Logansport Gate
By April 1913, the waters had receded from Logansport. That spring and summer, the city embarked on the long slog of shoveling out the mud and devastation and starting to rebuild. But it did not forget Culver. In September 1913, the Logansport City Council voted $500—equivalent to about $11,000 today—to build a bronze and brick memorial gate at the entrance to Culver Military Academy as an enduring commemoration of the city’s gratitude for the valiant life-saving work of the Culver cadets.

An unidentified woman prepares
to christen one of the brick columns
that make up the Logansport Gate,
a gift of Logansport residents
in appreciation of Culver’s life-saving
service during the 1913 flood.
Credit: Culver Academies Archives
Work began on the gate in the fall of 1913. The completed gate was formally dedicated on May 20, 1914 with the celebration of “Logansport Day,” for which some 4,000 residents of Logansport—a fifth of its population—boarded two trains to journey 40 miles north to Culver to express their personal thanksgiving.

Mythic leadership power of story
Telling of the story of the brave and spirited Culver cadets at Logansport began immediately. Two days after returning, wiry young Springs—who had acquitted himself well in the emergency—sent a long letter to his father about the flood, omitting the fact that he had stowed away in order to take part in the rescue. Gignilliat and Rossow both wrote accounts of the extraordinary event shortly after returning to Culver, and in 1916 Gignilliat recounted the incident in his book Arms and the Boy

Bronze plaque on the Logansport Gate.
Credit: Culver Academies Archives
Since August 2003, every student entering Culver has passed through that Logansport Gate. The gate is the site of the formal opening of the academic year with the Matriculation Ceremony, at which some 250 new students are formally welcomed into the Academies (Culver Military Academy and Culver Girls Academy). With the addition of the Leadership Plaza in 2002, the area represents the virtues and attributes personified by the cadets at Logansport: courage, justice, duty, honor, wisdom, service, moderation, and truth.

Harvard professor of psychology Howard Gardner and his coauthor Emma Laskin, in their 1995 book Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership, explore how leaders “markedly influence the behaviors, thoughts, and/or feelings of a significant number of their fellow human beings” by telling or embodying memorable stories that speak profoundly to other people, crystallizing a strong sense of identity, coherence, and purpose. 

“The story of the Logansport Gate is part of the stories that schools tell and pass along to others forming a known roadmap of their culture and history,” observed Culver’s current Principal and Dean of Faculty Kathy Lintner. Such stories “also show us what it means to be human and our responsibilities to one another. The phone call from the mayor of Logansport represented what mythologist Joseph Campbell terms ‘the call to adventure,’ which a group of teenage boys and their adult mentors answered. They endured physical hardships, hunger, and fatigue, but those faded against the backdrop of saving human lives and treating each person with tender care and respect. 

And they returned to Culver as changed people. The story of that flood and the symbol of the gate itself are reminders to us of the living ideals that have always been the bedrock of the school. When new students walk through Logansport Gate at matriculation, they make a commitment to enter a larger world and carry on the Culver tradition of responsible leadership.”

Living the history
A few years ago, Culver’s administrative team realized that many students did not know the deeper significance of the Matriculation Ceremony at the Logansport Gate or the school’s role at Logansport. Simply hearing about that incident was deemed not enough. 
New cadets take a surfboat out on Lake Maxinkuckee
to experience what it takes to handle the large boats
and to work together as a team. In 1913, however,
though the cadets were more experienced, the boats
were larger, and the raging waters of the swollen rivers
far more troublesome than the tranquil lake.
Creidt: Culver Academies Archives

Before school starts, new cadets visit Logansport
to see firsthand the extent of the flooding in 1913
and to better understand what Culver cadets faced and
. Credit: Culver Academies Archives
Now, on the morning of matriculation, new cadets undergo an experience which brings them more in touch with the original event. They climb into modern versions of the Naval cutters and learn to use them on Lake Maxinkuckee. Following that, the nearly 300 new cadets and girls are bused the 40 miles to Logansport to see where the flood and rescues happened. The young students gawk when they see the lines drawn above their heads on the sides of buildings marking the high point of the 1913 flood waters. Following the tour of the town, the students eat lunch in a city park along the Wabash River, often welcomed by the mayor or a representative of the city of Logansport. 

“All new cadets must learn the history and lessons of Logansport as part of becoming full members of the CMA [Culver Military Academy] Corps of Cadets,” said Col. Kelly Jordan, commandant from 2008 through June 2013, and originator of the Logansport trip. “We use this trip as a leadership opportunity for our current students. The adults help set the stage and provide context for the event, but during the trip upper-class boys and girls lead discussions among the small groups from each unit/dorm to help identify and discuss the leadership issues related to various parts of the event,” Jordan said. “The trip culminates by having each group of new students provide reports to their peers about the leadership lessons they learned to help each other connect the students to their heritage.” According to Jordan, “the new cadets/students come out of the event with a greater appreciation of the sacrifices of their predecessors and what it means to be a Culver student, and the upper-class cadets/students acquire a deeper understanding of the history and heritage of their school and what is expected of Culver graduates.”

Main text © 2014 Culver Academies
Author Davies at the Logansport Gate.
Credit: Culver Academy Archives
About the author: Richard Davies retired in May 2008 after 42 years with the Academies. During his career he taught history and humanities, coached crew, was Troop A counselor, coordinated the Ninth-Grade Program, directed the World Spirituality Series, and held the W.A. Moncrief Jr. Chair of American Democratic Heritage. He and Principal Kathy Lintner developed the Myth & Lit course, which has garnered national attention. Using the campus as a backdrop, Davies has authored three novels integrating European and Native American lore. 


Value of military training
To Gignilliat, the dramatic rescues of 1,400 flood-trapped residents by several dozen teenagers demonstrated not just leadership, but specifically illustrated the clear value of military training in schools and colleges, a viewpoint he explored in his 1916 book Arms and the Boy. “I do not mean to say that boys of a civilian school would not have been just as anxious to lend the aid that these cadets did, but what I mean to say is they could not have done it,” he asserted.  “Even if they had the physical endurance, they would have lacked the organization, the perfect coordination. Obedience had to be automatic; there were times when instant response to commands, absolute coolness, and absence of confusion meant, perhaps, the lives of a boat load of people.

“It was not the fact that these boys rendered this service but that they did it so effectively, without slip or accident and merely as a matter of course, that I consider it such a fine demonstration of military discipline,” Gignilliat continued. “The people of Logansport have erected in commemoration of this service a handsome gate at the entrance of the school. It seems most fitting that the cadets of this school, as they enter and as they leave, should have this reminder of the value of discipline and efficiency and the ideals of service to their fellow men.” –T.E.B.


Logansport flood and Culver rescues in photographs
For the centennial of the 1913 flood in Logansport, Indiana, the Cass County Historical Society issued a commemorative books of photographs. In 1994, for the school’s centennial, the Culver Academies published several first-person accounts of the Logansport flood in a single volume. The two books are:

Conrad, Thelma (compiler and editor). Rain and River: Remembering the Flood of 1913, Logansport, Indiana. Cass County Historical Society, 1004 East Market Street, Logansport, IN 46947. 2013. ii. 88 pages. Hardbound. Rich photographic record of the overflowing of the Wabash River and flooding of Logansport, Indiana, as documented principally by professional photographers from four photographic studios in the city. The book, compiled and edited by the CCHS’s Executive Director, features more than 160 images—the best of the CCHS’s collection of postcards and photographs—printed on coated paper with extended captions. Also included are notes and observations of observers trapped in buildings, quotes from newspapers, and excerpts of letters. No bibliography or index. Sold at the Cass County Historical Society; for ordering the book by mail ($25 per copy plus $5 for shipping and handling), contact the author at the society at 574-753-3866 or e mail

Gignilliat, Lt. Col. Leigh R., Capt. Robert Rossow, and Cadet Elliott White Springs. Logansport—The Flood, March 1913. Assembled and edited by Robert B. D. Hartman.  Culver Academies. 1994. 57 pages. The Second Century Series, The Culver Educational Foundation, Culver, Indiana, 46511. Three first-hand accounts of the dramatic rescue of more than 1,400 citizens of Logansport, Indiana, by a group of cadets and faculty of the Culver Military Academy (as it was then called). The story is recounted by then-superintendent Col. L.R. Gignilliat, by Black Horse Troop director (and war veteran, yarn-spinner and adventurer) Col. Robert Rossow, and by cadet Elliot White Springs, plus a brief excerpt from a letter by a Logansport woman. $13.95. Available at the Culver Military Academy campus bookstore or can be ordered online. –T.E.B.

Next time: Refusing Disaster Aid

Selected references
Guest author Richard Davies explores the power of myth and storytelling about the Logansport flood in greater depth in his full five-page illustrated feature article “Rising Above the Challenge: On the Flooded Streets of Logansport, Indiana” as published in the Spring 2013 Culver Alumni Magazine, online here, pages 28–32. This article also drew on information in the Culver Millitary Academy yearbook The Roll Call in the volumes for 1913 and 1914, plus in the school newspaper The Vedette, 1913. 

More about the meteorological particulars of the Logansport flood can be found on the website of the Silver Jackets. Details about the Logansport Gate as well as the Logansport flood and the Culver cadets’ rescues appear here

See also Col. L.R. Gignilliat, Arms and the Boy: Military Training in Schools and Colleges (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill,1916) especially pages 3–6 and 115. A facsimile of the entire book was printed in 2003 by Culver Academies, with a modern introduction by John N. Buxton, Head of Schools.

By the way, stowaway Cadet Springs went on to fame and fortune as a World War I ace pilot and textile magnate, creating the Springmaid brand of bed and bath linens still popular today. Histories of Springs Industries appear here and here.