The storm affected the central Sierra
and South Bay areas. The Eel River on the North Coast saw the
greatest flow of record to that time while Central Valley rivers
saw near-record flows. A statewide disaster was declared, with
the storm resulting in 74 deaths and $200 million in economic
losses. The heaviest 24-hour rainfall was recorded on December
20, when 15.34 inches (390 mm) fell in Shasta County. The storm's
toll on Sutter County was severe. At 12:04 a.m. on December 24,
1955, a levee on the west bank of the Feather River, at Shanghai
Bend, collapsed and a wall of water 21 feet high entered the
county, flooding 90 percent of the City of Yuba City and the
farmlands in the southern Yuba City basin. Some 600 people were
rescued by helicopter, but 37 people drowned.
Christmas, 1955, in California will go
down in history as the most tragic on record. A series of battering
storms with gales at times reaching hurricane velocity drove
tens of thousands from their homes, cut off whole regions of
the State, dumped 31 inches of rain and spread an estimated $150,000,000
worth of damage over Northern California. One million acres were
The waters cut a jigsaw puzzle of havoc with virtually every
stream and river in Northern, and by week's end, Central California
as well, running near the tops of their banks or overflowing.
Rain in the high Sierras on top of a six-foot snow pack contributed
heavily to the swollen waters. Rain fell from Eureka to Monterey
along the coast and through the rich Sacramento and San Joaquin
Valleys as far south as Porterville, an airline distance of 450
This was Northern California by Wednesday evening, December 21st,
when the first of countless pleas for assistance from scores
of communities began to pour into National Guard headquarters
in Sacramento. Hundreds of California National Guardsmen had
volunteered their services in the protection of life and property
48 hours before Governor Goodwin J. Knight issued a proclamation
Thursday afternoon, December 22nd, declaring Northern California
to be in a state of emergency.
Immediately following issuance of the proclamation, state headquarters
in Sacramento-already alerted since the evening before-put into
effect its state emergency plan and began operations on around
the clock basis under the direction of Col Carl Aulick, Deputy
Adjutant General, Army Division. All of the Guard's personnel,
equipment and facilities were at the disposal of the stricken
counties. More than 450 messages and calls for personnel and
supplies were received and acted upon by the Military Department.
The 49th Infantry Division, commanded by Maj Gen Roy A. Green,
was destined to bear the brunt of the onslaught.
Col Edwin B. Taylor, Sacramento, commander, 184th Infantry Regiment,
was assigned to the Marysville-Yuba City area; Col Daniel Mayberry,
Modesto, 185th Infantry Regiment commander, oversaw guard operations
in the Merced-Madera-Visalia area; Lt Col Arlington R. Langley,
commanding the 637th Field Artillery Battalion, was senior commander
in the San Jose area and Lt Col Ernest J. Reed, Jr., commander,
1401st Engineer Battalion (Combat), Eureka.
First call for aid came from the sheriff of Sonoma County early
December 22nd in the Russian River country where Headquarters
Company of the 579th Engineer Battalion volunteered its men and
vehicles and Company C of the 579th in Healdsburg turned over
its armory as an evacuation center.
Next to "call out the Guard" was Humboldt County in
the northwestern part of the State. Eureka, its county seat,
was isolated by the wild Eel and Mad Rivers and contact was possible
only by airlift and ham radio operators.
Responding to the call of civil authorities to aid in evacuation
work were Headquarters Company, 1401st Engineer Battalion (Combat);
Clearing Company, 126th Medical Battalion and Company, A, 1401st
Engineers, (Arcata) under command of Colonel Reed. Seven days
later elements of the command were still on duty engaged in patrolling
and mopping up operations.
Also called into action early Thursday morning were Headquarters
Company and Company I of the 184th Infantry Regiment's 3d Battalion,
headquartered in Chico (Butte County). Volunteers called out
at the request of the county sheriff evacuated a farm labor camp
at Gridley and homes near Durham. The same units plus Oroville
's Company H were ordered to state active duty early Friday morning
with Capt Philip McFall of Chico, 3d Battalion commander, in
charge of sandbagging levees along the Feather, Yuba and Sacramento
Rivers. By noon Thursday six DUKWS, dispatched from Stockton's
118th Ordnance Company, had arrived in Sacramento and were held
on a stand-by basis. ln the following two days they rescued hundreds
of persons from trees, automobiles, and rooftops in the inundated
and evacuated Yuba City (population, 10,000) heart of the peach
bowl, 52 miles north of Sacramento.
No sight in California was as devastating and frightful as that
presented in Yuba and Sutter Counties. The twin cities of Marysville
and Yuba City at the confluence of the Yuba and Feather Rivers
were a paradox. On Saturday morning, December 24th, as Governor
Knight, Maj Gen Earle M. Jones, State Adjutant General, and Stanley
Pierson, State Civil Defense Director, flew over the area in
the Air National Guard's C-47 "The Grizzly," they found
Marysville, deserted and high and dry. Its people had gone north,
south and west, some to Yuba City. Ironically the threatened
levees held and Marysville was safe. But the rich fruit city
of Yuba City was drowned when the Feather River unexpectedly
broke through its banks to the south. Its 10,000 residents had
scattered, some missing, some dead.
One of the most difficult situations encountered by Guard troops
was in Yuba City. Yuba City is headquarters for the 184th Infantry
Regiment's 2d Battalion, commanded by Lt Col Robert H. Mabbutt,
whose home is in Sacramento. Yuba City's armory was inundated
by eight feet of water and battalion headquarters were established
in the county courthouse as members of Headquarters Company and
Company F, Marysville, augmented by personnel from Company H
in Oroville controlled traffic, evacuated hospital patients,
hauled water and food. Subsequently battalion headquarters moved
twice with Christmas Eve and morning finding their command post
established in the Church of God on the western outskirts of
Seven days later, augmented by 300 troops from Sacramento, including
the 184th 's Heavy Mortar Company, a detachment from Service
Company and a medical platoon, these men were assisting local
authorities in controlling traffic as the evacuees streamed back
to the city, and many were detailed to searching for the missing
Guardsmen in Yuba City reported for duty as their homes were
being flooded and their families were fleeing. Twenty-five men
reporting to the armory saw their personal automobiles swallowed
up by the waters and carried out of sight. Twenty-three guardsmen
who live in that area lost their homes. At least one guardsman
did not know the whereabouts of his family for three days. He
was Sergeant First Class Ronald E. Crowe, a member of Headquarters
Company, 2d Battalion, 184th Infantry Regiment, an officer candidate
and an employee of the State Di-vision of Highways. He was among
the first to report for emergency duty.
When flood waters reached the Yuba City Armory, he waded in knee-deep
water which was filling the armory at a fast rate, turning off
the master switch to avert possibility 0£ fire. He also
helped remove critical weapons, binoculars, radios and other
equipment from the armory. After the electrical power went off,
he personally made a search of the armory to see that everybody
had been evacuated.
After the evacuation of Yuba City, Crowe remained on duty as
the battalion mess officer. Three days later he learned that
his wife and child had been evacuated to Chico and their Yuba
City home was destroyed. His automobile was among those that
had been swept away.
Elsewhere 40 volunteer guardsmen from Gilroy's Tank Company,
159th Infantry Regiment, were using one of the company's tanks
for evacuation purposes and had loaned blankets to the Red Cross.
Volunteers from. Company C, 185th Infantry Regiment at Madera
were at work, as was Concord's 49th Quartermaster Company.
By noon Friday (December 23d) civil authorities had requested
assistance from Porterville 's Company I of the 185th Infantry
Regiment and Watsonville's Company B, 149th Tank Battalion. The
latter patrolled bridges and evacuated personnel.
National Guard equipment and personnel were being used in the
Napa area from Battery C, 636th Field Artillery Battalion.
49th Division Artillery Guardsmen patrolled levees and evacuated
homes in the Stockton area.
Five hundred personnel from Headquarters Battery, 637th Field
Artillery Battalion, Service Battery, San Jose; Battery A, Sunnyvale,
Batteries B and C and the 49th MP Company, all of San Jose, were
on duty in that city evacuating personnel and patrolling bridges.
Company F, 159th Infantry Regiment, Santa Cruz, was ordered out
to assist in evacuation of more than 1,000 persons.
Helicopters worked feverishly in the Visalia area rescuing hundreds
of people as did two DUKWS while men from Headquarters Company
and Company H, both of Visalia, and Company E from Tulare assisted
Lodi 's Battery A, 636th Field Artillery Battalion, was called
out for traffic control and levee patrol along the Mokelumne
Company G, 184th Infantry Regiment, Willows, joined the 2d battalion,
184th Infantry Regiment forces in evacuation at Yuba City.
Merced 's Company B, 185th Infantry Regiment, was called to duty
as Bear Creek overflowed its banks.
Centerville also sent Battery C, 629th Field Artillery Battalion,
At midnight. Christmas Eve, Watsonville's Company C, 149th Tank
Battalion, was ordered to duty as the Pajaro River neared its
Heavy Mortar Company, 185th Infantry Regiment, Fresno, assisted
police in Fresno evacuation, joined later by troops from Service
This was the second time in five years that California National
Guardsmen, mainly from the 49th Infantry Division, responded
instantly to pleas for assistance during flood emergencies. The
Sacramento Valley, especially Sacramento, was imperiled by floods
in December 1950. At that time 1,752 officers and men were on
state active duty for a total of 3,566 man-days.
During this most recent flood approximately 2,000 California
Guardsmen were on active duty for a total of approximately 6,033
A total of 603 vehicles and aircraft was employed in California
National Guard operations from Eureka to Porterville.
A total of 17 flights was made to stricken areas by the California
Air National Guard. Organizations involved were Headquarters,
California Air National Guard; 144th Fighter Interceptor Wing
and 129th Air Resupply Group.
Approximately 20 Air National Guard personnel were used. Missions
included an inspection trip by the Governor, state and federal
executives and news media; transport of foodstuffs, clothing
and equipment and the transport of California Highway Department
engineers to Arcata for survey of highway and bridge reconstruction
"I am proud of the immediate response to their call to duty
and the performance of California National Guardsmen from Eureka
to Porterville during the recent flood crisis," Gen Jones
Source: 1956-1958 Biennial
Report of the Adjutant General of the State of California
Public Affairs Photographs
California Military Department Historical