“Four angels now on high
They are hand in hand together
Four are linked now to bind us to them
Four fingers beckon us to come”
June 6, 1903. The most catastrophic flood in recorded South Carolina history roared down the Pacolet River, destroying homes and mills, –the raging waters dragging dozens of men, women, and children downstream to their deaths.
Texanna Fowler was born in Union County, South Carolina in 1860. Her father was William Earle Fowler, son of Mark Fowler, son of John Fowler the Elder and Fannie.
Texanna’s mother was Martha O’Neal, daughter of Nancy and her husband Barney O’Neal, immigrant from Ireland and, if one can believe what has been written about old Barney O’Neal, quite a character.
Martha O’Neal Fowler was dead by July 2, 1860 — the day census-taker T.J.Harris visited the household to count the family members within. One month old and motherless, Texanna Fowler was surrounded by family — father William Earle Fowler, grandmother Nancy O’Neal, brother Belton Fowler, sisters Mary and Nancy Fowler, and aunt Elizabeth O’Neal.
Her grandfather Mark Fowler lived next door with his second wife, Mary Ann O’Neal (also a daughter of Barney O’Neal), and their children.
- Nancy O’Neal 80 (widow of Barney O’Neal; mother of Elizabeth, Mary & Martha)
- Earl Fowler 26 (son of Mark Fowler & Nancy)
- Elizabeth (O’Neal) 24 (daughter of Barney O’Neal & Nancy)
- Belton Fowler 6 (son of William Earl Fowler & Martha O’Neal)
- Nancy Fowler 4 (daughter of William Earl Fowler & Martha O’Neal)
- MaryAn Fowler 3 (daughter of William Earl Fowler & Martha O’Neal)
- Texanna Fowler 1 month (daughter of William Earl Fowler & Martha O’Neal)
- Mark Fowler 73 (son of John Fowler the Elder & Fannie)
- Mary Ann O’Neal Fowler 34 (daughter of Barney O’Neal & Nancy)
- Christian Fowler 16 (daughter of Mark Fowler & Mary Ann O’Neal)
- Harriet Fowler 13 (daughter of Mark Fowler & Mary Ann O’Neal)
- Andy Fowler 9 (son of Mark Fowler & Mary Ann O’Neal)
- Noah Fowler 5 (daughter of Mark Fowler & Mary Ann O’Neal)
- Thomas Fowler 3 (son of Mark Fowler & Mary Ann O’Neal)
The years in-between 1860 to 1870 brought many changes to these families. Mark Fowler died, leaving Mary Ann O’Neal a widow who lived with her son Noah Fowler in 1870. Mary Ann O’Neal Fowler and Noah lived next door to her daughter Harriet Fowler who had married James Powell, and their two young children.
William Earl Fowler had married Taylor Ann Harris and had begun a new family with her. They had moved from the Kelton area to Gowdeysville north of the Pacolet River and what was later to become part of Cherokee County, SC.
Elizabeth O’Neal and Texanna Fowler are found in 1870 census records with Jack Willard, and a three year old Calvin Willard. Elizabeth and Texanna were recorded as Lizzie Willard and Texanna Willard.
Elizabeth Fowler and Texanna Fowler were counted as mother and daughter in 1880 with an elderly John Willard and twelve year old Calvin Fowler. Most likely, Elizabeth was raising Texanna as her own daughter after the death of Martha O’Neal Fowler, and Elizabeth had given birth to son Calvin, fathered by John Willard. Calvin was always recorded in legal documents as Calvin H. Willard after the 1880 census.
Bradley Sevier Johnson (1866-1919) was the son of Noble Perry Johnson (1826-1883) and Malinda E. Israel (1840–1895). Noble Perry Johnson was the son of Hugh Johnson (1793-1876) and Sarah Lane Bradley (1793-1868).
Noble Perry Johnson was born in Henderson County, North Carolina and lived most of his life there. He was included in the 1880 census in that county. Noble Perry Johnson moved from North Carolina to Spartanburg County, South Carolina after 1880,and he died there in 1883. He is buried in the Liberty United Methodist Church cemetery along with many other Johnsons.
The paths of Texanna Fowler and Bradley Sevier Johnson crossed sometime between 1880 and 1890, for they married circa 1890 and began their family:
- Oliver Johnson 1892–1903
- Roscoe Johnson 1894–1903
- Beulah Johnson 1895–1896
- Maggie Johnson 1896–1903
- Chester Johnson 1899–1900
- Hugh Johnson 1901–1903
Their last child, Hugh, was likely named after Bradley Johnson’s father, Hugh Johnson.
Bradley Sevier Johnson was a merchant in 1900 who owned his home free and clear.
While researching the Pacolet River Flood of 1903, I stumbled upon a partial list of victims from Clifton who had perished in the flood. The list included Mrs. S.B Johnson and four children. Was this Texanna Fowler Johnson, wife of Bradley Sevier Johnson?
I discovered another list of victims from The History of Pacolet, Volume II, by Willie Fleming:
Mrs. B.S. Johnson (Texanna Fowler) had four living children prior to the 1903 flood, and two of her sons were named Oliver and Roscoe Johnson.
I also read that “Ben Johnson, a merchant of the settlement of Santuck, just below the No. 2 mill, drifted nine miles with his wife and two children, down to the raging Pacolet River on the roof of his house, only to see his family disappear of the Pacolet Mills dam in a swirling eddy.”
from the article The Great Freshet of 1903 written by William M. Branham and published in the Sandlapper magazine Feb 1980.
Was this Bradley Sevier Johnson misidentified as Ben Johnson?
The following from 1904 Spartanburg Almanac, compiled by J.A. Gamewell and D.D.
Wallace, W.F. Barnes, Spartanburg 1904, pp. 7-15:
At Clifton No. 2 a large number of houses were built upon a beautiful plane on the right bank from ten to fifteen feet above the water and seventy-five yards in width. 400 yards lower down on the opposite side was another level plane that encircled by a sharp curve of the stream, where lay the section of the town known as Santuc. From these two flat places 60 houses were swept, and here occurred the great bulk of the fatalities. The drowned reaching the number of fifty. Here occurred some of the most pathetic scenes and some of the most thrilling escapes. Here, too, lived B. S. Johnson, who escaped from the raging flood after having been borne for several miles upon its bosom, but whose wife and five children were drowned. It was his little boy who floated on a piece of timber eight miles to Pacolet and disappeared in the waves fifteen feet high plunging over the dam and Shoals.
There is no official or accurate death count from the great disaster of 1903, more than a few persons were reported dead even though they were alive and well, and many bodies were buried, mutilated and unidentified, many weeks later on the banks of the river where they had drifted miles and miles downstream.
I took all of this into account in determining the family of B.S. Johnson/S.B. Johnson/Ben Johnson and the four or five children swept to their early deaths along with their mother. I also had the good luck to have found written records from family members who knew that Texanna Fowler had married Mr. Johnson, and that she and her children had died in the flood of 1903.
B. S. Johnson was Bradley Sevier Johnson. Did he float down river with his family, or did he watch from the banks as they washed over the dam? It was reported that he watched as his family was tossed over the Clifton Dam to their deaths.
His wife was Texanna Fowler and the four children who drowned with her were 11 year old Oliver, 9 year old Roscoe, seven year old Maggie, and 2 year old Hugh. The only body recovered was that of the youngest. Hugh Johnson’s body was found ten miles downstream, washed ashore near Pacolet.
The two children who had died before the flood, one year old Beulah in 1896, and one year old Chester in 1900, had died far too young, but had escaped the horrendous death that their siblings would face in the rushing, muddy waters of 1903.
Beulah and Chester Johnson were buried at Liberty United Methodist Church near Spartanburg, SC in proximity of their grandfather Noble Perry Johnson. From the inscriptions on their headstones, it is evident that they were very loved.
Dau. of B.S. and Texanna Johnson
Born Aug 26, 1895
Died Feb 3, 1896
Little bud of love
To bloom with God above
Son of B.S. & T. Johnson
May 19, 1899
May 23, 1900
Our darling hath gone before
To greet us on the blissful shore
There is only one headstone that honors the memory of Texanna Fowler Johnson and her four children who perished in the flood of 1903. That headstone marks the grave of two year old Hugh Johnson in the Clifton Cemetery near Spartanburg. The names of his siblings whose bodies were never found, as well as his mother, are inscribed on the stone.
Son of B.S. and Texanna Johnson,
Drowned in the great Pacolet flood,
June 6, 1903,
Together with his mother, Oliver, Roscoe and Maggie
None of the bodies except his were ever found, age 2 years.
Four angels now on high
They are hand in hand together
Four are linked now to bind us to them
Four fingers beckon us to come
With the exception of Bradley Sevier Johnson, an entire family was wiped off the face of the earth in one horrendous day. Mr. Johnson lost his wife and all four of his children. One cannot imagine the sorrow he endured. I wondered what became of this broken man………
Bradley Sevier Johnson married Ida Burma Dodd (1883-1985) circa 1905. Ida was the daughter of Thomas Lewis Dodd (1855-1903) and Ida Susan Compton (1862-1943).
When I saw that Ida Burma Dodd’s father died in 1903, I had to pause a moment — did he also perish in the flood? He did not. Thomas Lewis Dodd died after suffering a long illness in Oconee County, South Carolina.
Bradley Sevier Johnson and his second wife, Ida Burna Dodd, had four daughters and one son:
- Nita Bell Johnson 1906-2000
- Isla Melinda Johnson 1908-2005
- Irene Johnson 1908-
- Sara Johnson 1914-2003
- Bernard Samuel Johnson 1916-2009
Bradley Sevier Johnson died on May 29, 1919.
There is little that I can add to what already has been written about the devastating Pacolet River Flood of 1903. I am adding links below to several websites that well describe what happened that day and the weeks afterwards.