The Year the Apple Festival Ended Early

“There were probably three- to four-thousand people who visited that year,” Sue said. “I remember Lupe Terrazas walking by to dance at the bar earlier that evening (Saturday). He was wearing a bright, fluorescent tie.” The flood hit just as people were leaving the dance at the S Bar X Saloon, destroying Sue’s business along with Terrazas’s house next door.

“Friends called and said, ‘Sue, Hillsboro is washing away.’ We went over to Lupe’s house and tried to wake him, but couldn’t. When the water came up, my adobe wall fell on him and killed him.”

A musician from the bar who got into his car and tried to outrun the water was also killed - found weeks later buried in sand a few miles downstream in the Percha Box, Sue said. Killed also were an artist and her husband who had been camped on Main Street.

Building in Hillsboro. Photo by Jay Jackson
Building in Hillsboro.  Photo by Jay Jackson] 
After the waters passed, many buildings throughout town, especially along Main Street, stood in mud with collapsed walls and sagging roofs. Some people, still living there today, saw a lifetime of possessions wash down Percha Creek. Hillsboro’s bridges and roads were gone and its electricity was out. For days, the town was closed and under police guard against looters.

“I’d say it was a time of miracles for us,” said Bonnie Guess.

Her first Apple Festival was the year of the flood.

“My Aunt Lydia (Key) who owned the Black Range Museum had been telling us we should really come to the Apple Festival,” she said. “We were living in Albuquerque then. We came in 1972 with antiques to sell and were staying with her in her house just east of the bridge - the rock house with the big rock wall. Ten or 12 of us were in the house. There was the most horrible lightening and thunder I’d ever seen and never hope to see again in my life. We didn’t go to the dance because of the weather. None of us could sleep because of the terrible lightening and thunder . . . the wall of water sounded like ten locomotives in a train switching station.”

The 12-foot wall of water, she said, split immediately in front of her aunt’s house, filling in the 10-foot deep ditch south of them and flooding houses to the north. Her aunt and uncle lost only a woodworking shop, while their neighbor to the north was “standing with wet feet on top of her bed which was completely covered with water.”

The two-story rock house south across the creek was almost completely washed away, trapping a woman and her 10-year-old child under a piano.

Bonnie and her family assisted in the rescue of both their neighbors and, with their house intact, were able to provide a base for rescue workers.

“The wall of water was held back by angels,” Bonnie said. “We lost the shop, but it never came into the house. In the morning, when we could see, it was awesome. Everything was gone. The east bridge stood but both ends were washed out and no one could cross. In the morning there was a report of another wall of water coming, but it was not so large . . . Yes, I’d say it was a time of miracles for us.”

Undeterred, and with a new dike, Sue, Bonnie and the people of Hillsboro have continued the Apple Festival which today, 25 years later, still draws thousands of people from throughout the region for a weekend out at the end of summer.

For most in this area, late summer rains bring welcome relief to hot August days. But for Sue, Bonnie and perhaps a few others, that refreshing splatter of rain also carries the distant roar of 1972 and the year the festival ended early.