Many have heard the story of the cows that drowned in the Grand River at the State Street dam but weren’t sure if it was true or just one of those urban legends. It actually did happen almost 40 years ago and to this day it is one of those stories that people of a certain age reminisce about and maybe even chuckle about. It’s one of those “strange but true” stories; one of those “only in Eaton Rapids” stories!
The incident was even commemorated in the mural in the pocket park next to City Hall which depicts events in the colorful history of the city.
It was a chilly spring day, March 18, 1982, when motorists traveling across the State Street Bridge noticed something large bobbing in the river at the dam. School buses full of young students on their way home from school were stunned at the sight. There, caught in the river, several bloated cows were floating. The turbulent water tumbled the bloated carcasses in the rushing river.
The creatures were stuck at the base of the dam, about 40 yards from shore, for over a week, while city officials tried to figure the best and safest way to get them out. They also hoped it would allow time for the water level to drop some, as it was almost at flood levels.
The local theory was that the cows wandered out onto the ice somewhere downriver, fell through, and drowned. It was early spring, and the ice had started to thaw. According to the State Journal, however, “the animals were swept up by the rising river and drowned.”
There were also reports of one to three more cows upstream by the Smithville Dam, but this was never confirmed.
Their removal was complicated by the high-water level and the turbulent action of the river at the site of the dam. The mayor at the time, Larry Holley, instructed the city workers to remove the cows from the river.
Eaton County Sheriff Art Kelsey suggested the use of one of his officers who was trained in water rescue.
According to Michael Prince, one of the Eaton Rapids police officers at the time, the removal plan involved the Eaton Rapids Fire Department, who would put a ladder over the falls and then attach a rope onto the animals to pull them out.
Chief Dave King, from the Eaton Rapids Police Department, vetoed that idea due to the danger it would create. Eventually, a city crew used a crane to retrieve the animals from the river, parking the equipment behind Subway (Magik Market back then) while doing the retrieval.
The owner of the animals was never determined, officials said, and a rendering company picked up the carcasses to properly dispose of them.
Prince remembers that the scene drew large crowds to the river to see what was going on, which added even more danger to the situation. The area had to be taped off and the public asked to stay away to avoid the possibility of anyone falling into the river.
Do you have a memory of an Eaton County event from the past that you’d like to see in the Flashes Advertising and News and / or The County Journal? Contact Deb Malewski with your suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 517-256-9460.