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A History of Floods and Overcoming, Courtesy of Johnny Cash

June 6, 2019

The Arkansas River is restless these days, swollen from heavy rain and seeping into the surrounding countryside across multiple states. Crests have reached all-time highs at several points in Arkansas and Oklahoma, and thousands have been impacted.

As the river continues to swell, pushing floodwaters downstream, Arkansas Federal will be there to help members impacted by flooding.

But as we watch the river rise, we’re reminded of the Johnny Cash classic song, “Five Feet High and Risin’.” Growing up on a rural farm in the Arkansas Delta, Cash had experience with floods.

How high’s the water, mama?
Four feet high and risin’
How high’s the water, papa?
She said it’s four feet high and risin’
Hey, come look through the window pane,
The bus is comin’, gonna take us to the train
Looks like we’ll be blessed with a little more rain,
Four feet high and risin’.

At, Southern historian Ben House takes a look at the impact of floods on Cash’s early life and the lighthearted approach adopted by those early Delta farmers in the face of Mother Nature’s wrath. Paired with the determination to overcome these hardships, such an outlook was necessary. And it holds true today.

An excerpt:

The viewpoint in the song is that of a child who keeps asking his mother and dad about the rising waters. The song, specifically the tune and manner of Cash’s singing, is rather lighthearted. A little reflection reveals that the content is filled with terror and destruction. Here is a family contemplating how to escape from the rising flood waters and get to higher ground. Meanwhile, their home, crops, barns, and everything they own is going under water.

Two feet of water in a flood is enough to destroy almost everything in its path. As the song progresses, the flood is rising fast. The family is watching out the window as everything on their farm is getting covered up or washed away. But not only is the terror, danger, and destruction ignored, the song laughs in the face of it all…

Cash said, “My mama always taught me that good things come from adversity if we put our faith in the Lord. We couldn’t see much good in the flood waters when they were causing us to have to leave home, but when the water went down, we found that it had washed a load of rich black bottom dirt across our land. The following year we had the best cotton crop we’d ever had.”

Read the full post here and learn more about how Arkansas Federal can help those impacted by the flooding.