Documentary app relives deadly Blackfeet Flood

By Darin Watkins, Murrow College of Communication

Blackfeet-cemetery-80BROWNING, Mont. – Fifty years since the worst natural disaster in Montana’s recorded history, a new, free mobile documentary allows viewers to experience and remember the Blackfeet Flood online and “in the field” at various Blackfeet Reservation-area sites.

Vision Maker Media announced a grant this week to expand the mobile application and continue film production through 2014. Last year, Humanities Montana funded initial filming and app construction.

In June 1964, heavy rains and the collapse of two dams in northwestern Montana resulted in the deaths of 29 people and relocation of hundreds on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.


“Not only was the flood a terrible disaster, it’s also one of the least understood, untold stories of 20th-century Montana,” said Benjamin Shors, a clinical assistant professor at The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University who is working on the documentary with Montana filmmaker Brooke Swaney. “We want viewers and students to understand what happened in 1964, but we also want to document what happened to people in the years that followed.”

Betty Cooper, near Birch Creek, Blackfeet Reservation. Photo by Lailani Upham.
Betty Cooper near Birch Creek, Blackfeet Reservation. (Photo by Lailani Upham)

The Blackfeet Flood mobile application, available free in iPhone, Android and tablet formats, presents place-based short films, survivors’ stories, text, historic documents and images. (Find more at

GPS coordinates in the app allow visitors to the flood sites to open pertinent videos. Interactive technology lets users upload responses to a database.

To get the app, users can visit their app store and search for “Blackfeet 1964.”

Also involved in the project is Brett Oppegaard, an assistant professor at WSU Vancouver and the project’s mobile director, and David Grewe, a WSU clinical assistant professor of communication and editor of the documentary shorts. Torsten Kjellstrand, a visiting assistant professor at the University of Oregon, and Blackfeet journalist Lailani Upham oversaw filming and community outreach.



Ben Shors, WSU Murrow College of Communication, 509-335-1547,
Darin Watkins, WSU Murrow College Director of Communication, 509-335-4456,