Destructive Tornadoes


First to Visit County in Memory
of Man

On the afternoon of  Thursday last [June 24, 1909], soon after the noon hour, there could be seen a dark line along the north and northeast horizon.  This rose higher and higher and by two o'clock presented a most ominous appearance in its inky blue-blackness.  By this time it had attracted the serious attention of many of our citizens who sought places of vantage to watch its movements, while many others placed themselves within caves or in close proximity, ready at any moment to drop into security.

Above this could appeared another which extended some distance westward of it, a seething, boiling mass of lighter color, from which the formatoin [sic] of tornadoes was distinctly visible to the northwest of Norton.  Five of these came to earth, three of them doing terriffic [sic] damage to property and animal life, but fortunately, no human beings were caught in the awful destruction of the whirlers.

Tornado No. 1, formed a few miles south of the Sappa, in the Devizes neighborhood, and took an east and northeasterly course, doing but slight damage except to fencing until it swept over the Brunswig Ranch.  Here were many cattle feeding quietly in little herds in different portions of a large pasture.  A bunch of 59 big steers were caught and instantly whirled into the cloud five to six hundred feet, then throwing them and dropping them in all directions to the earth in a horribly mutilated condition; some with heads off, legs off, and ripped open.  A few came down alive but died soon after.

tornado_form.JPG (53419 bytes)

The above picture was taken from the roof of the ice plant when the tornado was in its incipiency.  By the time was in full force and effect the artist had disappeared.  It is the beginning of storm No. 3, and the nearest one to Norton.

after_cyclone.JPG (36881 bytes)

The above picture shows but partially the destruction of these animals, for the greater portion of them had been dragged away before the artist could secure a photo.

From the ranch the whirler continued its northeasterly course and seemingly went to pieces or joined in the mad turmoil of battling clouds after boring a deep hole on the place of August Krause.

In the meantime the lower cloud continued its course to the south and west sending forth tremendous and continuous peals of thunder and vivid bolts of lightning which was terrifying in its closeness and intensity.  The second storm formed some few miles south of the first and sweeping on in a northeasterly course played havoc and freaks in a course of several miles and disappeared.  In its path was the old Willis Myers place, where Garrisons were living and farming, leaving nothing in the shape of buildings except a portion of the house as shown in the following picture

myers_place.JPG (48666 bytes)

The main part of the house, you will notice, was carried away entire, leaving nothing with the exception of two lean-to's.  Everything else on the place was broken up or carried away.  Then it tackled Lew Searles' place which it entirely cleaned up, ecxept [sic] the house.  In this house were five children alone.  The father was working some miles south, and the mother had walked over to a neighbors.  an older boy working in a field a short distance away hurried to the house as fast as a horse could carry him and he could? put the animal in the stable.  Fortunately, the house was not totally destroyed and the inmates were not harmed, but very much frightened.  Everything else on the place, however, was brushed away in an instant's time.  A freak of the storm here was that horses in the stable were merely bruised while the building was completely demolished.  Two large and very valuable brood sows were killed.

Gan Sheley lost 8 head of milch cows, which appeared to be literally pounded to death, their flesh being jellied.

At Oren Gentry's the destruction was most complete.  Absolutey [sic] nothing left standing on the place.  House, barns, and all sorts of outbuildings, wagons, implements and trees.  At this place the home was surrounded by a grove of trees, nearly all  of which were torn out by the roots or twisted off.  Mr. and Mrs. Gentry had been in Norton that afternoon and had got as far as the nearest neighbor where they were obliged to seek shelter until after the storm had passed over.  The picture below shows the location of the house by the bare foundation, a portion of which was torn from the ground.

gentry_place.JPG (66723 bytes)

And the picture following shows the dismantled timber and a mass of debris made up of the material that composed the house, barns, sheds, implements, etc.  From Orin's place the storm sped on its journey carrying much of the personal effects of the family with it and distributing the same to divers places, but ceased doing further damage of any consequence.

[Article has photo of remains of Gentry House]

The third storm dropped in close proximity to Shultz's about 8 or 9 miles northwest of Norton, it too taking a back track from the clouds it originated in and making quick time northeast.

In a trifle over a mile's travel it reached the farm of Frank Chase where everything moveable and immovable except the earth was frightfully torn up, broken, twisted, and carried away.  The west side and [illegible, possibly southwest or northwest] corner of the house were torn out, the roof unshingled, chimneys thrown down, and the inside of the house almost completely gutted of its contents. 

chase_res.JPG (54576 bytes)

Furniture, bedding, clothing and family souvenirs were sucked out of the house and scattered over the fields for nearly a mile.

cyclone.JPG (37972 bytes)

But outside of the house, among the barns, cribs, and other outhouses, the devastation was greatest.   A large barn, built last fall, was lifted up, crushed, and its pieces scattered for over a miel [sic].

Of the four horses in the barn, three were carried away nearly a half mile and dropped in a draw; the fourth one had one of her front legs actually pulled from the body, making it necessary to kill her.  The others may recover.  A thrifty young orchard was torn out by the roots and the trees went to help make up the debris piled over a 20 acre plot.  Hundreds of chickens, dead; defeathered, broken legged and winged birds fluttered about, pigs and hogs of various sizes and ages scattered here and there.  Mr. Chase and family took to their cave and escaped injury, although for a time its trembling caused him some fears of it holding out. 

From Mr. Chese's [sic] house to the northeast corner of his place his worldly goods were scattered along the path made by the storm.

The Donovan house on the old Norris place was just to the north edge of the storm and so the loss of a chimney, shingles and a small shed was all the damage the property sustained.

Rushing on over the section to Austin Ough's there was a plenty to destroy and it destroyed.  Taking the house roof slick and clean from between the gables the dwelling portion was left with but slight damage; but not another thing on the place escaped - barns, sheds, wagons, implements, everything even to the fences.  A herd of 20 or more pigs killed; and scattered all over the space of the storm going northeast.  Horses were carried or hurled across the road a hundred yards and all more or less injured, one colt killed.

To the north of Ough's on the section corner stood Center shcool [sic] house, a substantial school building.  It was simply sucked in to the vacuum and scarcely a board of it left.  Showing that the storm was whirling from right to left, this building was drawn fro? [several illegible words] in the opposite direction taken by the storm.

Hamp Davison's, just across the section line felt the effects of the loss of barn doors, trees, and some smaller objects.  The house also was twisted slightly on the foundation.  Even Fowler's house, a half mile north, was so twisted that the doors refused to open and shut.  Across the road, to the south of Ough's, is the Burnett place which lost a windmill, chimneys moved, house twisted several inches; a small barn and a couple of sheds were blown to pieces and a number of trees taken out by the roots.  All the windmills along the route of this tornado were laid down in the direction of the storm.

The following cut shows a gathering of neighbors to assist in replacing a roof on Austin Ough's house and to give whatever other assistance might be needed about the household.

[Article has photo of repairs being made on Ough home]

From this locality the storm swept over corn fields and wheat fields and pastures.  At Melroy's a nice little herd of cattle were fearfully mutilated and killed.  At the Browne place due north of Norton six or seven miles, everything went except the house, a two story which was very badly racked.  The effects of the storm were felt at McCormack's and other places in the neighborhood, but no further damage was done as the whirler disappeared soon after crossing the section line into the great cloud still hanging overhead.  This storm appears to have been the largest of the bunch and probably more damage, over a greater territory.

Another, the fifth, formed over the neighborhood of Porter Breeden's, Tom Williams and J.R. Worley's and came down with great force but not a home was in the path and no damage was done.  This one it is said plowed up the earth, in some places tearing up the sod to a depth of eighteen inches.  The last one did not amount to anything, or did not get to earth.  The storms north of the Prairie Dog removed but little dirt but everything on top had to move.  wheat fields were not damaged apparently, but cornfields were well taken.  While the clouds above us here in Norton were full of ominous formations and awe-inspiring girations [sic] which induced many to take to caves, .87 of an inch of rain, accompanied quite freely with hail of enormous size, but no wind.  The one feature of the tornadoes there was no rain preceeding [sic] or after they had passed over.

The following picture is of a 1,700-pound fat steer which was carried from the Brunswig ranch and dropped in the condition shown.

cow.JPG (57155 bytes)


We have read and have heard of peculiar and seeming impossible things happening during the passage of tornadoes over a given territory, but gave them only a moment's thought, considering them as originations of weird imaginations; but the stories told of the acts of these storms of last Thursday, vouched for by people sound and sane, though apparently physically possible, we must believe there is some truth in.  At Frank Chase's, a lady's watch lying on a dressing in one of the rooms which was opened up by the storm, had the works complete removed, the case and chain remaining.  chickens picked absolutely bare of feathers.  A turkey picked clean with both eyes blown out.  A cows's tongue taken from the mouth and blown hundreds of feet away.  Pig's livers and even chicken gizzards were picked up in fields as far as a half mile from the place destroyed.  At one place a mouse was drawn or blown through a hole on a harvesting machine about the size of a lead pencil.  One critter had its cut off as if with a knife.  At the Browne house articles of clothing were sucked through the wall a few inches and forced back again through another hole.  A small bunch of hay forced through a two inch plank; and the stories accumulate.  At Burnetts, there is a large new barn standing right east of his house.  About twelve feet up the northwest side, an old, rusty can was blown in such a manner as to drive the open top into the board, fastening it there.  South of this barn was his old barn, smaller and lighter, it was removed; but stranger still, three small buildings just to the north and east of the house, the middle one of which still stands, the other two gone.  At the east end of one of these buildings swept away, stood a bucket of water undisturbed.

There are many other queer tales but space will not admit of their enumeration at this time.

The losses individually and collectively are pretty large and insurance very small, Frank Chase probably being the best insured of the losers.

This is the first visit of the kind to Norton county, at least since it was settled, and it is devoutly hoped that it is the last.  That no person was injured or killed is a good fortune that not many of such storms leave behind.

Norton can congratulate itself that the day was not a fatal one for it, for destruction of life and property in towns or cities is usually very heavy. 

It will be a day long to be remembered.

Norton Courier, 01 July 1909

Some Cyclones

Last Thursday afternoon Phillipsburgers were out watching the antics of cyclones which could be plainly seen sweeping over Norton county from north to south.  The writer did not happen to see the formations, but we are informed there were several funnel shaped clouds to be seen in that direction and next morning all manner of reports were floating as to the amount of damage done.  The latest and probably as nearly correct report of the blow as any is the following taken from the Norton Telegram of Monday:

"All sorts of stories have come in from cyclone district northwest of Norton since last Friday and Saturday.   The freakish nature of these storms is well shown by the peculiar things which occurred.

A letter belonging to Frank Chase was carried fourteen miles northeast and dropped in a pasture north of Almena.  The letter contained a silver quarter which was still in the envelope when the letter was found.

A watch lying on the dresser at Mr. Chase's was torn open and the works carried away, leaving the case.  Somebody in search of a relic, afterward carried the case away.  Mrs. Chase deplores that very much, as the watch was a keepsake.  Whoever got that case is requested to return it.

At Frank Browne's place the damage was much worse than at first reported.  Besides losing all the outbuildings, the house was badly racked.  The cyclone seemed to pull it apart at nearly every corner, just sufficient to open a big ccrack and then let it settle back in place again.  In one closet up stairs a black skirt was hanging.  The corner of the closet spread enough to let the skirt blow into the opening, and when the building settled back the garment was pinched so tightly that it cannot be removed.

It is reported that some one of the storms lifted and passed over Almena, dropping considerable alfalfa on the streets at that place which had evidently been picked up on the Sappa.  It is also claimed that a large piece of telephone pole was dropped in Long Island.

The boys are insisting that 57 head of cattle were killed on the Brunswick Ranch.  This is positively a mistake.  There were 43 head - 26 cows, 1 bull and 16 calves.  A.J. Brunswick arrived from St. Joe Saturday morning and reports the total loss on the ranch at $2,000."
Phillipsburg News-Dispatch, 01 July 1909, p. 1

Thursday's Cyclone.

The cyclone which swept through Norton county last Thursday was of no small size.  As we were not able to go to the scene of destruction we will have to give what we have heard and read in the papers.

About 3:30 Long Islandites were all out viewing the different twisters as they formed and many of our citizens took refuge in caves in various parts of the town.  The storms were a good ways off but who can tell the distance when viewing the clouds, one might as well try to comprehend space.

We learn that the first twister formed on the Sappa, and traveled northeast and the damage at the Brunswick ranches was estimated at $2000 at this place there were twenty-six head of cattle killed.

The second storm formed on the Charley Simpson farm and passed over the Lew Searls and the old Wilbur Myers farm and the old Gentry place.  There was a great deal of property destroyed on all these farms but we did not learn what the aggregate damage was.

A third storm formed south of the other two and did a lot of damage to Austin Ough and the Frank Brown's farms.

There are a lot of little freaks which this storm did which to a person never witnessing a cyclone could scarcely believe.  But the most fortunate feature of all was that in all three storms there was not a single person killed.  There are many stories rife as to how long it took these monsters to do their work, but long or short it was terrible enough.
Long Island New Leaf, J.E. Jones, Editor and Publisher, 01 July 1909, page 4

Sepia toned photos are postcards from collection of Ardie Grimes.

County Coordinators
Lea Shelley & Ardie Grimes


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